Donald Trump’s mental competency takes centrestage in conversations and media coverage as 2020 US election draws closer

  • Ahead of the 2020 US presidential election, Donald Trump's mental health has become the centre of debate for the press and social media

  • Several columnists and TV show hosts are now discussing the president's psychiatric condition, taking note of his recent controversial remarks

  • A prominent name that has come up in this course is George Conway, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway's husband, who has called Trump a 'malignant narcissist'

After the first weekend of August in the US was marked by two mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, President Donald Trump had called the acts of violence a "mental health problem".

“There is a mental illness problem that has to be dealt with,” he said on 15 August at a rally, while addressing the mass shootings. Over a week later, Trump's own mental state has become the centre of debate for the press and social media.

Several columnists and TV show hosts are now discussing the US president's psychiatric condition, taking note of his recent controversial remarks — including his referring to himself as The Chosen One (to take on China over trade) and the King of Israel.

 Donald Trump’s mental competency takes centrestage in conversations and media coverage as 2020 US election draws closer

US president Donald Trump. AP

A Daily Kos piece noted how in the course of 48 hours, Trump accused American Jews of "great disloyalty" if they voted for Democrats, called the Denmark prime minister "nasty" for not selling him Greenland, and joked about awarding himself a medal of honour.

"Newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump remains a deeply troubled man," the piece claimed, as it lashed out at prominent media organisations for not reporting about the president's mental health.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign, journalist and writer James Fallows had catalogued "in realtime" what was known about Trump’s "fitness for office". In his recent article for The Atlantic, he said that "even then there was no doubt of Trump’s mental, emotional, civic, and ethical unfitness for national leadership".

Fallows claimed that "now we're seeing episodes of what would be called outright lunacy if they occurred in any other setting".

He elaborated: "If an airline learned that a pilot was talking publicly about being 'the Chosen One' or 'the King of Israel'... the airline would be looking carefully into whether this person should be in the cockpit."

A CNN show called Reliable Sources on Sunday extensively discussed Trump's 'instability', during which two psychiatrists also put forth their views on how the president's mental health should be discussed in the news.

Yale School of Medicine professor Bandy Lee, who has spoken about Trump's 'psychological problems' in the past, claimed on the show that the authorities were preventing a discussion on the issue. She also spoke about a "gag rule" that has apparently come into place.

"They have modified the original Goldwater rule... into an order that allows for no exception, and it basically says that we're not just allowed to diagnose, but say anything of any kind in relation to a public figure," she said.

The original Goldwater rule of the American Psychological Association prohibits psychiatrists from diagnosing public figures.

During the CNN debate, former chair of psychiatry at Duke University Allen Frances spoke against medicalising politics, and warned psychologists against diagnosing Trump from afar as it would stigmatise mental health.

He further pointed out: "Calling Trump crazy hides the fact that we're crazy for having elected him and even crazier for allowing his crazy policies to persist.... He needs to be contained. But he needs to be contained by attacking his policies and not his person."

Frances also said that the diagnoses offered on Trump in the media have been "amateurish" and "they don't apply to Trump".

"... they'll never get Trump out of office," he said.

The host of the said show, Brian Stelter, later in a piece titled 'The hardest Trump story for the press to cover: His fitness for the job', claimed that news outlets were struggling to report on Trump's mental health because there was no format to cover it.

"It's a lot harder to cover concerns about the president's well-being, because it's really a series of questions that no one is able to answer. Why does he make it all about himself even while, to pick one example, visiting a hospital after a massacre? Why does he lie so often? ... Is he suffering from some sort of illness? Questions, questions and then more questions. No satisfying answers," he wrote, while calling for the press to stop "tiptoeing" around the story.

Independent media platform RanntMediain its weekly column on Trump called Unpresidentedclaimed that his "mental instability" had pervaded every facet of American culture, and is endangering America’s national security, economic future, and global standing.

Demand for employing 25th Amendment

With Trump's psychiatric condition slowly finding its place in the mainstream media, there's also a growing chatter for his removal under the 25th Amendment. The trending of #25thAmendmentNow on Twitter last week further contributed to the clamour reaching the stage that it is at now.

A prominent name that has come up in this course is George Conway, White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway's husband, who has called Trump a "malignant narcissist" on his Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, Joe Walsh, a former congressman who is challenging Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, is using the ongoing debate to his advantage. “We have someone in the White House who we all know is unfit,” Walsh said in a video while announcing his candidacy on Sunday.

When he was asked on a TV show if he believes the 25th Amendment should be invoked, he said, "It should be looked at."

It may be too soon to predict if the speculations will hamper Trump's prospects for the 2020 US presidential election. However, mentally unfit or not, the truth remains that it'll take a lot more than just theories about his psychological abilities to affect his current term.

Updated Date: Aug 28, 2019 00:02:19 IST