How the Media Normalized Trump’s Mental Illness and Put Democracy at Risk
by Socdoc216 –
Over the course of his life Donald Trump has exhibited innumerable behaviors demonstrating that he is malevolently aggressive, unbounded by conscience, incapable of recognizing truth or reality, highly erratic and selfish, and in possession of an excessively inflated ego. For decades the public has been informed of Trump’s behavior, often portrayed as an entertaining but harmless “bad boy” by a news media that had, in large part (but with notable exceptions) morphed into an “infotainment” industry primarily motivated not by its democratic mission to inform the public, but by the profit motive. This morphing has stymied the ability of the general US population to easily obtain basic factual news, but it has in no way nullified the ability of the infotainment industry to influence the public’s perception of reality. A noteworthy example of this was the constant, unwarranted mainstream media coverage of Trump previous to and early in the campaign season that influenced a barely sufficient number of people (shorensteincenter.org/…) (fortune.com/…) to elect the most unprepared and ill-suited individual ever to be elected POTUS.
Despite (or more accurately, because of) the fact that Trump engaged in the most problematic of human behaviors, despite his inability to string together two coherent thoughts, and despite his dismal polling numbers early in the campaign season, the infotainment industry normalized Trump’s extreme and erratic behavior by consistently focusing on Trump as if he warranted serious national attention—treating him not like the spectacle he made (and makes) of himself, but as if Trump were like any other political candidate. Despite what commentators may have said, the consistent and overwhelming coverage of Trump held a different message—that he was not a joke candidate and that he was equal to any other candidate who had at least a modicum of political experience and the ability to rationally comprehend the complexities of functioning adequately as president—you know, like most presidential candidates who comprehend that being president is not an all powerful walk in the park without constitutional responsibilities to a highly diverse citizenry.
The common idiom “to make a spectacle of oneself” means to “to do something that makes you look stupid and attracts other people’s attention” (dictionary.cambridge.org/…) which is, unfortunately, behavior that large sectors of the television viewing audience find engrossing. When somewhat more extreme it is also behavior that can suggest the likelihood of mental illness. The long-term “spectacle-lization” of Trump (a process he started and has vociferously encouraged without comprehending how stupid it has actually made him appear) is exactly why such a large proportion of the US population couldn’t, and still can’t seem to understand the extreme threat that a mentally ill Trump represents as POTUS. His past televised spectacles never showed the reality of who he is or enabled the identification of his mental illness, his life has been quite the spectacle, but he has kept much of his most extreme behavior under wraps or has attempted to justify it all away. His fondness for telling irrational but occasionally entertaining whoppers has also obscured, for the lay public, the extent to which Trump is mentally ill.
One need not be a credentialed psychologist or psychiatrist to recognize moderate or extreme levels of mental illness, and for lay individuals to recognize mental illness does not constitute an attempt at diagnosis, or necessarily a way to demean all who experience mental illness. In fact, it is crucial to the welfare of others and to the relatively smooth functioning of society in general that lay people recognize and address mental illness. This does not mean one should act aggressively or with malice (although certainly too many do) it means acting compassionately for the sake of the individual, and sometimes also for the sake of others. There is a movement under way that encourages individuals to discuss their own mental illness with family and friends as a method of coping (www.nami.org/… ) and for families and friends to discuss mental health and illness as part of an effort to destigmatize mental illness, to bring the topic out in the open so as to help all those individuals who fear the social repercussions of seeking help for possible mental illness.
Let’s also not forget that there are extensive varieties of mental illness, as well as degrees of illness that make speaking generally of mental illness very difficult. But whatever the mental illness at issue it is the actions of lay family and friends that is a primary path by which those with mental illness eventually receive professional help, for without the influence of others relatively few individuals with mental illnesses would self-identify and seek the help of qualified professionals. The fact is that social conventions stigmatizing mental illness negatively impact many people experiencing mental illness, and this often keeps such people from admitting to others and themselves that they may benefit from professional assistance. However, to recognize that a powerful individual, one whose actions have the potential for harming millions of individuals, is likely mentally ill, is an entirely different matter. Such people naturally inspire extreme fear because the potential for great harm is all too possible. Furthermore, it is the fact that the charge of mental illness has so commonly been used to casually demean others that has no doubt influenced some thoughtful journalists to avoid addressing Trump’s mental illness.
That Trump is mentally ill has been casually suggested by a vast number of lay individuals, but it has also recently been qualified by a petition recognizing Trump is mentally ill that has, thus far, been signed by 26,000 mental health professionals. This fact was noted in a February 28th Psychology Today article written by Sword and Zimbardo, the latter being an internationally renown psychologist www.psychologytoday.com/…:
On January 31 of this year, Psychology Today’s Editorial Staff published Shrinks Battle Over Diagnosing Donald Trump: Chaos in the White House fuels discord amongst the experts. The article leads with author John Gartner’s (Ph.D., psychology) petition declaring Trump has “a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” Gartner is an author and former professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins, currently in private practice in New York and Baltimore. To date, more than 26,000 psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals have signed the petition, which has no legal power but does drive home the point these professionals are gravely concerned about the mental health of this president.
Sword and Zimbardo also state:
As Trump’s campaign gained momentum and his narcissism exploded, so did our courage. In March 2016 we published The Narcissistic Personality: How to spot a narcissist. In the article we shared clinically documented narcissistic behaviors and hoped it would be easy for readers to see that Trump fit every single example to a “T”. And this time we used his photo.
Sword and Zimbardo’s current article in Psychology Today (see link above) directly states that Trump is undoubtedly mentally ill and calls for everyone to take action in order to prevent great harm to our nation. It’s an excellent article written by experts on the topic.
The likelihood of Trump’s mental illness has been a relatively casual issue for some time, as has the extent of the possible dangers it represents to the security of our nation, but broad and serious media attention to this issue and the various articles, written by qualified experts, addressing the possibility of the POTUS being dangerously mentally ill have been largely missing. This may be yet one more way the infotainment industry has been neglecting its democratic duty to honestly inform citizens of the United States. Certainly if Trump is forced to vacate the presidency due to mental illness or illegal actions, large swaths of the infotainment industry will have to go back to business as usual because they can no longer rely on the anger, fear, and excitement generated by an unbalanced personality holding one of the most powerful positions in the world.
Many individuals now understand that the media focus on Trump, both early in the campaign season and presently, was mutually beneficial for the involved parties. Certainly many of us knew this was the case even back then, but few of us comprehended why the media consistently chose to ignore essential facts highlighting Trump’s dishonesty and inability to concede to factual realities, and instead chose to treat Trump as a serious contender for POTUS. One can only imagine the extensive efforts to which established journalists have had to stoop in order to attempt to make the illogical appear logical, the insensible appear sensible. We all witnessed, and continue to witness the convoluted ways in which some journalists continue to try to twist the truth in order to minimize the degree to which any Trump story might appear negative—for fear of angering the “boss” who may then limit their access and impact their organization’s bottom line, and thus possibly the individual journalist’s employment.
It’s only recently that we have become glaringly aware of what can only be described as a twisted relationship between Trump and much of the news media. The most notable example being Trump’s recent refusal to certain news organizations’ access to a specific White House meeting. His message to all news organizations was quite transparent: “treat me as I tell you to treat me or pay the price,” making it excruciatingly clear that the longstanding relationship between Trump and the news media has been “quid pro quo.” POTUS demands he be treated as an adored leader and news organizations doing so will get access to an individual who pushes ratings, thereby producing greater profits for the infotainment industry as a whole—or at least for those POTUS favored (and so-called) news organizations. All this makes it quite apparent exactly how Trump attempts to “rule” with an entirely corrupt economic (tiny) iron fist.
This is what we were sold by the media’s attempts to produce ratings/profits by maintaining access to a proven ratings booster—a bill of goods that can never live up to the televised hype of a POTUS portrayed by the media as an individual who could perform the job adequately, like any other candidate who is not mentally ill. Don’t misunderstand, I hold the greatest concern and empathy for the many individuals who have to contend with mental illness—it’s not their fault after all, but to avoid identifying Trump as mentally ill has placed our nation at great risk. In fact, I have great sympathy for Trump who happens to have a form of mental illness that does not typically respond to most treatments, but one that often does a great deal of harm to others. Thus my compassion for Trump does not make me fear his actions as president any less.
What this means is that no matter what some individuals may believe about the drawbacks to identifying Trump as mentally ill (e.g., that doing so demeans all who are mentally ill, or that doing so may only make him behave worse) the overwhelming damage Trump is doing to our nation, and the catastrophic harm he may create in the future due to his mental illness outweighs all other concerns. It is our duty to do whatever we may legally do to protect our country, and we must be courageous and unflinching in carrying out that duty, while also remembering that as much as we fear Trump, we cannot let that make us callous to the suffering of all those who experience mental illnesses.
Lee Siegel’s excellent article on the topic Avoiding Questions About Trump’s Mental Health is a Betrayal of Public Trust, in the February 22 Columbia Journalism Review www.cjr.org/… concludes that:
The manner in which the question of Trump’s mental health has to be handled once it is raised is obvious, of course. The more contentious question has been whether to raise it, and to keep raising it. At this point, not to do so, especially for journalists, is a betrayal of the public trust, a denial of human nature, and an insult to posterity.
In the interest of the continuing welfare of our nation we must speak out on a topic that is difficult to speak out on. I encourage people everywhere to write, phone, email or text their representatives and voice your concerns over President Trump’s mental illness.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos