There has been a lot of discussion recently surrounding the book written about Donald Trump by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury. The book is marketed as being an inside look at life in the White House. In the book, Wolff alleges that Trump is unfit for office due to his alleged low intelligence and mental health issues, and that all those around him were aware of it. Now, I am no fan of Trump but I take issue with these allegations.
Wolff claims that Trump is “intellectually incapable” of carrying out the duties of the president. He makes claims that Trump does not read and may be “semi-literate”. This is clearly nonsense – Trump has a degree so must be literate and reasonably intellectual. His reluctance to spend time reading documents within view of Wolff may well stem from the fact that the president will be incredibly busy and actually not have time.
Even if these claims had the slightest merit, these claims are incredibly harmful to intellectually disabled people. Some have claimed Trump may be dyslexic, in the context of saying he is unfit for office. Why this is a harmful and insulting claim should not have to be explained. Dyslexia should not be a disqualification for elected office. And while president is a hugely important and stressful job, there should not be some kind of IQ test before someone is allowed to run – claims that only those with a high IQ should be president set the US on a path to this kind of dystopia.
There have been many psychiatrists claiming Trump is mentally ill. Psychiatrists diagnose mental illnesses after examining their patients. A reputable psychiatrist would not make a diagnosis of someone they had not examined – and are we expected to believe all those making these claims have examined Trump in person? Regardless of profession, these people are humans, and humans can make biased claims for political reasons, and those who oppose Trump certainly have political motivations for casting doubt on his fitness for office, thanks to the 25th Amendment.
Many other mental health professionals disagree with these assessments. A common ‘diagnosis’ thrown at Trump is Narcissistic Personality Disorder – but the man who wrote the diagnostic criteria for this condition disagrees with the assessment, saying that Trump does not show the signs of being mentally ill, and stating that:
Which brings me to my main point: blaming Trump’s behaviour on mental illness is not only inaccurate, it is actively harmful to people with genuine mental illness. To claim that Trump is dangerous and unfit for office due to his alleged mental health issues is to claim that anyone with a mental health issue is therefore necessarily unfit for office. This is untrue as there are many mental conditions that would not stop an individual from being a good president, and to make claims like this is to exclude these individuals from the presidency for a long time.
Mental health conditions already have a huge stigma – this is evident from Trump’s detractors using them to insult him in itself. These claims do nothing but add more stigma to these conditions, making people with legitimate diagnoses more concerned about being judged as being like Trump, and those who wish to seek formal diagnosis more afraid to do so, lest they be judged unfit.
People with mental health conditions are already discriminated against in societies across the globe. Where there is legislation requiring employers to allow employees to take sick days, many employers do not count mental illness as a legitimate excuse to miss work as they would for physical illness. Those with mental illness or mental disabilities are frequently discriminated against when seeking employment as they are often seen as unreliable, while at the same time being judged fit to work when trying to claim disability benefits.
Donald Trump’s behaviour does not indicate mental illness – rather, it indicates that he is greedy for power and does not care who he hurts to get it. These are not mental conditions – they are part of his character, which does not make him ill. Trump’s periodical twitter threats against North Korea are not a sign of mental illness – rather they are likely to be politically motivated and not as spontaneous as is often claimed.
Trump won the election by being outrageous. It is a strategy that should never have worked, but nevertheless it did. Can we say with certainty that Trump’s tweets are not part of a tactical plan to keep his supporters on side? What looks like ill thought out rants could be part of a strategy of sorts aimed at keeping Trump’s alt-right voter base on side. People say things online for a multitude of reasons, and many of these are not genuine. And if Trump was really going to ‘lose it’ and nuke somewhere, he’d probably have done it already.