Donald Trump: Mental Health Assessment


Personality disorder (introduction)
 
Trump's mental status has generated analyses and opinions from co-workers MORE, mental health professionals SEE BELOW, his niece (Dr. Mary L. Trump -- see below), and Dr. Zebra.

For this website, the events of 2020 caused a major re-assessment of Trump's psychiatric health, as explained here → MORE. The most recent assessment (January 2021) is below.


More...
[[ This page was written in late 2019. Later events have obsoleted much of it.]]

The already-voluminous writings on Trump's mental health by healthcare professionals are certain to grow. Only a sampling of them is reviewed here.

Some observers have posited organic disease (i.e. damaged brain tissue) as a driver of Trump's mental state, including:

  • Neurosyphilis 1: Aside from any analysis of signs and symptoms, the disease can be confidently ruled out for other reasons.
    1. As of early 2017 Trump had been on a tetracycline long-term ("refilled prescriptions" 2) for rosacea. This would eradicate any latent syphilis, given that just 14 days of a tetracycline is a standard syphilis treatment in persons allergic to penicillin 3.
    2. At the time of Trump's first marriage New York state still required pre-marital syphilis tests 4. This does not rule out a later infection, but it does clear his teens and twenties.
    3. As a germaphobe, Trump would be expected to seek treatment immediately for any of the symptoms of primary or secondary syphilis (the precursor states to neurosyphilis, which is a form of tertiary syphilis).
  • Dementia (1): In January 2018 seventy-five health professionals and para-professionals (including 8 physicians) signed a letter to Trump's physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, stating their concern that the president had dementia 5. They urged Jackson to administer the "Montreal Cognitive Assessment" test to Trump.
        The White House had earlier declared that a cognitive assessment would not be part of Trump's upcoming medical examination that month 6, but Jackson apparently heeded the letter (kudos to him) and administered precisely the test urged.
        Trump got a perfect score 7, after which the leaders behind the original letter declared that was insufficient to rule out pre-dementia 8. (Which raises the question: Why did they urge so inadequate a tool as the Montreal test?) Jackson afterwards answered extensive press queries about the test and about Trump's mental abilities 9.
  • Dementia (2): The clear change in Trump's speaking pattern over the last 30+ years 10 -- simpler words, simpler sentences -- has also been taken as a sign of brain degeneration. However, it is not possible to ascribe the change to brain disease without first ruling out the more likely reason that the simpler words and cadences are politically effective 11. Indeed, linguistic analysis of 21,739 of his tweets over 10 years supports this, showing that, in that medium, Trump has 4 language styles that shift systematically depending on his communication goals 12 13.
        Trump's language is also remarkable for its slipperiness. Sentences, or more often, sentence fragments, are hedged, qualified, blurred, and, especially, ascribed to nameless third parties. His interview with Dr. Oz is an excellent example 15, and he was able to deliver it off the cuff. This speech pattern, so fluid as it emanates from Trump, can seem like twisted genius because the rest of us would have had to labor hard to draft answers sounding as natural, helpful, and easily digested as his, but so lacking in certainties. In reality, it is more likely that Trump's years of business dealings have made him well-practiced in such haranguing speech.
  • Dementia (3): For Trump in 2019 Dr. Zebra does not entertain the diagnosis of dementia of the Alzheimer type, the hallmark of which is declining memory for recent events. Whatever one may say about Trump's mental state, it is quite clear from even his brief interactions with the press that his memory for events of the day is excellent. Continuing the outside scrutiny of Trump's mental faculties is completely valid 16, as is urging his physicians' attentiveness to it, but such scrutiny must consider both the denominator and the numerator, i.e. what the President does well, not just his flubs.
  • Sleep pathology: Dr. Zebra discusses Trump's sleeplessness at length. Deficient quantity and quality of sleep would seem to be the leading suspect in causing signs that others have interpreted as dementia.

Dr. Zebra does, however, have two areas of concern about Trump's mentation.

A high-profile book, published in 2017, collected essays from three dozen psychiatrists who analyze Trump's psyche 17. Although a second edition followed two years later 18, the timing of the first book betrays a superficial approach to its subject. Less than three months after Trump's inauguration the book's editor "hosted a town hall meeting at Yale medical school" to debate going public with psychiatric concerns about Trump 19, and just six months after that that the book of essays was published. This is remarkably fast. Dr. Zebra knows something about the time required to research the medical history of presidents -- a single journal article can require years of digging for facts, even in the case of an unstudied president like William Taft, for whom facts are scarce. The rapid appearance of purportedly fact-based articles about a man who has a 40 year evidentiary trail that needs to be scoured immediately consigns them to the bin of superficialities that is unfortunately typical of presidential psychiatric assessment.

Moreover, after reading the introduction to both editions, Dr. Zebra has not been motivated to read further. It seemed that (a) new diagnostic entities were being invented just for this patient ("malignant normality"), and that (b) based on the hyperbolic "warnings" about Trump from the authors of the essays, their objectivity and detachment seemed irretrievably tainted. The latter point has been noted by others, too 20.

The second area is mania, in the psychiatric sense of the word. Trump has always been grandiose, but some tweets of his are harrowing:

  • Shortly after a damning book on Trump and his presidency was published and received immense press attention 21, Trump tweeted 22 that he was elected...

    He spoke of himself as an "extremely stable genius" on May 23, 2019 (after a contentious meeting with Democrats 23) and twice more tweeted the "stable genius" phrase 22: on July 11, 2019 (during general bashing of Democrats 24) and on Sep. 14, 2019 (for unclear reasons).
  • Pummeled by bipartisan criticism about concessions on Syria that he made to the President of Turkey after a single phone call, Trump tweeted, in absolute seriousness 25:
The "wisdom and obliterate" tweet was the more gut-punching. Dr. Zebra has long experience in aerospace medicine, assessing whether pilots and other aviators are medically fit to fly. If a pilot, even the boldest and most skilled, sat in my exam room and uttered a serious statement about his or her "great and unmatched wisdom," I would not hesitate to ground the pilot pending a full psychiatric examination. A "stable genius" claim would earn the same response. Readers may wish to consider a situation 26 where they are sitting in a passenger airliner, piloted by a person who on the overhead intercom before take-off announces that in his great and unmatched wisdom he is going to obliterate any barriers to passenger comfort during the upcoming flight, using his skills as a stable genius. You would get off the plane.
Cited Sources
  1. Beutler, Steven. A Medical Theory for Donald Trump's Bizarre Behavior. (Published 17 Feb. 2017. Downloaded on 2019-10-04.) Available on the web: https://newrepublic.com/article/140702/medical-theory-donald-trumps-bizarre-behavior
  2. Altman, Lawrence K. Donald Trump's Longtime Doctor Says President Takes Hair-Growth Drug. (Published 1 Feb. 2017. Downloaded on 2019-12-24.) Available on the web: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/us/politics/trump-prostate-drug-hair-harold-bornstein.html
  3. Centers for Disease Control. 2015 Sexually Transmitted Diseases Treatment Guidelines: Syphilis. (Published 2015. Downloaded on 2016-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/syphilis.htm
  4. Felman YM. Repeal of Mandated Premarital Tests for Syphilis: A Survey of State Health Officers. American Journal of Public Health. 1981; 71: 155-159. Pubmed: 6779649. DOI: 10.2105/ajph.71.2.155   Also available on the web at: https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.71.2.155
  5. Buser, Steven. [Letter to RDML Ronny L. Jackson]. (Published 11 Jan. 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2018/images/01/12/letter.to.radm.jackson.january.11.2018[1].pdf
  6. Diamond, Dan; Cancryn, Adam. Is Trump mentally fit? Don't count on his physical to tell you. (Published 8 Jan. 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/08/donald-trump-medical-doctor-health-269759
  7. Wilson, Chris. What Donald Trump's Mental Health Exam Doesn't Tell Us. (Published Jan. 17, 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://time.com/5106569/donald-trump-mental-health-exam/
  8. Gartner, John. Trump's troubling behavior raises questions his medical exam didn't answer. (Published Jan. 22, 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/01/22/trump-behavior-raises-questions-medical-exam-didnt-answer-gartner-reiss-buser-column/1052290001/
  9. Sanders, Sarah; Jackson Ronny. Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and Dr. Ronny Jackson. (Published 16 Jan. 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-28.) Available on the web: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-sarah-sanders-and-dr-ronny-jackson-01162018/
        

    Comment: A transcript of the press briefing is archived here --> MORE

  10. Begley, Sharon. Trump wasn't always so linguistically challenged. What could explain the change?. (Published May 23, 2017. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.statnews.com/2017/05/23/donald-trump-speaking-style-interviews/
  11. Frances, Allen. I helped write the manual for diagnosing mental illness. Donald Trump doesn't meet the criteria. (Published Sept. 6, 2017. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.statnews.com/2017/09/06/donald-trump-mental-illness-diagnosis/
  12. University of Birmingham. "Very Stable Genius" -- Science Says Trump Tweets Were Systematic Plan of Attack in Presidential Campaign. (Published 5 Oct. 2019. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://scitechdaily.com/very-stable-genius-science-says-trump-tweets-were-systematic-plan-of-attack-in-presidential-campaign/
  13. Clarke I, Grieve J. Stylistic variation on the Donald Trump Twitter account: A linguistic analysis of tweets posted between 2009 and 2018. PLoS ONE. September 25, 2019.   Available on the web at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222062
  14. Cohen, Michael. Testimony of Michael D. Cohen. U.S. House Of Representatives. Committee On Oversight And Reform. February 27, 2019.
  15. Cillizza, Chris; Blake, Aaron. Donald Trump's interview with Dr. Oz was just as amazingly strange as we thought it would be. (Published 15 September, 2016. Downloaded on 2019-12-01.) Available on the web: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/09/15/donald-trumps-visit-with-dr-oz-was-just-as-amazing-as-you-though-it-would-be/
        

    Comment: Also includes annotations by Cillizza and Blake. Their interview transcript is archived here: MORE

  16. Gartner, John. Trump's cognitive deficits seem worse. We need to know if he has dementia: Psychologist. (Published Apr. 9, 2019. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/04/09/does-donald-trump-have-dementia-we-need-know-psychologist-column/3404007002/
  17. Lee, Bandy X. (ed.). The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2017.
        
  18. Lee, Bandy X. (ed.). The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President -- Updated and Expanded with New Essays. New York: Thomas Dunne / St. Martin's Press, 2019.
        
  19. Milligan, Susan. An Ethical Dilemma: Donald Trump's presidency has some in the mental health community re-evaluating their role. (Published 21 Apr. 2017. Downloaded on 2019-12-22.) Available on the web: https://www.usnews.com/news/the-report/articles/2017-04-21/mental-health-professionals-debate-ethics-in-the-age-of-trump
  20. Lozada, Carlos. Is Trump mentally ill? Or is America? Psychiatrists weigh in. (Published 22 Sept. 2017. Downloaded on 2017-09-23.) Available on the web: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/09/22/is-trump-mentally-ill-or-is-america-psychiatrists-weigh-in/
  21. Wolff, Michael. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. New York: Henry Holt, 2018.
        
  22. Trump, Donald J.. [Tweet: ...to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and a very stable genius at that!]. (Published January 6, 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-03.) Available on the web: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/949619270631256064
        

    Comment: Other "stable genius" tweets include:

  23. Fritze, John; Collins, Michael. Trump calls himself an "extremely stable genius," while responding to Pelosi criticism. (Published September 15, 2016. Downloaded on 2019-12-26.) Available on the web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/23/trump-defends-himself-extremely-stable-genius-after-blowup-pelosi/1209925001/
  24. Cummings, William. Trump says he's "so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius" in tweet bashing 2020 Dems. (Published July 11, 2019. Downloaded on 2019-12-26.) Available on the web: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/elections/2019/07/11/trump-again-calls-himself-stable-genius/1703154001/
  25. Trump, Donald J.. [Tweet: great and unmatched wisdom]. (Published Oct. 7, 2018. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://twitter.com/realdonaldtrump/status/1181232249821388801
  26. Fallows, James. If Trump Were an Airline Pilot. (Published 22 Aug. 2019. Downloaded on 2019-12-25.) Available on the web: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2019/08/if-trump-were-airline-pilot/596575/

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