Trump’s mental competence

I dunno, but there are grounds for worry.

Commenter randomchick made an interesting point over at Kevin Drum’s on Trump’s impromptu press conference with Don King - some footage here.

What I found odd about this insane Q and A session wasn’t the lying… that’s to be expected and thank Jeebus reported. It wasn’t even the incoherent rambling. It was that he didn’t know anyone’s name or title. He referred to Johns Hopkins and the Cleveland and Mayo clinics’ representatives as “the three top people” and whoever he talked to at Sprint as “the top person”. How the hell does he not even know these people’s names or titles? Dude’s short term memory is non-existent. In addition to tax return disclosure, California, please add MRI test results to your eligibility requirements. I have a feeling Trump’s would look like a moth eaten Afghan.

I throw this into the ring for more expert comments. What I’ve been told is that short-term memory declines normally with age (where did I leave the TV remote?) and this is not a sign of the disease of dementia. On the other hand, politicians are normally very good at remembering names and enough other details to give the appearance of personal interest (“Give my regards to Laura”). Trump is not a professional politician, but you would think the same should hold for real estate developers, reliant on their network of business and political contacts. There’s a large and structured trove of data in the open about Trump’s behaviour in the form of his long-running TV shows. Has he recently shown signs of forgetting the names of contestants?

Trump did not only fail to release his tax records, his published medical ones were a joke. Trump’s personal doctor. He is 70, borderline obese (clinically obese if he’s lying about his weight and height, as seems likely), physically unfit, and can’t stick to the point when he speaks extempore. There are reasons for concern whether he will be physically and mentally capable of serving four years in one of the most demanding jobs in the world.

The USA has detailed rules for dealing with an incompetent President, in Article II.1.6 of the Constitution, Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, and the Presidential Succession Act. A nice clean heart attack, or a paralysing stroke like Wilson’s, are fairly straightforward cases. Progressive Alzheimer’s like Reagan’s is a much harder one. One way or another, there’s a fair chance Pence will be President well before 2020.

Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

6 thoughts on “Trump’s mental competence”

  1. I fervently hope Mike Pence becomes President long before 2020. Pence is not a life-long grifter; Pence does not display all the classic signs of Narcissistic Personality Disorder; Pence is clearly capable of rational thought. Pence would not create executive positions for his own children. Pence would at least try to appear to deal with financial conflicts of interest. Pence would appoint better people to the cabinet - which isn't saying much, but is true and important nonetheless. Pence would not wreck NATO, and would not be eager to use nukes.

    Don't get me wrong - Pence is far more conservative than I would like, and I would be no more happy than anyone else on this forum to see him as President. But he would be an immeasurable improvement over the corrupt, ignorant, and mentally incompetent clown that we are now faced with.

  2. One might question whether this is such a bad thing! Lucid Trump is pretty terrible. Maybe a bit of disorganization might come in handy.

    "I can't believe how he treated me. That's it. Sever ALL ties."
    "Are you sure, sir?"
    "Yes. I can't believe, err… he… uhhh… what was his name again? Oh forget it."

    One can hope.

  3. I don't see signs that Trump has dementia. The inability to stick to a point when speaking seems like Adult Attention Deficit Disorder to me, in which ideas are constantly popping in and out of one's head. I have the condition, and I know what it's like.

  4. What is worse than short term memory loss is "losing panic" - becoming convinced you have lost something, when you have not. I once took a taxi back to the college where I was dong a night class because I thought I had misplaced my Kindle. I found it eventually at the bottom of my capacious rucksack. But it cost me 60 euros to get a taxi out to where I parked my car because I missed the last train. I have learned to trust myself a bit more, even with short term memory loss.

    Incidentally, Donald Trump's father Fred Trump was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at age 77. Signs were probably visible before then.

  5. I don’t have the expertise to say whether Trump’s ostensible incoherence reflects a mental issue, but, even if it doesn’t, it certainly shows that he’s in way over his head.

    If you’ve ever transcribed ordinary speech with the aim of getting down what was actually said rather than a coherently edited statement, you know that spontaneous speech is surprisingly incoherent. We edit as we listen, and much ordinary talk relies on hearers’ bringing to bear some shared knowledge. The quote Drum’s article begins with is perfectly coherent, but seems incoherent because Trump jumps without transition from the need for security to his plan to talk to the senators (about something). He assumes hearers will fill in the blanks. This is common behavior in spontaneous interpersonal interaction, but not something we’re used to seeing in politicians—for good reason.

    Trump’s failure is a failure of adjustment to the rhetorical situation. He’s very good at some things: he can engage a sympathetic crowd; he is brilliant at dominance displays; he effectively talks past addressees to supportive overhearers. He’s good when he’s the only speaker and when he’s in complete control. He can read a room.

    But politicians need two things he has apparently never learned: first, they must be able to produce on the fly self-contained segments that are easily understood, hard to misunderstand, and easily copied and put into print or saved as a sound-bite without needing a lot of contextual information or filling in blanks.

    I don't know what kind of communication goes on in real estate deals, but for the kind of supportive audience Trump is used to dealing with publicly, what would be important is that he spoke to the top three people—his normal audience won’t care about names. Rank is important, names aren’t. And that’s the second thing: in politics, a big part of demonstrating competence is knowing who’s who and having names and facts at one’s fingertips, especially for someone coming into a new job.

    Pretty much everyone familiar with politics has known from the start that his lack of political experience would cause him to come a cropper in a variety of different ways. I hope I’m not adding to the overuse of the word “ironic” by pointing out that what’s tripping him up in this case is a rookie salesman error: in the words of the salesmen’s song that opens The Music Man: “he doesn't know the territory!”

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