Tuesday Reads: Is Donald Trump Cognitively Impaired?Posted: May 10, 2016
Today is the West Virginia primary. As Al Giordano says, we are in “garbage time” now, and the Clinton campaign is focusing on the general election while Sanders tries to win delegates as the primary clock runs down. He has no chance to win the nomination, so Hillary is trying to let him and his followers down gently by not running a lot of ads in the state. Bernie is favored to win; but it will probably be close, and he will likely net just a few delegates–perhaps 3 or 6. That won’t put much of a dent in Hillary’s lead.
The time has come for Hillary supporters to project quiet confidence and ignore Bernie and his bros as they metaphorically throw themselves to the floor kicking and screaming in their childish tantrums. We are in a much bigger battle now. We have to focus on keeping an ignorant, narcissistic, sociopathic, megalomaniac and wannabe tyrant out of the White House.
Today I want to examine a very serious question: Is Donald Trump suffering from a cognitive disorder or some form of dementia? Donald’s father Fred suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed six years before he died at age 93, but it’s likely he was experiencing symptoms before that. Wealthy and famous people tend to be protected in our culture even when they are behaving in ways that would be labeled as “crazy” in “ordinary” citizens.
Donald certainly shows a number of signs of having cognitive difficulties. He is 69 years old and, if elected, would be the oldest U.S. President ever inaugurated. Hillary Clinton is only one year younger than Trump, but she appears to be functioning at a very high level intellectually.
Clinton has no problem remembering names, no obvious difficulty with thinking and speaking coherently, and is obviously capable of making and understanding complex arguments. Donald Trump, on the other hand, appears to have difficulty staying focused on a subject or question; and either his short-term memory abilities are damaged or he’s an extremely unskilled liar.
Several writers addressed the possibility that Trump could be cognitively impaired early in his campaign. Here’s an example from an academic blog called Language Log: Trump’s aphasia, by Geoff Pullum.
The following word-stream (it cannot be called a sentence) was uttered by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump on July 21 in Sun City, South Carolina. As far as I can detect it has no structure at all: the numerous conditional adjuncts never arrive at consequents, we never encounter a main verb or even an approximation to a claim. The topic seems to be related to nuclear engineering, Trump’s uncle, the Wharton School, Trump’s intelligence, politics, prisoners, women’s intelligence, and Iran. But it’s hard to be sure:
Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you’re a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number—that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune—you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged—but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me—it would have been so easy, and it’s not as important as these lives are (nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what’s going to happen and he was right—who would have thought?), but when you look at what’s going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it’s all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don’t, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another 150 years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.
It seems to me that Trump was leaping aimlessly about from topic to topic and referent to referent, the mark of the flight of ideas.
Thought disorder. From Wikipedia:
Thought disorder (TD) or formal thought disorder (FTD) refers to disorganized thinking as evidenced by disorganized speech. Specific thought disorders include derailment, poverty of speech, tangentiality, illogicality, perseveration, neologism, and thought blocking.
[among the recognized derangements is the …]”Flight of ideas” – a form of formal thought disorder marked by abrupt leaps from one topic to another, albeit with discernable links between successive ideas, perhaps governed by similarities between subjects or, in somewhat higher grades, by rhyming, puns, and word plays (clang associations), or innocuous environmental stimuli – e.g., the sound of birds chirping. It is most characteristic of the manic phase of bipolar illness.
Now I’ve written here about “associative thinking”, in which someone moves through a chain of ideas, each one latching naturally to the one before, but easily capable of carrying someone far from a starting point. We all think this way, and everyday conversation tends to follow such paths, only for a group as a whole rather than for just one speaker. There is nothing disordered in any of that.
I’ve observed the flight of ideas up close in people in the manic phase of bipolar illness, and somewhat similar associations in classic schizophrenics, and indeed related disordered associations in people with dementia, including my partner Jacques (who was especially subject to intrusions of sounds and sights from the environment into his train of thought). Donald Trump looks distressingly familiar to me.
Is is possible that Trump suffers from bi-polar illness with mania being the main symptom? He says that he sleeps very little and he often tweets in the middle of the night. Or could it be dementia? I have no idea whether Trump has always spoken so incoherently or if his symptoms are increasing with age. I do think it is a serious question for voters to be aware of and for journalists to investigate.
There is also the question of Trump’s ability to lay down long-term memories. Is he just a blatant liar, or does he have difficulty recalling things he has said very recently? One egregious example of this is Trump’s claims that he opposed the Iraq war back when the Bush administration was ramping it up. From Eric Black at MinnPost in February:
Trump is great at non-answer word salads in which he not only interrupts the questioner but constantly interrupts himself, puts out little self-congratulatory asides and says whatever he wants, usually things he has said a million times before but which often qualify as non-answers.
Trump has made a yuuuge deal about how he warned in advance, long and loud, that the Iraq War would be a disaster. Joe asked him about why no one can find any transcript of him saying anything remotely along these lines until after the war started. His explanation, Thursday night and I guess every time he is asked this, is to say that because he wasn’t in public office or anything, his prescient warnings didn’t make it into any transcripts or video archives. Then he goes right back to claiming to have said it long and loud and in advance and doesn’t explain why so many of his later statements about the war (which are far more mixed than he describes them) manage to show up in the public record, since he was still not in public office or anything.
There is absolutely no evidence that Trump ever opposed the invasion of Iraq and plenty of evidence that he supported it. Is he deliberately lying or does he simply not recall what he believed back in the 2000’s?
Another example from a February post at Daily Kos:
Trump has frequently bragged that he has“one of the best memories of all time.” However, that boast has been utterly demolished by his own words and actions. One notable example was his insistence that he had seen television reporting of “thousands and thousands” of Muslims celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. That was an invented memory because there is no evidence that it occurred, despite the fact that television footage of such an event would be easily retrievable.
Trump’s memory was also noticeably deficient when he recently began hammering Ted Cruz as a “nasty guy” and “the single biggest liar” he ever met. Just three months ago he was lauding Cruz and floating him as a possible VP pick. Similarly he once praised Hillary Clinton as a “terrific” woman and a great Secretary of State. Now he is saying that she was the “worst Secretary of State in history.” And as for President Obama, today Trump tweeted that he is “perhaps the worst president in U.S. history.” But this is what he wrote in his book “Think Like A Champion:”
“What he has done is amazing. The fact that he accomplished what he has—in one year and against great odds—is truly phenomenal.” […]”Barack Obama proved that determination combined with opportunity and intelligence can make things happen—and in an exceptional way.” […]
“His comments have led me to believe that he understands how the economy works on a comprehensive level. He has also surrounded himself with very competent people, and that’s the mark of a strong leader.” […]
“He’s totally a champion.”
Clearly Trump has either a failing memory or mental blocks that render his memory unreliable. Many other examples exist. For instance, he said he couldn’t remember a disabled reporter that disgustingly mocked, but they had met many times; he threatened to sue Cruz three days after he promised that he never would; he complained that the media never reported a comment by Jeb Bush and seconds later, after Bush denied the charge, Trump defended himself by saying that the news reported it ten times.
There are numerous examples of Trump’s incoherent thinking. I’d strongly suggest that you read the transcript of his interview with The Washington Post editorial board if you haven’t done so already. This section of the interview has gotten quite a bit of attention:
RYAN: You [MUFFLED] mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?
TRUMP: I don’t want to use, I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said, I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting [MUFFLED]…
RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?
This happened toward the end of the interview and Trump seemed unaware of how long he’d been talking. He also seemed unaware that he had time-limited the interview because he had to be at another meeting.
HIATT: Sure, then I’d like to let a couple of them get in questions.
LEWANDOWSKI: We have got five minutes, hard out.
TRUMP: Oh is it?
CORY: Yeah. You have a meeting you have to get to.
There are endless examples of Trump’s disordered thinking and use of language. There is clearly something wrong with him. In a few months, this man will be receiving confidential security briefings and there is even a chance that he could become President. I’m going to list more article for you to check out, and I hope you’ll read them, consider this question, and talk to your friends and neighbors about it.
Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post: Trump’s word salads conceal his ignorance.
Max Eherenfreund at Wonkblog: Five times Donald Trump changed his position on a really big issue.
Steve King at Death and Taxes: Does Donald Trump have dementia?
Sophia A. McClennon at Alternet: Maybe Donald Trump Has Really Lost His Mind: What If the GOP Frontrunner Isn’t Crazy, but Simply Not Well?
Now what stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Tuesday!