The Rational Act of Questioning Trump’s Sanity

Illustration by Max Burbank

BY MAX BURBANK | “He’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”

That’s how California Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) described President Donald J. Trump to a “Meetup” of the Riverside County Young Republicans, and I’m not making any of that up. Not the use if the word “asshole.” Not that a Republican congressman used that word twice in reference to the leader of his own party. Not even that a group of Young Republicans refer to that official gathering as a “Meetup” — a term more commonly used to describe gatherings of people dressed as their favorite anime characters.

Here’s the thing: When your asshole is causing you this much grief? It’s almost certainly a medical issue. You need to get it taken care of right away. It could be cancer, and it could kill you.

Congresswomen Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) offered a more nuanced, less scatological take on Trump, introducing a resolution suggesting the president undergo a mental health exam, noting an “alarming pattern of behavior and speech causing concern that a mental disorder may have rendered him unfit and unable to fulfill his Constitutional duties.” A follow-up press release asked, “Does the President suffer from early stage dementia? Has the stress of office aggravated a mental illness crippling impulse control? Has emotional disorder so impaired the President that he is unable to discharge his duties? Is the President mentally and emotionally stable?”

You can’t simply chalk up Lofgren’s concerns to partisanship. Republican pundits, major donors, former and even current office holders have begun to openly question Trump’s mental health. James Clapper, who served in top intelligence jobs under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, described Trump as a  “complete intellectual, moral, and ethical void.” Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability” required of the presidency. Agree or disagree with these assessments, you have to admit they’ve got the same cards-on-the-table authenticity as “He’s an asshole.”

So which is it? Is Donald J. Trump clinically insane, or is he just a… you know. I promised myself I’d only use that word seven times in this column and I need it twice more. Regardless, it’s a tough question. Where does one leave off and the other begin?

The whole subject is almost impossible to talk about, especially for comedians, or “satirical pundits” if you want to address me with respect. See, if Trump is actually mentally ill, I can’t poke him for being a nut job, can I? I can’t even say “nut job,” because it’s cruel, stigmatizing, and not even functionally descriptive. I want so badly to say that Trump is “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs,” with Cocoa Puffs being a metaphorical stand-in for a slavish compulsion to wallow, pig-like, in the worst excesses of fascism — and now I’m slamming pigs, blameless animals that are rarely dangerous and never so in any sense involving nuclear annihilation.

The phrase “Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” is offensive in every way, except when it appears in an essay on the unacceptability of mocking the disease of addiction in the service of selling chocolaty breakfast cereals. His name was Sonny. He was not “Cuckoo.” He was a Cuckoo bird. He was sick and he deserves our compassion, not our scorn. You see how hard this is to talk about?

We need to talk about it, though. The possibility of a mad president is far too dangerous to avoid discussing just because it’s awkward. Is Trump crazy? And if he is, is he Rob Ford crazy, where it’s a chuckle unless you lived in Toronto when he was mayor and even then it was hard not to laugh until he died at 46 and you felt a little bad about yourself? Or is he Aerys Targaryen crazy, where a whole lot of folks end up extra crispy and it’s only a little funny if you’re part of the royal family, but not for long even then; Eric and Jr., TAKE NOTE!

It might be instructive to have mental health professionals weigh in, but for the most part, that’s simply not going to happen. The American Psychiatric Association holds to its long-standing policy that it’s unethical for members to offer a professional opinion on the mental state of someone they have not evaluated.  The American Psychological Association agrees. If any other governing bodies of mental health professionals can be abbreviated using “APA,” I’m certain they’d also agree.

That leaves us lay folk on our own. There’s ample evidence for us to consider vis-à-vis our president being, shall we say, overly focused on Cocoa Puffs to the extent that he is unable to perform the duties of his office. I’ve selected a line from a recent tweet.

“After witnessing first hand the horror & devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, my heart goes out even more so to the great people of Texas!”

He wrote this before visiting Houston, after his initial visit to Corpus Christi, some 200 miles from the flooding. He’d yet to tour any disaster sites, hadn’t met any victims, didn’t get rained on. So what can we glean about the presidential mental state from this tweet?

Maybe he believes he really did witness those things “first hand.” Not a doctor here, but do I need a degree to know that constitutes a hallucination? Maybe he can’t tell the difference between seeing stuff on TV and actually being there. That’s also cut-and-dried, don’t need a psychiatrist to tell you it’s crazy, right? Maybe he thinks him saying untrue stuff makes it become true, which is, hello, ALSO INSANE!

But maybe… maybe he knows full well that tweet is just a gargantuan lie. He knows no one believes it. He’s telling it not just because he doesn’t give a crap about the truth — he wants you to know he doesn’t give a crap about the truth.

If that’s the case, we’re back at the start of the article. He’s just an asshole. A lot of people are saying maybe the biglyest asshole in the history of politics. Does it matter? Isn’t that just as dangerous in every way and for many of the same reasons as if he was crazy?

And isn’t it possible, perhaps even likely, he’s both?

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