Opinion Comment

Saturday 23 February 2019

David Von Drehle: While we're on the subject of shrinks, Mr President, let's start with yours

Donald Trump. Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Donald Trump. Photo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

David Von Drehle

The customary tsk-tsks erupted when US President Donald Trump opined on the state of mind of Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren during a interview on Fox News. Asked if Warren thinks she can beat him in 2020, Trump replied, "You'd have to ask her psychiatrist."

Trump's critics are so reflexively critical at this point that they can't recognise a great idea when they hear it. By all means, let's ask Warren's psychiatrist - but let's not stop with Warren. To the couch, Mr President!

Love or hate him (or anything in between), no reasonable person can deny that Trump is a textbook example of narcissistic personality disorder. Reading the list of symptoms on the Mayo Clinic's website is like scrolling through the president's Twitter: "Require constant, excessive admiration", "exaggerate achievements and talents", "be preoccupied with... brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate", "monopolise conversations and belittle... people", "expect special favours and unquestioning compliance", "have an inability or unwillingness to recognise the needs and feelings of others".

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In early December, he announced plans to spend the holidays enjoying a restful break from Washington at his palatial Palm Beach retreat. The very picture of sanity, no? If I owned a palatial Palm Beach retreat and didn't use it to relax in late December, you'd rightly call me crazy. Yet there sits Trump, far from Mar-a-Lago, holed up inside the White House in a dreary DC December, abandoned by his chief of staff, his attorney general, his secretary of defence, etc. He's fighting a losing battle with Congress over money to build a wall - only it's not a wall, necessarily. It's "steel slats", perhaps. Some sort of "barrier", anyway. Whatever it is, as a candidate, Trump promised nearly every day that it would cost precisely nada.

Jailed in the White House, hounded by investigations and jabbering himself in circles, he decided to insert himself into the Fox News coverage of New Year's Eve.

Holiday cable is to news as cruise ship theatre is to Broadway. Another year at this declining rate, and the president will be calling the sweater-dress ladies on QVC. Two years, and the next occupant might find the White House overrun with cats.

A million erroneous citations notwithstanding, Albert Einstein never said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But wherever it came from, Trump proves the maxim daily. In Trump's defence, I've long believed that most presidents could keep a shrink working overtime.

Imagine trying to heal Thomas Jefferson's bifurcated personality: half slavekeeper, half apostle of freedom. Did James Madison's tiny stature have anything to do with his blustering and blundering into war? And the daddy issues. Oh, my. Andrew Jackson never knew his father. Abraham Lincoln disdained his.

By all accounts, Trump was the apple of his father's eye, and yet the president has spent his career trying to escape his Outer Borough roots and deny his debts to dad. At this point, I wonder if anyone who's not a bit off-kilter has what it takes to win and inhabit the awesome, awful office of the presidency. To offer oneself as decider of the questions too hard for experts to decide. To alter one's life and the lives of one's family forever. To live with the nuclear button.

Still, there's value in knowing. So let's ask the psychiatrists, Mr President. And let's start with yours.

Irish Independent

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