I have stated previously that the 2016 presidential election was about apocalypse, not politics, having little to do with traditional republican vs. democratic principles. Nevertheless, from a clinical perspective, recognition of President Trump’s dangerousness appears seriously muted. The genuine possibility of nuclear war, both with North Korea and beyond, has entered the global discussion. It is urgent that we begin to imagine the unimaginable.
Since brawling his way to the Republican nomination, on two occasions during the general election, Trump engaged in a pattern of ignoring his advisers and veering to the very brink of self-destruction before being rescued from himself. We first witnessed this pattern when he luxuriated in his success following the Republican National Convention, only to be portrayed as a bully, liar, and crook at the Democratic National Convention. He immediately melted down from euphoric self-enchantment into code-red rogue in attacking the Kahn parents, suggesting the “Second Amendment people” might be able to put a stop to Hillary Clinton, fomenting violence at his rallies, etc. For three weeks in the late summer, his campaign careened toward self-destruction.
Enter Kellyanne Conway, his new campaign manager. For the next three weeks—astonishingly--she seemed able to rein Trump in. Was this the much vaunted “soft pivot” his supporters had been hoping for? Any such notion was dashed as he increasingly abandoned the teleprompter and resumed his shockingly rogue behavior. By late October, predictions were widespread that he might well drop out of the race.
With Trump on the precipice of self-destruction for the second time, F.B.I. Director James Comey announced a new trove of Hillary Clinton emails eleven days before the election, raising suspicions of her that rescued Trump from self-immolation and energized a frenzied sprint through stadium rallies to electoral victory.
Since his inauguration, Trump has fulminated over his inability to rule the country the way “he alone” understands, blaming pesky courts, "paid protesters," obstructionist democrats, disobedient republicans, and unfair treatment by Fake Media. Haunted by mounting evidence of collusion by his campaign with the Russians, during his spring tour of the Middle East and Europe, he defied his advisers by refusing to read a speech to NATO smoothing over his previous attacks on them. On live global video, he shoved aside the prime minister of Montenegro during a photo session. Told by his lawyers never to use the term “ban,” he defiantly tweeted BAN in capital letters. He repeatedly contradicted public statements by his highest cabinet officials, undermining their credibility. After firing Comey, Trump shockingly admitted on national television that he did so to undermine the Russia collusion investigation, contradicting carefully crafted explanations by all his surrogates.
After a three-day respite of deluding himself that he had been “totally and completely vindicated” by Comey’s senate testimony regarding collusion, reports surfaced immediately that independent Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been exploring obstruction of justice charges in Trump’s firing of Comey. Despite intense pressure from his advisers, Trump predictably unleashed rogue tweets, inveighing against the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history—led by some very bad and conflicted people.” On the contrary, Robert Mueller enjoys widespread bipartisan respect. He is clearly on a meticulous and unhurried mission to excavate the truth.
Two weeks ago, Trump furiously tweeted against MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough. Despite the bipartisan lament of a new low, the tweets arguably were no worse than scores of other such incidents. Then last week, the damning email revelations surfaced involving Donald Trump Jr agreeing to a meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton and explicit support from Russia to defeat her, the first blockbuster evidence of unambiguous, intentional collusion. True to form, the president has shunned his advisers in tweeting his outrage that his 39 year-old son (whom he calls a “good boy”), father of five, could be so unfairly treated.
Public outcry and anxiety has spiked regarding the president’s grip on reality and his own impulses in the event of an actual international crisis, such as the terrifying nuclear threat from North Korea. Though the alarm comes from multitudes of non-mental health professionals, those of us who are mental health professionals—in increasing numbers--must urge that we begin to imagine the unimaginable—and do something about it.
When Trump feels attacked--whether perceived, real or both--he listens to no one and nothing but his own reckless impulses. During the general election, Kellyanne Conway and James Comey saved Trump from going over the brink. As the noose tightens regarding collusion with the Russians to win the election, will this be the time when he permanently takes leave of his advisers and his own senses, guided only by his wispy and very personal view of reality, without the good fortune of someone to rescue him—and us—from himself? Considerable and mounting evidence suggests that we have not even come close to how perilously out of control our president can become.