Events during the 2016 presidential campaigns and the first year of the Trump presidency have called into serious question his character, ethical behavior, mental health, and fitness for the office he now holds. As E. J. Dionne, Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann observe in their 2017 book:
We have never had a president who aroused such grave and widespread doubts about his commitment to the institutions of self-government, to the norms democracy requires, to the legitimacy of opposition in a free republic, and to the need for basic knowledge about major policy questions and about how the government works. We have never had a president who daily raises profound questions about his basic competence and his psychological capacity to take on the most powerful and challenging political office in the world. We have never had a president who spoke more warmly of dictators than of democratic allies, and whose victory came with the assistance of a foreign power that meddled in our election. (Dionne, EJ, Jr, Ornstein, NJ, Mann, TE. One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported. New York. St. Martin’s Press, 2017, pp. 1-2.)
Over the last two years, Trump has indicted himself in so many ways, ranging from pathologic and almost daily lying and his lack of knowledge or concern about policy issues to his impulsive and unpredictable behavior to his denial of alleged violations of the law and his constant attacks on our institutions, including the news media and our intelligence agencies. He shamelessly brags about his sexual prowess and ability to get away with anything (“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ‘em by the pussy.” (Donald Trump’s Lewd Comments About Women, 2016.)
He turns out to be a narcissist who believes he can do no wrong, is paranoid about those opposing him, and whose behavior puts himself above the rule of law. These traits have led to widespread fear and concern across this country and abroad.
Trump’s behavior has provided such demonstrable evidence of mental aberrances to lead the American Psychoanalytic Association to renounce their long-held policy of not commenting about an individual’s mental state without having first seen the person as a patient. (Begley, S. Psychiatry group tells members they can ignore ‘Goldwater rule’ and comment on Trump’s mental health. STAT, July 25, 2017.)
His well-reported behaviors led a group of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health experts to publish their 2017 book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, edited by Bandy X. Lee, M.D. Their diagnostic assessments vary from sociopath and narcissism to paranoia, lack of impulse control, and vengeful retaliation. Whatever the diagnostic terms, however, this disturbing assessment is made by one of the authors:
What we do know is that he can’t be relied upon to recognize having been wrong; nor does he seem to be able to learn from experience such that he could avoid repeating the same untruth or another the next day, possessed as he appears to be of the same absolute conviction that characterized his previous error. (Glass, LL. In Lee, B.X. Editor, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, p. 158).
Two of the above 27 authors call on Congress to act now, under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, to create an independent, impartial panel of investigators to evaluate Trump’s fitness to fulfill the duties of the presidency.
Whatever his mental health diagnoses, Trump is a danger to our democracy, and his presidency appears to be unsustainable given the corruption from the top down in the White House and Cabinet appointees. How can he survive the Mueller investigation, revelations about his own sexual misconduct, the $130,000 hush money, and the scandals surrounding his presidency that many now agree are far worse than Watergate?
Hopefully, our democracy will survive this acute illness as the democratic process moves forward, but what can we do to prevent future challenges of this kind? Two lessons seem apparent to me:
- Reporting of tax returns should be required of all candidates for the White House early in their campaigns. In this instance, it is likely that Trump’s reporting would have drawn attention to his shady business practices and ties to Russia that could lead to his potential blackmail; and
- Requiring background checks and applications for security clearances for all candidates for the presidency and vice presidency would seem to be in order.
It seems obvious that Trump wouldn’t be president today if these kinds of vetting were done early in the 2016 election campaigns. Jennifer Rubin, Op-Ed columnist for The Washington Post, is spot-on with this observation:
“Trump’s emotional and mental limitations should debunk a number of rationalizations from his devoted cultists, who insisted he was the best choice in 2016, cheered his first year in office and continue to pretend he’s fit for office. He’s sounding presidential. No, he’s reading off a teleprompter, likely with very little comprehension. He’s playing four-dimensional chess with Kim Jong Un. No, he’s impulsively lashing out, with the risk of provoking a deadly clash. He’s a master manipulator when he shifts from position to position, sometimes in the same sentence. No, he likely doesn’t even realize what contradicts what or remember what he originally said. His use of alternative facts is a brilliant scheme to control the press narrative. No, he’s incapable of processing real information and driven by an insatiable need for praise and reaffirmation. . . . We’re playing with fire, counting on the ability of others to restrain him from, say, launching a nuclear war and, nearly as bad, jettisoning our representative democracy. Vice President Pence, the Cabinet and Congress have a moral and constitutional obligation to bring this to a stop. (Rubin, J. The ‘stable genius’ isn’t even functioning as president.” The Washington Post, January 6, 2018.)