Donald Trump is bad, not mad

Experts who diagnose The Donald as sick let him off the hook.

The madness of heads of state is a common theme throughout history. Frequently, it is used to dismiss and whitewash significant figures society wishes to demonise without thorough appraisal - figures we all know well. President Donald Trump is equally familiar with these ghosts of the past, given his opponents spend so much time comparing him to them. But serious efforts to characterise him as unhinged haven’t been given real credence until now.

Last week, in a conference at Yale School of Medicine, Dr John Gartner had this to say of the embattled president:

‘I’ve worked with some of the most dangerous people our society produces, directing mental-health programmes in prisons. I’ve worked with murderers and rapists. I can recognise dangerousness from a mile away. You don’t have to be an expert on dangerousness or spend 50 years studying it like I have in order to know how dangerous this man is.’

This was not the hyperbolic uttering of some commentator, demonstrator or exasperated political opponent. This is the opinion of a medical expert. Throughout the conference, Dr Gartner and others added to the diatribe: the president was ‘paranoid’, ‘delusional’ and a ‘danger’ to the American public. Gartner left no one in any doubt when claiming ‘we have an ethical responsibility to warn the public about Donald Trump’s dangerous mental illness’.

Dr Gartner must be the greatest in his field if he is able to make such a definitive diagnosis from so great a distance. It shouldn’t surprise us that this has happened: frustrated that the oft-repeated argument ‘Donald Trump is bad’ isn’t working, the next logical step in rhetoric was always going to be ‘Donald Trump is mad’. That doesn’t make it any less outrageous, though, and it reveals a damning weakness in his opponents. They either don’t want to make political arguments against him, or they can’t.

As well as essentially throwing in the political towel, painting Trump as a lunatic, deprived of sense and reason, does two things. Firstly, it patronises his supporters, suggesting that they made a mistake in their choice on Election Day, and clearly can’t be trusted to make sensible decisions. But what the wailing class refuse to see is that, mad or sane, Trump’s campaign spoke to people on the basis of legitimate issues. Removing a president on grounds of insanity does not change the fact that, mad or otherwise, the reasons for his election still exist, and are still unresolved.

Secondly, by painting him as unhinged, these experts absolve The Donald of responsibility for his actions. To claim madness is to claim diminished responsibility, an escape route that history should not afford him. His opponents should be seeking to emphasise that he is not mad; it is his sanity that makes his unsavoury politics unsavoury. The only way to oppose them is to beat them in the political arena, not by calling the men in white coats.

Last week, across the globe, people marched ‘for science’, claiming it was under attack from the Trump administration. Perhaps this is true, but through statements such as Gartner’s, these same people undermine their claim to be objective. This dangerous ‘diagnosis’ is as loaded as they come, an example of a partisan intellectual turning his sense of superiority to politics. There is no more surefire way to stoke the fires of resentment than by pulling rank, especially when the argument being made is so pathetic and patronising.

It won’t end here, though. You can be sure that there will be many more eminently qualified people saying much the same in the months and years to come. Get ready for a long, tedious ride - the tale of the Madness of King Donald has just begun.

Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.

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