LONDON: “God bless the United Shhtates”, said President Donald Trump at the end of a slurred speech on his new Israel policy last week. “First signs of dementia” declared his critics; “no, just signs of a faulty denture” replied his friends. Not since the time of President Ronald Reagan has the mental health of an American President been so carefully monitored. Stoking a media frenzy on the 71-year-old President’s health, Joe Scarborough, a long-time Trump critic, claimed on his TV programme that people close to President Trump told him during the campaign that Trump had “early stages of dementia”. Scarborough continued, “you have someone in the White House, according to the New York Daily News, who is completely detached from reality”. Replying, the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters “there were a lot of questions on that (slur), frankly ridiculous questions”, adding that “the President’s throat was dry, nothing more”. She confirmed that the President would undertake a full medical exam in the first part of next year.
Whatever your view on Trump’s policies or behaviour, nothing is more important than the mental health of one of the most powerful men in the world, one who theoretically has his finger on the nuclear button. Public concern goes back to the beginning of his presidency. The respected liberal American independent magazine, the New Republic, which for over 100 years has influenced political and cultural thinking in Washington, carried an article on 17 February, just four weeks after Trump’s inauguration: “A Medical Theory for Donald Trump’s Bizarre Behaviour”. In this piece, physicians noted that many medical conditions exhibit their first symptoms in the form of psychiatric issues and personality changes, quoting one in particular, neurosyphilis, seen 10 to 30 years after the initial infection. Commonly recognised symptoms include irritability, delusional thinking and grandiosity. Dementia, squinting and patchy hair loss can also be seen in the later stages. All this, of course, was simply conjecture by the New Republic, but if Trump does indeed have neurosyphilis, which is progressive but treatable, he would be in good company. Al Capone had it; so did composers Frederick Delius and Franz Schubert. Less exalted company would be Adolf Hitler, Mussolini and Ivan the Terrible, all of whom were believed to have the disease.
Hot on the heels of this article, Psychology Today, a magazine formerly owned and published by the American Psychological Association, published a post “The Elephant in the Room: It’s time we talked openly about Donald Trump’s mental health”. This post immediately went viral with close to a million reads. One was from Dr John Gartner, whose earlier petition warning on Trump’s mental health was signed by more than 60,000 mental health professionals. This petition also contained a request that Trump be removed from office according to the 25th amendment.
More recently, psychiatrist Dr Bandy Lee of Yale University wrote to Congress, warning that Donald Trump poses a “clear and present danger to the world”. In a follow-up letter to the New York Times on 30 September, Dr Lee referred to a recently published book, of which she is the editor: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. From this the letter continues: “We are currently witnessing more than his usual state of instability—in fact , a pattern of decompensation: increasing loss of touch with reality, marked signs of volatility and unpredictable behaviour, and an attraction to violence as a means of coping. These characteristics place our country and the world at extreme risk of danger.” The letter ends with a plea: “We urge the public and the lawmakers of this country to push for an urgent evaluation of the president, for which we are in the process of developing a separate but independent expert panel, capable of meeting and carrying out all medical standards of care.”
All very theoretical, you may say; but take a look at just two of President Trump’s recent actions. In an earlier bizarre tweet, countering world experts, he said, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Really! Was this the result of careful, reflective thought, or just a casual shooting from the hip? Against all world opinion and advice, Trump has now pledged to pull the US out of the 2015 Paris Agreement and other international climate change initiatives, totally ignoring the real dangers of global warming. Perhaps the most bizarre action, however, was his recent slurred speech recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Met with astonishment by all world leaders, with the exception of Israel, experts are using high powered microscopes trying to detect even the tiniest piece of logic contained in Trump’s boast that this will lead to peace between Palestine and Israel. As the fires of condemnation burn throughout the Arab world, even the eminent Zionist pro-Israeli intellectual, Professor Simon Schama, on BBC Radio described Trump’s attempt to berate his predecessors’ failure to bring peace to the Middle East as “the usual pathetic, empty, egotistical, chest-beating bluster, being pointless and full of rhetorical hot air”. Schama reminded listeners that Trump had even ignored his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who had emphasised to him the obvious point that the one thing you cannot do is to circumnavigate the Palestinians. President Vladimir Putin cleverly spotted Trump’s diplomatic faux-pas and made a lightning trip on Monday to visit the leaders of Syria, Egypt and Turkey, thus cementing Russia’s growing influence in the Middle East at the expense of the US, which inexplicably still has no ambassador in these countries.
So, are the psychiatrists correct? Are we dealing with a delusional President who egotistically presses the button of popularity with his coal miners, ignoring climate change; or with his friends in the powerful Washington Jewish lobby in the case of Jerusalem? Will this delusion stretch to pressing the nuclear button in the case of North Korea?