James Fallows of The Atlantic magazine is a usually sober political analyst, not given to taking sensationalist positions. But in a new article he writes that recent events have pushed him over the edge and convinced him that Donald Trump is in a serious state of cognitive impairment and that there are only two jobs in which he would not be forced out of his job for what his words and actions indicate about his mental state.
Through the 2016 campaign, I posted a series called “Trump Time Capsule” in this space. The idea was to record, in real time, what was known about Donald Trump’s fitness for office—and to do so not when people were looking back on our era but while the Republican Party was deciding whether to line up behind him and voters were preparing to make their choice.
The series reached 152 installments by election day. I argued that even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership. If you’re hazy on the details, the series is (once again) here.
The one thing I avoided in that Time Capsule series was “medicalizing” Trump’s personality and behavior. That is, moving from description of his behavior to speculation about its cause. Was Trump’s abysmal ignorance—“Most people don’t know President Lincoln was a Republican!”—a sign of dementia, or of some other cognitive decline? Or was it just more evidence that he had never read a book? Was his braggadocio and self-centeredness a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder? (Whose symptoms include “an exaggerated sense of self-importance” and “a sense of entitlement and require[s] constant, excessive admiration.”) Or just that he is an entitled jerk? On these and other points I didn’t, and don’t, know.
But now we’ve had something we didn’t see so clearly during the campaign. These are episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting: An actually consequential rift with a small but important NATO ally, arising from the idea that the U.S. would “buy Greenland.” Trump’s self-description as “the Chosen One,” and his embrace of a supporter’s description of him as “King of the Jews.” His logorrhea, drift, and fantastical claims in public rallies, and his flares of belligerence at the slightest challenge in question sessions on the White House lawn. His utter lack of affect or empathy when personally meeting the most recent shooting victims, in Dayton and El Paso. His reduction of any event, whatsoever, into what people are saying about him.
If Donald Trump were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role.
There are two exceptions. One is a purely family-run business, like the firm in which Trump spent his entire previous career. And the other is the U.S. presidency, where he will remain, despite more and more-manifest Queeg-like unfitness, as long as the GOP Senate stands with him.
I think Fallows has got it right. It is now dawning on more and more people that that Trump is losing his marbles. The only significant political entity still providing him with a cover is the Republican-controlled US senate. As long as they refuse to condemn his erratic words and actions, he (and they) can continue to pretend that there is no problem here. Right now, they are trying to avoid having to defend Trump’s indefensible behavior. But how long they can continue to avoid answering the questions of reporters and their constituents at meetings and continue this pretense that things are normal remains to be seen.