If you missed Trump’s press conference yesterday, you missed one of the most bizarre behaviors of an American President I’ve ever seen. It’s matched in my memory only by Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman” assertion, and Nixon’s “I am not a crook” statement.
But this went on for 74 minutes, and if James Joyce could write a press conference in the style of Ulysses, it would be this one. I’ve put the whole video of the press conference below, and reproduced in its entirety the email I got from CNN about the conference. CNN even gave its report the headline I’ve put below (click on screenshot to go to story). And I recommend you click on the link below called “Trump’s most memorable lines,” which include this gem:
“The leaks are real, the news is fake.”
“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”
Here’s CNN’s email (I have to say, I feel both revulsion and amusement when the daily bulletins called “CNN Breaking News” show up in my “in” box, for I know it will be yet another report on the progress of the Trump Clown Car):
Trump held court for an hour and 15 minutes, displaying a sense of anger and grievance rarely vented by a president in public.
He touted his own poll numbers, victory over Hillary Clinton and discussed cable TV ratings.
Reporters repeatedly pressed Trump on whether his campaign staff had been in contact with Russia, as a widening drama over his alleged connections with Moscow dominates news coverage.
“Nobody that I know of. How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse,” Trump said. “Russia is fake news.”
The real story, Trump insists, are “criminal” leaks from the intelligence community that have illuminated his campaign’s ties to Russia.
“We’ll find the leakers,” Trump told reporters. “They’re gonna pay a big price for leaking.” The White House is considering tapping an outsider, longtime Trump friend Stephen Feinberg, to review US intelligence agencies, US officials say.
Trump offered more made-for-TV moments during his news conference, many of which you’ll have to see for yourself:
- Trump’s most memorable lines
- His new executive order will be tailored to court’s decision on his travel ban, he says
- Trump claimed he had the largest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan (not true)
- He called the treatment of the first lady unfair
- And he asked an African-American reporter to set up a meeting with black lawmakers
- The reaction was just as colorful. Jake Tapper called Trump’s presser ‘unhinged’
- On Capitol Hill, “We’re just trying to manage this s***” [JAC: This came from a Republican lawmaker who, reports CNN, “tried to keep the President’s comments in context with his overall demeanor: ‘We’re just trying to manage this s***.'”
Here’s the video: watch and weep:
People are arguing whether Trump is mentally ill or not, and HuffPo even had an confusing (and malicious) article about the issue whose title is given below (the original title was worse, as it didn’t include the word “Psychiatrist:” at the beginning). Click on screenshot to go to the article:
The main argument of that piece is this:
Allen Frances, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, told the newspaper that he wrote the criteria for narcissistic personality disorder ― and Trump doesn’t meet it.
“He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder,” he wrote.
There are a few points to make about this. First, I doubt that Frances has personally examined Trump, so he has no business asserting whether or not Trump has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Second, Frances has no idea whether Trump suffers “distress” over his personality. Even if he doesn’t, he’s certainly impaired in his interpersonal relationships. Third, Frances is conflating “mental disorder,” “mentally ill” and “narcissistic personality disorder.” Some psychiatrists don’t consider personality disorder a “mental illness” because it’s not as serious as some mental problems, or doesn’t drive people into therapy. Yet NPD is still listed in version 5 of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the gold-standard book mental health professionals use for formal diagnoses. (If you know about the DSM, you’ll know about its disturbing history of changing diagnoses and criteria. As a scientist, I have substantial problems with how it uses a set number of criteria to effect a diagnosis, as I see many mental “disorders” as occurring on a sliding scale with no fixed threshold.)
Is there a difference between being mentally ill and mentally disordered? Well, some people think so, but given that both are based on biological conditions of the brain and physiology that make one behave outside the norm, I think such a distinction is subjective and arbitrary.
But judge for yourself: here are the DSM-5’s criteria for NPD. Does Trump show the symptoms?
So does Trump have NPD? I’d say that based on all these criteria, “yes”; but of course I’m not a professional. But I’d also assert (see below), that I don’t really care.
Is Trump mentally ill? Well, that depends on whether you see NPD as a mental illness. It’s certainly behavior that is disturbing and outside the norm, but not as far outside the norm as severe clinical depression or schizophrenia. But you can make the case that this is an arbitrary distinction; after all, if NPD isn’t a mental illness, then a cold isn’t a physical illness, because leukemia or diabetes are more debilitating, and drive people to physicians. Again, I don’t really care whether the answer to this question is “yes” or “no.”
In the end, it doesn’t matter because what we should do is independent of the answers. Trump is not going to get therapy—personality disorders are famously resistant to therapy, anyway—and so our response to his behavior should be to intervene politically, not medically. All we can do is to stop his actions as best we can, and that’s achievable only by political opposition to what he does, not by pondering and diagnosing his psychological makeup. (Of course, if he does have NPD, and if your goal is to rile him up, then are certain things that are more effective than others, like saying that he’s not as competent as someone else, or got fewer electoral votes or smaller Inauguration crowds. To trigger someone with NPD, you impugn their grandiose claims.)
It’s like one commenter yesterday who argued that we’d be more effective at stopping the misogyny of Haredi Jews against secular women (like those on airplanes) if we understood where in religious law and custom those attitudes came from. I doubt that. We stop the misogyny by making rules and laws against it, not by trying to convince the Orthodox Jews that their interpretation of scripture is wrong. Likewise, we must use the courts and our protests, not the ministrations or diagnoses of psychiatrists, to stop Trump from wrecking our country.