Trump speeches raise issue of stability
At the corner of Peckham and Virginia on the north side of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Richard Klimek—a veteran who still keeps his keys on an “Army Values” key chain—held a sign reading “UNFIT TO SERVE/DUMP TRUMP/UNFIT TO SERVE.”
“I signed that blank check for my country,” he said. “I don’t think this president is fit to serve, especially a president who didn’t go to Vietnam.”
A few feet away, behind a barrier separating him and others from the Trump critics, police officer Craig Newton carried two Trump campaign signs and a U.S. flag.
“I’m here to support [Trump] and support my family and religion and America,” he said.
Those are the normal kind of reactions Trump’s supporters and critics offer at his public appearances—he was speaking to an American Legion gathering inside the convention center—and Trump’s Reno speech was fairly sedate. But the Reno event was largely overlooked as a result of the reaction to his speech in Phoenix the previous day.
In Phoenix, he attacked illegal immigrants (“These are animals”), Arizona’s two Republican senators (“weak”), journalists (“don’t like our country”), Democrats (“putting all of America’s safety at risk”) and protesters (“thugs”). He threatened to shut down the government unless he was permitted to building his border wall, all but promised former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio a presidential pardon, and—in sentences that made him sound like Reno’s white nationalist student Peter Cytanovic—said, “They’re trying to take away our culture. They are trying to take away our history.”
“I came to this [Charlottesville] march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cytanovic told KTVN News on Aug. 12.
The two men did not specify who was trying to “take away” what they identified as U.S. culture.
After attacking war hero John McCain in Phoenix, Trump praised war hero Donald Ballard in Reno.
Even for one of Trump’s speeches, his Phoenix performance inspired harsh comment. The speech, which lasted for about 75 minutes, caused many in the audience to depart. Mental health professionals revived a debate on whether their calling should change its ethical rules to allow them to discuss Trump’s behavior publicly in psychiatric terms. Republicans in Congress who were already concerned about whether Trump offered a GOP face for next year’s midterm elections were even more anxious after Phoenix.
To some, it was just another instance of Trump going overboard and then backing away from his excesses. But others thought he crossed a line. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin said the Phoenix address was “horrifying, dishonest and raises issue of mental stability.” GOP strategist Rick Wilson said it was “an astounding chain of lies.”
Significantly, the White House posted a video of the Reno speech on its website but not a video or a transcript of the Phoenix speech. (Time Magazine transcribed and posted the Phoenix speech.)
Reno’s Klimek may have been comforted to learn that plenty of figures who could hardly be described as liberal were, like him, raising the question of “fitness.”
“I really question his ability to be, his fitness to be, in this office,” said former director of national intelligence James Clapper, Jr. after Phoenix. “How much longer does the country have to—to borrow a phrase—endure this nightmare?” Clapper called the situation “scary and disturbing.” He had previously prepared Trump for his duties during the presidential transition.
Normally staid, centrist press organs like USA Today described the Phoenix speech with terms like “raucous, error-filled.” The Los Angeles Times explored the provisions of the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which allow a majority of the cabinet to temporarily remove a president.
Trump’s fellow Republicans had already been expressing growing concern about Trump’s steadiness. A somber Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker said at a Rotary Club meeting in his home state, “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful. … We need for him to be successful. Our nation needs for him to be successful. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. … I think the president needs to take stock of the role that he plays in our nation and move beyond himself, move way beyond himself and move to a place where daily he’s waking up thinking about what is best for the nation. … He also recently has not demonstrated that he understands the character of this nation. He has not demonstrated that he understands what made this nation great and what it is today. … You know, helping inspire division because it generates support from your political base is not a formula for causing our nation to advance, our nation to overcome the many issues that we have to deal with right now.”
Corker chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Much news coverage contrasted the Aug. 22 Phoenix and Aug. 23 Reno speeches, with Trump’s unrestrained demeanor in Arizona followed by his relative calm in Nevada, with some reports also drawing in a third appearance—his Aug. 21 speech announcing he was pouring more troops into the 16-year, $781 billion war in Afghanistan. While campaigning last year, Trump said “stupid” U.S. leaders had “wasted an enormous amount of blood and treasure in Afghanistan.”
Democratic U.S. Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Jackie Speier and Ted Lieu have all introduced measures dealing in different ways with the mental health of presidents. Lieu’s bill, for instance, provides for a psychiatrist on staff at the White House.
There is a debate going on in psychiatry about whether the American Psychiatric Association’s “Goldwater rule”—section seven of the association’s ethics rules—should be repealed. It was adopted after 1964 Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater won a libel suit against a magazine that ran an article that was touted on the cover with the headline, “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit To Be President!” None of the psychiatrists quoted in the article had examined Goldwater.
The APA rule says a member cannot “offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” Complaints have been made in past years against those who offered opinions on Saddam Hussein and the Virginia Tech killer.
But some psychiatrists say they have a duty to warn the public of disturbing behavior by public figures and have formed an organization with that name—Duty to Warn.
In February, 35 physicians and social workers—15 of them psychiatrists—wrote a letter to the New York Times expressing concern that Trump has “grave emotional instability.”
But one of the most distinguished names in the field, Allen Frances, also wrote to the Times to argue that the matter is a political, not a psychiatric, issue: “Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers. His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.”
Concern extends to U.S. allies.
North of the border, the Toronto Star editorialized about the Phoenix speech, “Last week [following Charlottesville] we learned that Donald Trump is morally unfit to be president of the United States. This week we’re learning something just as disturbing—that he may have only a tenuous hold on reality.” Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said last month that Trump’s use of social media increases concerns about his mental state: “I would worry that a charge of being mentally ill ended up being thrown around as an insult.”