Hypothetical tweet from @DumpTrump: “Did you see the latest Trump meltdown? How did we elect such a megalomania? No question, the guy is mentally ill.”
In a snarkily filled tweet (or, let’s say, a snarkily written 500-word column), we impugn the President’s mental stability. And we — composing that latest Facebook missive or Twitter soundbite — are not alone. From CNN to Washington Post, armchair commentators have diagnosed Trump with a buffet of mental health issues. “He is narcissistic,” the commentators scream. “No, he isn’t narcissistic; the problem is his inability to control his impulsive tendencies,” another talking head bloviates. “No, it isn’t his impulsiveness; the real problem is his bullying, disparaging treatment of, well, anyone,” the latest scribe sneers.
Sure, Trump’s behavior is more erratic than egalitarian. For him, facts are merely speed bumps, summarily driven over or, at best, ignored. His rants and raves would make Bobby Knight cringe. As a self-respecting journalist, I shudder whenever he decries the fake news media or blasts his critics’ patriotism.
But is he mentally ill? And, better question, are we qualified to assess his mental status?
The answer — at least to the latter question: an unequivocal no. Yes, Trump’s behavior is coarse–even threatening. From his casual footsie with Charlottesville’s torch-wielding bigots to his disdain for Constitutional checks and balances, his rhetoric is deeply disturbing. Borderline unconscionable for this unflinching Democrat.
But crazy or insane? A mental health diagnosis is more nuanced than a five minutes soundbite of a bloviating Trump. To wit, the DSM-5 lists nine symptoms of major depressive disorder. It may takes months — or even years — for a general practitioner to correctly diagnose a patient’s mental health condition. But, somehow, you and uncle Bob have pinpointed the Orange Hairpiece’s clinical diagnosis?
More than the ceaseless chatter about Trump’s mental health illness(es), there is a darker concern: the politicization of mental health issues. In our overheated times, we casually toss around pejorative mental health labels with a swift, damning ease. From Trump decrying James Comey as a “nut job” to prominent Democrats castigating Trump’s mental health–or lack thereof, the political parties have finally found a unifying message: mental health conjecture as parlor game.
This “sport” is more sinister than your standard “throw out all the bums” analysis. As we casually exchange mental health barbs, aren’t we mainstreaming–unconsciously or otherwise–the most vile of campaign tactics? Somehow it is now fair game to question a politician’s mental health in the crudest of terms? All for the sake of scoring cheap political points? This stretches political and, well, human decency. Even more concerning: its chilling effect on mental health discussions among the general public. As well-respected public figures hurl mental health invective at one another, this further stigmatizes mental health openness/transparency among the general public. But apparently for Joe Q. Public Official, this is immaterial. Mental health is now a weapon of political destruction. Consequences be damned.
That (American) shining city on the hill? Well, it has lost a little bit of luster as politicians and surrogates spew mental health insults at one another. Forget Make America Great Again, let’s just make it civil @DumpTrump and, yes, @realDonaldTrump.