Diagnosing Donald... Not mad, just bad

PUBLISHED: 13:00 15 January 2018 | UPDATED: 14:26 15 January 2018

(Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

(Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images

2015 Getty Images

BONNIE GREER gives her diagnosis of Donald J. Trump

The question of whether a mentally unfit leader is what is needed in stressful times has once again become the topic of debate.

The publication of Fire and Fury, a look inside the campaign of Donald Trump, paints not just a picture of an amateur operation out to lose – the author, Michael Wolff, compares Trump’s operation to Mel Brooks’ comic masterpiece The Producers – but of the bizarre man at the heart of it.

No one can claim, after reading excerpts from the book, that Trump is a man in control of his faculties. At least not the way that most of us understand control.

Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 presidential debates, described him as having “unusual ideas”.

Fire and Fury paints a portrait of a man frightened of being poisoned; who rings his friends from his solitary bedroom as he watches three screens; a guy who leaves his clothes on the floor and instructs the valet not to touch them; whose Twitter account will have to be archived in the Congressional Library as official presidential missives; who threatens a dictator with his picture of his ‘nuclear button’, which is really the buzzer that summons a butler to bring him of one of his dozen-a-day diet colas.

It is a secret to no one that the 45th president of the United States lies with the ease that most people breathe, and that his need for constant attention rivals any new-born infant.

What the book has brought out in the open is what many Americans are thinking; that the 25th Amendment to the Constitution should be invoked.

This is the Amendment that can be invoked by the Cabinet if they believe that the president is not fit to continue his/her term.

It was last considered in the 1980s, during Ronald Reagan’s first term, when his colleagues decided to hold a small dinner for him in order to ply him with various random questions.

If he faltered, the next move would be taken. Reagan got through the meal, but fell victim to Alzheimer’s during his second term, when the 25th should have been invoked, but was not.

Now there is a very real possibility that, if the Democrats re-take the lower House at the November midterm elections, Trump could be impeached not only for high crimes and misdemeanours regarding Russia, but also because he is deemed by many in the opposition party to be ‘unfit’. And by some in the governing Republican Party, too.

A small group of Democrats met with a high-level group of mental health professionals last December to talk about the president.

There is an association of psychiatrists called Duty To Warn, who are campaigning to have Trump removed because he is, in their view, mentally unstable and a danger to the nation and the world.

But a book first published in 2011, that challenges the view that a mentally unfit leader is a very bad thing, is being read again. Its central theme: we need ‘mentally unfit’ people in charge in times of stress and danger. They are the only ones equipped to save us.

In a recent article on this book, A First-Rate Madness, by its author Nassir Ghaemi, an academic psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, the theory is posited that there could be some positive benefits from aspects of manic-depressive illness.

He believes that Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill were somewhere on that spectrum, contrasting them to Neville Chamberlain, who he considers not to have been.

Peace, prosperity and order suit the Chamberlain personality-type better. On the other hand, Ghaemi considers peacetime to be the reason that Churchill was a failure in the 1920s. Peace just did not suit him.

There are biographies of Churchill that imply that the wartime prime minister enjoyed war. The king himself had to personally intervene in order to prevent Churchill from going to sea to watch the D-Day landings.

Abraham Lincoln was known to be a depressive and more. He would talk of his visions, particularly one in which he saw his own coffin laid out in the White House. He could be erratic. But he managed to suspend habeas corpus during the American Civil War, which enabled him to lock up anyone he wanted without due process.

He controlled Congress, hired and fired generals. He sent General Sherman and his troops into the Deep South to burn and pillage their way to the sea. He saved the United States from itself.

Churchill’s ‘black dog’ is well-known, too, as is the fact that he did not appear fully-dressed before noon; drank a lot and smoked a lot; and was never quite, as the French say comme il faut. The Nazis laughed and called him an old drunk and strange. As if they had anything to laugh about.

Churchill and Lincoln, for Ghaemi, were perfect for the times they found themselves in. “The times” is the key.

Ghaemi wrote recently that the question for him is not whether Trump is “normal”, but whether we are in the sort of time of crisis that calls for what he describes as a “hyperthymic leader”. He warns that the downside is that a such an individual may have mania. Mania’s downside is decreased empathy, that is, identification outside of the self.

Trump’s ‘forgotten people’ elect his empathy. Muslims, like Ghaemi, for example, do not. The latter does concern him a bit, but Ghaemi states that Trump could be a great president. Everyone has to simply go in the direction that Trump wants.

Ghaemi’s thesis falls down, it goes without saying, when Hitler is taken into consideration.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States during the Second World War was, a Mr Normal, who initiated the Sunday evening radio talks known as fireside chats. If he had not wished to enter the war, Britain would have stood alone against the might of Nazi Germany while the USA remained neutral.

In the conflict, Dwight Eisenhower was chosen to be Supreme Allied Commander not only for his military skills, but because he got along with everybody. He had a great smile and listened patiently to Patton and Montgomery, who detested one another.

Clement Attlee – about whom Churchill once told the story of an ‘empty taxi rolling up and out came Attlee’ – was arguably the greatest Prime Minister the United Kingdom has ever had. He forged the welfare state and helped rebuild post-war Europe. If he had not decided to take Labour into wartime coalition with Churchill, history would have had a different ending.

Clem was known to be low-key, a listener: the antithesis of hype and a truth-teller.

Ghamei, a distinguished professional, has an interesting point of view. A First-Rate Madness deserves to be widely read in these, our times, and debated.

But mania can be an eminent professional’s way of explaining behaviour that most of us have simply outgrown. Most people who suffer from mental illness are not prone to standing in front of howling crowds, basking in their adulation.

My diagnosis: being born and raised a rich kid, whose only cause was and is himself, is a better way of explaining Donald J. Trump.

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