Can Mental Illness ‘ Trump ’ Him?


The election of Donald Trump confused political pundits immensely because of the inanity of his arguments, the ‘anti-American’ nature of his authoritarianism, his constant misjudgments and claims of intellectual superiority, while actually affirming the opposite etc. How many staunch supporters of Trump continued to defend him even after he justified the disaster of Charlottesville and confirmed his sympathies for the Alt-Right, was by claiming that he is ‘authentic’. The argument is whatever Trump says or does is true to his being, while other politicians confuse the masses with their rhetoric and diplomatic answers.

Trump is rough around the edges, and so is highly appealing. However, recently, after a series of debacles such as alienating many members of his own inner circle, becoming a laughing stock on Twitter, and wreaking havoc on immigration policy while forgetting that he too has immigrant ancestry (like most other white conservative right wingers) have sparked off a new, and rather interesting, line of thought about his decision-making. Assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, Bandy Lee, has been actively mustering support for the idea that Trump has mental illness and is thus mentally unfit to be the President.

By calling his mental state ‘dangerous’, she is strongly transgressing the principles of her discipline which strongly criticizes this brand of ‘armchair psychiatry’ and conclusions drawn without closely investigated fact. The American Psychiatric Association commented, “We at the APA call for an end to psychiatrists providing professional opinions in the media about public figures whom they have not examined, whether it be on cable-news appearances, books, or in social media.” What is Lee trying to prove through this distortion of her subject’s ethical frame? Is her theory a crazed one? Is Trump’s behaviour no longer merely a laughing matter?

When read in the context of how Trump supporters foreground his commitment to the truth, this fear is a legitimate one. A world leader who has control over nuclear power sufficient to lead to the destruction of humanity, and treats it like a plaything, is not just ‘dangerous’. His effect is devastating. Tracing the idea of mental illness back to the two sides of the debate—whether mental illness is a socio-cultural construct or it is a system of maladaptive behaviours, thoughts and emotions, can provide some more clarity. Without descending into another article propounding ‘armchair psychiatry’ against his leadership, one can argue that the patterns of behaviour observed in his case—megalomania, delusion of persecution etc. are not very uncommon.

Many individuals in leadership and non-leadership positions exhibit similar traits, without successfully falling into the disorders classified by DSM IV (and latest versions). To classify them as maladaptive, intensive and objective investigation into his behavior needs to be undertaken with consent, to conform to ethical bounds. That consent is almost impossible to achieve. It is easier to get an incomplete inane tweet instead. On the other hand, if the Trump analysis is situated in the alternative mode of socio-cultural adjustment, it is very possible that he is setting the new standards for normalcy.

In other words, if madness is a social construct and Trump’s authenticity is extensively valued in a world of ‘fake leaders’, then his true nature, mad by Lee’s standards, is a norm readily accepted by his voters. What is more scary is that when his support for violence against women, racism etc. gets translated into authenticity, there is an overt validation of these systems of exploitation. An oversimplification would be, Trump speaks the truth—the truth is that women deserve to be mishandled—sexual violence is normal—and eventually, those who will not obey this behavior are transgressors. Trump is redefining madness for us.

Meanwhile, other political leaders claim that this issue is not politically relevant because it will not affect Trump’s support base. In an interview to a media house, a leader anonymously commented on this, “It’s no different than the birther issue. It’s trying to beat a political foe on a technicality rather than at the ballot box.” Madness has been historically read alongside social mobility, when the subversion of social norms for upliftment or empowerment or claiming basic rights was viewed as ‘lunacy’ by status-quoists. For instance, in the plays of Shakespeare, the fool figure fluidly traversed across boundaries and spaces of class and gender to comment on human hypocrisy. In Twelfth Night, Feste, the fool famously claims “I wear not motley in my brain”. But, Trump forces us to paraphrase “I must wear motley in my brain.”

-Contributed by Tript

Picture Credits:

Most Popular

To Top