Labeling Foes as Mentally Ill
Terry H. Schwadron
March 2, 2022
Amid the headlines of war in Europe, we’ve seen a curious through-line — the role of pop psychology to declare whoever takes an objectionable position is off his rocker.
Daily now, we hear and see televised would-be psychologists and on-the street psychiatrists offering unending non-medical opinions about our various world leaders’ mental capacities.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin must be crazy to attack an unprovoked neighbor or to bomb civilian areas, any number of talking heads on cable television are willing to say from their Zoom chairs. It’s the only explanation for why Putin would. “Putin is having trouble making logical decisions,” said one retired general when asked to explain the consequences of putting his nuclear forces on alert as Russian troops have run into an early slog in Ukraine.
France’s leader Emmanuel Macron says that Putin is “different” from seeing him pre-pandemic, but many quoted Russia experts say he is pursuing dreams talked about over 20 years in office.
Putin likely isn’t nuts, he is just dead wrong in his reckoning about the limits of power and following international rules. He slyly, but wrongly believes what he can do with military, cyber and influence to restore the former Soviet Union without incurring global wrath.
It is far clearer that Putin’s vision is wrong than whether his brain has entered a state of disfunction.
Similarly, people are attacking Joe Biden over his mental status, just as they did Donald Trump. Putting oneself in public view means having to shrug off criticisms of all kinds. We’ve always insisted on personifying our politics or international relations or one’s boss in the office or the state of the music industry, all based on our ability to identify (or not) with the most prominent personality.
But in recent years, that has morphed into specific attacks that leaders are mentally unable to function if they take a different point of view. Just look at Kim Jung-Un of North Korea, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Iran, even non-governmental figures like Kanye West or Bill Cosby.
When they act badly, they must be mentally ill. What happened to just being “wrong” or even old or “out of touch”? Indeed, what happened to “evil”? It’s all been replaced by a constant public plebiscite on whether Leader X is just too loco to do the job.
The White House
Of course, critics are always watching the President of the United States for faults, real and imagined.
When Donald Trump was slurring his words or tripping on a normal ramp pr tweeted his non-existent “covfefe,” it became a cause celebre whether Trump was hiding a disorder of some kind; when Trump said something in total contradiction to whatever he had said two minutes earlier, it must have been because he had lost his mind.
Now, Trump must be unbalanced, say his opponents in trying to explain why Trump would call Putin a “genius,” before once against turning any question about Russia and Ukraine into another chance to note that his loss in 2020 was as a result of a “rigged election.”
It wasn’t good enough that Trump repeatedly showed us that he was lying or improvising without actually checking many facts before speaking. He had to be unbalanced, and so even ordered up that odd mental cognizance test repeating five words in spoken order as a public demonstration that he was medically rational — prompting Trump to he described himself as “human genius.”
Trump’s constant need for self-promotion explains as much about why he would deny Covid or recommend bleach injections — nutty ideas certainly — as him being unable to process information. But he showed repeatedly that he preferred to pushed information away rather than being unable to process. Not good for public policymaking, but not necessarily mentally ill.
Of course, narcissism alone is not a disqualification for the presidency. Bad policy is.
The Joe Biden Attack
This week we saw that Joe Biden was being adjudged as not able to handle “difficult international issues,” such as defending Ukraine from Russian invasion, according to a majority of respondents to a recent Harvard Harris poll. Overall, 54% of respondents said Biden “is not able” to handle such difficult issues. Forty-six percent said he was. The poll was the lead story on Newsmax for its political potency.
Critics have jumped on Biden’s stutter lags, his somewhat odd start-stop way of answering questions and his age to conclude that he is alternately senile, febrile and generally too far gone mentally to be able to handle the White House and our national problems.
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) may sponsor legislation requiring Biden to take an annual mental test, suggesting that the president’s cognitive capacity is in decline. Others have noted Biden’s habit of adopting episodes from the lives of other public figures’ lives as having a “senior moment.”
The combination of very complicated public issues facing the White House would be daunting regardless of perceived spryness. Inflation and economics, keeping international friends and foes in line, handling a response to Covid and the rest are anything but easy, regardless of political slant. Doing so with an evenly split Senate and a country roiled by unfixable divides raises the ante higher.
Yet, Biden has been able to persuade and lead a worldwide repudiation of Russia in the current Ukraine invasion. He has been able to put policy together that is considered the most comprehensive response to the combined effects of Covid and economics since the New Deal, He has made responsible appointments, tried to address institutional racism and added millions of jobs.
Yes, there was Afghanistan, there have been continuing immigration issues, and he is losing popularity as inflation drives prices higher. These are serious issues — but Biden and his administration have responded with programs and policies that fall within rational explanation, even if senators, voters or you and I disagree with them.
If anything, I see someone in the White House who is able to respond to a never-endijng series of problems, fixable or not, with some gusto and with research in hand. You can hate Biden’s policies, but he is not showing signs that he can’t take it all in. Was this president you saw last night assessing American spirit in his State of the Union showing signs of craziness or was this a call for us to be better as globql citizens and to push his domestic agenda?
History has taught us that you can be mentally able and either good or evil at the same time. Why do we need to believe the other guy is mentally ill rather than just out of line?