Donald Trump and his White House, reeling from depictions in Michael Wolff’s instant bestseller Fire and Fury, were desperate this week to show that the president is in command and mentally fit, following up on Trump’s tweet in response to the book last weekend claiming he is a “stable genius.”
The administration even put on a show in the form of a televised meeting with lawmakers about the DACA program and immigration on Tuesday. It was a show that had a few pundits and White House reporters, once again, cooing about Trump’s “capability,” which some of them implied disproved the allegations in the book ― largely because they’ve lowered the bar so much for Trump. This, even though Trump contradicted himself throughout the meeting, baffling viewers about his actual positions, and sending conservative commentators into a tailspin when he appeared to side momentarily with Democrats on comprehensive immigration reform.
Near the weeks’s end, however, Trump undid whatever little bit of rehabilitation he had achieved, when, according to people in the room, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the president railed against immigrants from “shithole countries” and said that he preferred immigrants from places “like Norway.” (The White House didn’t deny the report, first published in The Washington Post Thursday afternoon, though over 18 hours later Trump suggested it wasn’t true in a tweet.) The blow up occurred at a bipartisan private meeting of lawmakers on Thursday in which Trump clearly couldn’t control his contempt for people of color. He proved himself to be every bit like the depictions of him in Fire and Fury.
The debate about Trump’s emotional stability ended a long time ago.
Too many people, including many in the media and even Trump himself, have confused mental impairment and emotional stability.
People can of course be mentally ill and yet quite stable. And there are many people who aren’t in any way mentally impaired, but are highly emotionally unstable ― prone to outbursts, impulsiveness, temper tantrums and other erratic behavior that often displays their anger, resentment and animus toward groups or individuals.
In Fire And Fury, Wolff quoted people in the White House calling Trump an “idiot” and a “moron.” He wrote that people around Trump describe him as as being “like a child” and that “100 percent” of them believe he is not “fit” for office. And he documented Trump’s odd repetition of phrases and anecdotes while speaking, saying it was becoming more pronounced. On the “Today” show, while describing this behavior, Wollff quoted Steve Bannon saying, “He’s lost it.”
That last description clearly depicts Trump as mentally impaired and perhaps getting worse. But that is something none of us could know. Only a trained mental health professional examining Trump in a face-to-face psychiatric or psychological evaluation could determine that.
But Trump’s emotional stability doesn’t rest on his being mentally impaired. The televised immigration meeting, as was plain for all to see, was all about feeding a fragile, deeply insecure man who was starved for validation, something that was made clear by his comments the next day.
“Actually it was [the meeting] reported as incredibly good. And my performance ― some of it called it a performance, I consider it work. But it got great reviews by everybody other than two networks who were phenomenal for about two hours,” Trump said. “I’m sure their ratings were fantastic.”
He even claimed that news anchors sent letters to the White House praising his performance.
Trump’s unhinged tweets throughout the week suggest that he was motivated by increased fears about the Russia investigation (targeting “sneaky Dianne Feinstein” for releasing a revealing transcript from Senate Judiciary Committee testimony), his seething anger at the Wolff book, and much else that had him lashing out impulsively.
On Thursday morning, Trump threw Congress into chaos as it was set to vote on reauthorizing the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program when he tweeted against the program and his administration’s own position on it, all because of his anxiety and fear that it had been used to surveil his election campaign and kick off the FBI’s probe into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia.
It reportedly took a phone call from House Speaker Paul Ryan to convince Trump that the program was focused on foreign surveillance (though it can wiretap American citizens communicating with those outside the country), leading the president to flip an hour later and tweet support for the program ― again, a program that his own White House already supported, a fact about which he seemed to be completely out of touch.
In a televised cabinet meeting on Thursday, meant to lay out the administration’s and the GOP’s priorities for 2018, Trump suddenly announced that his administration would take “a strong look” at tightening libel laws ― though there actually are no federal libel laws ― something that no Republican in Congress is likely to have any interest in addressing at a time when they’d like to talk up having passed their tax bill and focus on other priorities. Revealing he was likely still fuming about Fire and Fury, Trump’s announcement once again diverted media attention from the GOP agenda to Trump’s authoritarian impulses and support for media censorship.
And let’s not forget Trump’s reckless tweet just before the first excerpt of Fire and Fury went public last week, in which he taunted North Korea’s Kim Jong Un about his bigger “nuclear button.”
The debate about Trump’s emotional stability ended a long time ago, though this week, because of the Wolff book and the responses to it, Trump’s stability seemed to get conflated with other things that became easier for the administration to challenge, with the help of some gullible or access-driven journalists. We shouldn’t get bogged down in whether or not Trump is mentally impaired.
No matter his mental health, in a week in which Trump and the White House were intent on pushing back against Fire and Fury and presenting the president as stable and mentally fit, he displayed, in spectacular fashion, his uncontrolled and bigoted rage, his impulsiveness and his instability.
Whatever the underlying causes, this week proved, once again, that Donald Trump is dangerous and unfit for the presidency.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile