Well, the Good News Is Trump Hasn’t Entirely Lost His Mind … Or So He Says
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Well, the Good News Is Trump Hasn’t Entirely Lost His Mind … Or So He Says

He Claims He ‘Aced’ a Cognitive Abilities Test. But What the Hell Does That Mean?

Terry H. Schwadron

Terry H. Schwadron

Donald Trump, 74, bragged last week during a Sean Hannity interview that he had “aced” a recent cognition test at Walter Reed Hospital.

Trump boasted that doctors witnessing the test “said that’s an unbelievable thing. Rarely does anybody do what you just did.” He then challenged Democrat Joe Biden, 77, to match him.

But haven’t we skipped over something here?

Doctors wanted Trump to take a cognition test? Is that a normal thing for presidents?

Trump said he asked to take the test after criticisms over his inability to walk down a ramp with ease at West Point, needing to hold a glass of water with both hands and multiple occasions of slurring and mispronouncing words.

While none of us wants to render opinions about presidential mental health, we do want assurances that the guy in charge is at least in charge of his mental faculties.

That he asked for the test sounds incredible. What was he going to do if it was not perfect? Step aside?

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment

There were no results of the test made public, and Trump has gone to the hospital at least twice in recent weeks with no explanation.

Frankly, we’re so used to the idea that doctors had tested Trump for basic mental acuity, disclosures didn’t even draw much notice. There was much more attention paid to his push to keep Confederate statues.

While none of us wants to render opinions about presidential mental health, we do want assurances that the guy in charge is at least in charge of his mental faculties. For sure, I’d like to know that Trump is mentally capable way before I need to know about his taxes.

Odd Behavior

There have been any number of published reports, including the new book by his psychologist niece about the development of Uncle Donald. Dr. Mary L. Trump suggests Trump’s outward behavior reflects psychological disorders starting with extreme narcissism. Trump’s repeated oddball behaviors often leave professionals and the public agape.

Yale forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee—a frequent DCReport contributor—in Psychology Today describes a “rigidity in extreme narcissists that is characteristic of pathology. Far from correcting his errors, he doubles down on them, blaming and bullying others to create a façade of success, when he has been failing all along.” It is a portrait of someone willing to do anything for immediate self-survival, without regard for the consequences for others.

In 2018, then-White House physician Ronny Jackson said that Trump had scored 30 out of 30 on the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, a test for screening of “mild cognitive dysfunction” as part of his normal health check-up. These are tests that ask for pretty simple stuff, including recognition of animals, time of day and the like. But they give indicators that all cylinders might not be working.

The question that Trump just breezed by in this interview is whether we have a president, a commander in chief with nuclear powers and a short personal fuse, whose mental status we need to keep checking.

In any event, what these tests do not show is whether Trump can take in new information; can marry protocol, tradition, alliances and moral concepts; whether he can weigh risks against costs; whether he can determine a path that makes sense for a complex organism like the United States of America.

What About Biden?

Meanwhile, Biden weirdly has said he has been tested “constantly” but avoided saying where or when or by whom—or whether he meant tested by life’s challenges. Biden, of course, who presents himself as the anti-Trump, has had a full history of gaffes and odd statements of his own, whether the result of talking too fast, dealing with a stutter or just for inattention.

Biden is not seen as overly narcissistic, just perhaps slower than he has been as the result of aging—at least in the competitive mind of Trump. Any gaffes Biden commits seem to have little connection with policies that defy understanding or that run afoul of the law. Any slowing is a judgment waiting to be seen, of course.

And I’d like Biden to name a vice presidential candidate who tests as sane.

 

July 13, 2020