If you’re a media-consuming human being, chances are, by now, you’ve heard of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” the Donald Trump tell-all by journalist Michael Wolff. But one aspect of the discourse arising from Wolff’s book disturbs me above all others.
Yesterday, according to Newsweek, Wolff said senior White House officials worry that President Trump might be suffering from dementia or learning disabilities or ADHD.
Wolff said the White House staff had noticed Trump’s mental state appearing to decline in his first year in office, with his attention span and his verbal skills shrinking. He said the White House was becoming a “madhouse” under Trump, and he expected the entire operation to only become more unhinged.
Let’s start with the obvious: First of all, it’s doubtful Trump, at 71, has suddenly developed a disability whose symptoms need to have been present during childhood as a requirement for diagnosis. Maybe he has dementia, but if we’re just going on the fact that his mental state has appeared to “decline in his first year in office,” then actually, by definition, ADHD can’t be to blame for Trump’s, well, Trumpiness.
Yes, it’s possible Trump’s true erratic nature somehow escaped the notice of literally everyone in the world from the day he was born until the day he was sworn in as leader of the free world. We don’t technically know for a fact that he doesn’t have ADHD or any other mental illness or disorder. So let’s say, just for the sake of discussion, that he does (*chokes back vomit*) have ADHD. Even if that were the case, slapping the ‘ADHD’ label on Trump still wouldn’t be OK.Accusing Trump of ADHD in the same breath as calling for his removal from office, however desirable that outcome is, implies that a person with ADHD shouldn't be president. Click To Tweet
This is, to put it bluntly, a watered-down version of the broader tendency in Western culture to denounce the mentally ill and people with mental disabilities and frame them as a threat to society, such as in the aftermath of mass shootings, etc.
In any event, this is not the first time people have speculated that Donald Trump’s impulsive behavior and short attention span are attributable to undiagnosed (and thus, untreated) ADHD. In July, the editors of ADDitude, an ADHD magazine, ran a multi-page investigative report on the possibility of Trump having ADHD.
Of course, not everyone thinks the source of Trump’s bat-shit craziness is strictly mental, however. There are those who believe the problem is with his personality.
Consider this passage from an article that ran in this week’s Sunday New York Times:
“These amateurs shouldn’t be diagnosing at a distance, and they don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Allen Frances, a former psychiatry department chairman at Duke University School of Medicine who helped develop the profession’s diagnostic standards for mental disorders.
Dr. Frances, author of “Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump,” said the president’s bad behavior should not be blamed on mental illness. “He is definitely unstable,” Dr. Frances said. “He is definitely impulsive. He is world-class narcissistic not just for our day but for the ages. You can’t say enough about how incompetent and unqualified he is to be leader of the free world. But that does not make him mentally ill.”
The point is this: ADHD doesn’t make you avaricious. It doesn’t make you narcissistic. It may cause you to be defiant, but not to take pleasure in the effect that defiance has on others. And it’s never, ever the reason a person is intolerant.
So whether Donald Trump has ADHD, if people continue to refer to ADHD as the reason for his ceaseless carelessness and recklessness, they’re not much better than Trump himself.
To quote Trump, “Sad!”