Litigation under the Fourteenth Amendment is pending in 21 states to disqualify Donald Trump from the ballot on the ground that he “engaged in an insurrection” in and around January 6, 2021. He’s prevailed preliminarily in two states thus far. Still, the question of Trump’s eligibility for office may reach the Supreme Court, as might appeals of guilty verdicts in his many trials should they be forthcoming.
But there is another issue that can only be decided by the court of public opinion: Has Donald Trump gone nuts? This is obviously a difficult question to raise about any person, let alone a candidate, who has demonstrated vicious, paranoid, and violent behavior. (A civil trial in a federal court found him guilty of sexual abuse, after all.) So, everything is relative. Still, all the armchair gerontologists parsing every utterance from President Joe Biden, trying to distinguish his congenital stutter from his natural aging, should look at Trump, whose behavior has gone from bad to weird to bizarre. Is he suffering from a palpable form of dementia? I leave that to the medical experts, but I’d implore you to absorb what the 45th president has been saying recently and how it’s even more worrisome than what he’s been saying and doing since he came down the escalator at Trump Towers in 2015.
While neither Trump nor Biden projects John F. Kennedy’s vigor, Trump, 77, has been even more bizarre of late—doddering and disoriented in a new way.
Listen to what he has been saying lately.
He has repeatedly confused Biden and Obama, even calling Obama the current president. Doctors often ask stroke victims who is the current president to test mental acuity. We all misspeak. But put this in the context of many other indicia of cognitive decline.
Trump doesn’t know where he is. On the stump in Sioux City, Iowa, he said hello to Sioux Falls, which is in South Dakota. Okay, not that big a deal. Of course, his aides later said the teleprompter got it wrong. I wonder whether the aides are still in his employ. Perhaps they are moving boxes in Mar-a-Lago.
Misidentifying world leaders. He described Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whom he admires, as the “great leader of Turkey.” Recep Tayyip Erdogan is authoritarian like Orban but with an Islamic hue rather than a Christian nationalist drag. Trump has said that Hungary shares a border with Russia. Seven countries border Hungary, but not Russia.
Referring to Kim Jong-Un, the hereditary dictator who rules North Korea, Trump said he was in charge of a country of 1.4 billion people, obviously confusing the Hermit Kingdom of 26 million with the Middle Kingdom of 1.4 billion.
But it’s not just misidentification. It’s the cadence and slurring of speech, too. Trump is having trouble with names. “On purpose” came out as “on perfect.” Adherents of Karl Marx came out as “markers,” not Marxists. He warned that Biden is drifting us into World War II.
Perhaps more worrisome than Trump’s mental miscues is the fact that his authoritarian tendencies have veered into even more fascistic territory, and his insults have become even more intemperate, which is saying something. (Recall that after the first 2016 presidential debate, he flogged Megyn Kelly with a reference to menstruation.) Special Counsel Jack Smith is “deranged.” While this might be understandable since Smith has indicted Trump in a Washington, D.C. federal court for using illegal means to overturn the 2020 election results and in Florida for mishandling classified documents, the bile has boiled over into invective against Smith’s wife and family, whom he insists “despise me much more than he does.”
Trump called Nancy Pelosi a “crazed lunatic” and continued to joke about the hammer assault on her 83-year-old husband, Paul, by a crazed, seemingly pro-Trump intruder who was convicted on multiple felony accounts on Thursday.
From bad to wurst. In a Veterans Day speech in New Hampshire, Trump called his political enemies “vermin,” channeling the dehumanizing language of OG fascists Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini and arguing paradoxically—and paranoically—that the pests are also “radical left thugs” who pose a greater threat to the United States than Russia, China, or even North Korea. He promised to “root out” the vermin if he regained power.
And, if you dare call out the reference to vermin or blood as Hitlerian, his spokesman threatens that your “entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”
In New Hampshire, he also called himself a “very proud election denier.” Are there humble election deniers?
Jewish and Latino groups, as well as an untold number of columnists, have condemned his statement that undocumented immigrants were “poisoning the blood of our country,” the kind of volk talk that sounded better in the original German.
Deranged people, as we all have learned, can be dangerous. While it can be hard to diagnose if the unhoused man who regularly yells at you at the street corner has just plateaued or will be given to a violent attack, Trump’s policy pronouncements have become more incendiary and more insane, if that were possible.
If he retakes office, Trump has promised to:
- Appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” the Biden family.
- Reinstitute and expand his Muslim ban, which barely passed Supreme Court muster after it was watered down.
- Investigate his own appointees who were critical of him. This would include his pick for chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who Trump said should be executed for treason.
- Demolish the firewall between the White House and the Justice Department that prevents presidents from using prosecutions for political advantage or personal revenge.
- Draft an executive order to permit the military to be deployed in the U.S. on his first day in office under the Insurrection Act so soldiers could be used against the all-but-certain protests were he to be reelected next year and sworn in on January 20, 2025.
He also recently said that the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah is “very smart” on the heels of its ally Hamas brutally murdering more than 1400 people in Israel.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s political opponents have picked up on the idea that Trump has lost it. Joe Biden, whom Trump has mimicked and rubbished as “cognitively impaired,” has ridiculed Trump for the “duh now” observation that the abbreviation for the United States is spelled the same way as the word “us,” and has slammed Trump for mispronouncing Hamas as “hummus,” as though a death cult can be an hors d’oeuvre.
Peter Baker of The New York Times tweets that “Biden and candidates like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former South Carolina Governor and Trump’s U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley find common ground: They all agree that Trump is showing signs of marked cognitive decline as he confuses names, geography, and even his own history.”
In New Hampshire, DeSantis said that Trump has to be glued to the teleprompter to be coherent and claims that Trump has “lost the zip on his fastball.”
And hard-charging Haley piles on. Speaking of Trump’s gaffe over Hezbollah, she accused Trump of moral confusion, a proxy for mental incoherence. “These are not good or smart people,” she said. “Along with Iran’s ayatollah, they are the most evil dictators in the world…They want us to stay divided, distracted, and morally confused…With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
Referring to Trump recently at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, his Attorney General Bill Barr, one of those upon whom the former president has vowed to exact revenge, was asked whether Trump was losing it. Barr’s answer: “If you get him away from ‘very, very, very’ … you know, the adjectives … they’re unfamiliar to him, and they sort of spill out, and he goes too far,” Barr said.
While lawyers are not generally known for understatement, that could be the understatement of the year.
Author: James D. Zirin