Questioning Trump’s Sanity – Fair Game?

Donald Trump is an erratic man with poor impulse control, a temperament that belong nowhere near the White House, and self-centered to a degree unusual even among politicians. He lies routinely.

But does he lie pathologically? Are his lies related to a mental health condition which makes it difficult for him to tell the truth? Is his erratic and bullying conduct related to a psychological condition which could be diagnosed? Plenty of “Twitter psychologists” (not as many armchairs any more) have wondered if he has dementia, which sounds terrible, but we did have a president whom many people believe was entering early stages of Alzheimers while still in office.

I am no fan of Donald Trump. I want him soundly defeated. Do we have to call him crazy to accomplish that?

For months I’ve been saying no, and that’s still basically my position, but last night I had a long conversation on Twitter with, among others, the brilliant political writer James Fallows, science writer and professor Emily Willingham, and philosopher and disability rights journalist Elizabeth Picciuto. We all agree that Trump doesn’t have the temperament to be president. We disagree over whether we needed to frame temperament-issues in terms of mental health.

Here’s the storify of the whole thing. I keep thinking about Thomas Eagleton, the VP candidate booted from the race because he dared treat his depression. The use of casually stigmatizing pathological language as a way of criticizing Trump’s conduct still feels to me like it’s out of bounds.

Please pay particular attention to Deanne Shoyer, who identified herself as having a mental illness, and her objections.

But the key here is the word “casually.” If there are genuine concerns about Trump’s conduct that suggest mental health issues – and of course he’s not releasing contemporary medical records, unlike every other presidential candidate in recent history – Willingham made the argument that we can’t simply take mental illness out of the frame of discussion. Silencing, she argues, is also stigmatizing. 

So we end up, as so often, looking for nuance. When Trump wildly contradicts himself, flies in and out of rages, says things that are patently untrue, and so forth – I don’t think I can flatly tell reporters: Any discussion of mental health is forbidden!

What I’d like is for reporters, and all of us, to be intentional about the way we use language related to disability (and everything else). Being thoughtful about language will solve a lot of these issues related to stigma and discourse, and then we can just focus on beating Trump.

UPDATE: Read Finn on “Wrong does not mean crazy.”

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