At first we couldn’t talk about it. The dictums of the American Psychological Association said that not only was it inappropriate for us as citizens to talk about the mental health of our public leaders, but they as professionals could not do so either unless they had personally examined the leader. This Goldwater Rule could not withstand the pressure of laymen and mental health professional alike to want to analyze presidential candidate, and now president, Donald Trump.
It has become open season to question the president’s mental health. It may be presumptuous of all of us to do it, but we’ve clearly learned that it is not possible to assess Trump based on his “beliefs” or policies. There is a certain non-permanence to those and he tends to gravitate toward some combination of what is convenient, with a healthy dose of Republican meanness.
As many on the left question Trump’s sanity, it is interesting that the defenses of Trump from the right rarely include statements vouching for his sanity. Instead they say that he has awakened America to the concerns and policies of the conservative movement. So who is going to defend Trump when he might have moments of sanity?
An agreed definition of sanity is “the ability to think and behave in a normal and rational manner.” So if a human being faces a decision of whether or not to go into a danger zone, all other things being equal, it makes sense to avoid it. And this is precisely what Donald Trump has decided to do by not attending the 2017 White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 29. His tweet announcing his decision was unusually bland, “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening.” His words neither conveyed defensiveness nor the anger that he has expressed toward the press since he announced his candidacy for the presidency in June, 2015.
Trump has previously attended only one White House Correspondents’ Dinner (2011) and it was a disaster for him. The normally compassionate President Barack Obama joined the spirit of the event and took a few jabs at his opponents. One of them was Donald Trump. In particular, Obama mocked Trump’s belief that Obama was not born in the United States. Trump was forced to sit with no place to escape and take jab after jab.
In a 2016 Frontline, PBS cited the evening as such a humiliation for Trump that it was a key motivator in his decision to run for president, and essentially seek revenge.
What is interesting now is that Trump is choosing not to take the stage at the 2017 dinner and be the “skewer-in-chief.” He knows that whatever he dishes out, he will receive far more in return. More importantly, it would be in front of a largely hostile crowd, something he has wisely avoided in his campaign and presidency.
So let’s give The Donald credit for knowing where not to go. It is indeed an act of sanity, normalcy and rational behavior. It’s good to know that when necessary, he knows what to do to protect himself.
Perhaps this is a glimmer of hope that he may not be as loose with the nuclear football as some of us might fear he could be. But as the psychologists and psychiatrists warn us, we’re all amateurs in trying to analyze what this man might do.