Terry H. Schwadron
July 12, 2020
Donald Trump, 74, bragged last week during a Sean Hannity interview that he had “aced” a recent cognition test at Walter Reed Hospital.
Trump boasted that doctors witnessing the test “said that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did.” He went on to challenge Democrat Joe Biden, 77, to match him.
But haven’t we skipped over something here?
Doctors wanted Trump to take a cognition test? Is that a normal thing for presidents?
Trump said he asked to take the test after criticisms over his ability to walk down a ramp at West Point, hold a glass of water with both hands, and multiple slurrings and mispronouncing words.
That he asked for the test sounds less than credible. What was he going to do if it was not perfect? Step aside?
There were no results of the test made public, and Trump has gone to the hospital at least twice in recent weeks with no explanation.
Frankly, we’re so used to the idea that disclosure that doctors had tested Trump for basic mental acuity didn’t even draw much notice. There was much more attention paid to his push to keep Confederate statues, for example.
While none of us wants to render opinions about presidential mental health, we do want assurances that the guy in charge is at least in charge of his mental faculties.
There have been any number of published reports, including the new book by his psychologist niece about the development of Uncle Donald, suggesting that Trump’s outward behavior reflect psychological disorders starting with extreme narcissism, and wondering about physical changes by psychiatrists, psychologists and people just agape at times at Trump’s repeated oddball behaviors.
One here by Yale forensic psychiatrist Bandy Lee in in Psychology Today depicts a “rigidity in extreme narcissists that is characteristic of pathology. Far from correcting his errors, he doubles down on them, blaming and bullying others to create a façade of success, when he has been failing all along.” It is a portrait of someone willing to do anything for immediate self-survival, without regard for the consequences for others.
In 2018, when then White House Dr. Ronny Jackson said that Trump had scored 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test for screening of “mild cognitive dysfunction” as part of his normal health check-up. These are tests that ask for pretty simple stuff, including recognition of animals, time of day and the like, but indicators that all cylinders might not be working.
The question that Trump just breezed by in this interview is whether we have a president, a commander in chief with nuclear powers and a short personal fuse, whose mental status we need to keep checking.
In any event, what these tests do not show is whether a Donald Trump can take in new information, can marry protocol, tradition, alliances and moral concepts, whether he can weigh risks against costs, whether he can determine a path that makes sense for a complex organism like America.
What About Biden?
Meanwhile, Biden weirdly has said he has been tested “constantly” but avoided saying where or when or by whom — or whether he meant tested by life’s challenges. Biden, of course, who presents himself as the anti-Trump, has had a full history of gaffes and odd statements of his own, whether the result of talking too fast, dealing with stutter or just for inattention.
Biden is not seen as overly narcissistic, just perhaps slower than he has been as he result of aging — at least in the competitive mind of Trump. Any gaffes Biden commits seem to have little connection with policies that defy understanding or that run afoul of the law. Any slowing is a judgment waiting to be seen, of course.
For sure, I’d like to know that Trump is mentally capable way before I need to know about his taxes.
And I’d like Biden to name a vice presidential candidate who tests as sane.
Maybe there should be a test for being able to process information about complex problerms.