It becomes more apparent when Donald Trump goes into Tweet-storm mode, but it’s always there. This man has serious psychological issues which have nothing to do with politics.
It’s a total distraction to say, “The president thinks” or “The president now believes.” To try to understand the man, we need to examine his psyche first and his politics later. In fairness, we should do the same with everyone in politics.
Washington Post writer Chris Mooney awakened us years ago to the concept of “The Republican Brain” through his book by the same name. But it would be duplicitous to only examine the psychological make-up of Republicans and not Democrats. In fact, we should do so with anyone aspiring to a position of power, whether that be in politics or in the private sector.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have been reluctant to try to psychoanalyze politicians. The American Psychological Association established the “Goldwater Rule” which said that it is unethical for mental health professionals to try to analyze individuals whom they have not personally examined. That may make sense, but it does not make sense for the entire populace to refrain from assessing what they see as psychological strengths and weaknesses of people in public life.
At the top of the news now is Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey. When the president changes his mind so many times about how it happened and why it happened, we must wonder what is going on inside his brain. Let me posit one theory about how he operates, and this is hardly unique one.
Like so many of us, perhaps all of us, Trump seems to be on the autism spectrum. One such indicator is having enormous insight into something while being clueless about others.
When it comes to insight, Trump seemed to understand the American electorate more than virtually anyone else in politics or punditry. He sensed that there was something that could be called the “Trump voter.” That person was generally white, not particularly well-educated, often angry and disdainful of complex answers to complex questions. Trump knew that he could win the Electoral College if he campaigned in areas where these people lived. He sensed that Hillary Clinton was not properly reaching out to potential supporters who could put her over the top.
But then there are the blind spots that a person on the autism spectrum has. Trump apparently had no sense of the optics of him bringing Henry Kissinger into the White House for a photo session the day after firing Comey. Kissinger is most identified with Richard Nixon and Nixon was “fire-happy” as witness the Saturday Night Massacre. On the same day, he brought Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak into the Oval Office. Comey had been investigating Trump campaign connections with Russia.
But back to the other side of the autism spectrum. Trump seems to know that how progressives and even the mainstream media feel about what he has done to Comey may have little, if any, impact on how the people who voted for him think about the firing. The erratic behavior of the president might be a non-issue because he still represents the anger that many of them harbor towards almost anything mainstream.
What’s intriguing is how “Trump the President” gets a pass from so many of his supporters. But if a person with Trump’s characteristic was their boss, their teacher, or even their brother-in-law, there would be little tolerance of his behavior. The “Trump person” would be directly impacting them in a way in which they could see and a way which they would not like.
The whole idea of talking about public persona in a way which includes psychological assessment is scary and frightening. But the costs of not doing it may be even more risky. If we make it open season on trying to psychoanalyze our leaders, we are essentially saying that it’s okay for us to do that with everyone we know, or even those we don’t know. But the cat is out of the bag. We do it.
As citizens, we may find it much more beneficial to ourselves and our country to pay less attention to the political Donald Trump or even the governing Donald Trump than it is to look at his psyche. At this point, there is good reason to conclude that he is the wrong person in the wrong office. The 25th Amendment and impeachment process provide ways to deal with this. Nothing will happen without a few courageous Republicans. As David Gergen has asked, where is the next Howard Baker?