Jonathan Chait dismisses all the speculation about Trump’s deteriorating mental health.
A recent Washington Post story chronicled the rise of Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, who has gained special influence with President Trump. McCarthy’s methods include obsequiousness, attention to detail, and an ability to bring the discussion down to a sub-literate level so Trump can follow it. At Camp David, McCarthy gave a presentation on the midterm elections. “According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy’s use of pictures and charts rather than a memo. It was a basic and ‘foundational’ presentation that explained midterm politics to Trump, in the words of one senior White House official.”
Note that McCarthy was not walking the president through a complex technical policy requiring expertise in a field like science or economics. He was trying to explain the elections. He had to use pictures. It has been publicly known since last year that Trump cannot read a memo longer than a page, and any written material must be in bullet-point form. Trump himself admitted (or bragged) a year and a half ago that he does not read. “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” By this point it is simply taken as a matter of course that people wishing to communicate with the president must treat him as though he is suffering a severe mental impairment.
Trump is not actually suffering a severe mental impairment. White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has served in the post since 2013, informed reporters on Wednesday that the president is in fine physical and mental health. The report comes as the national media has discussed whether Trump’s functional near-illiteracy, minuscule attention span, and narcissistic pathos are the symptoms of dementia or some other kind of cognitive incapacitation. We should take Jackson’s diagnosis at face value. Trump is just an idiot.
There’s nothing wrong with not being the smartest guy in the world; not everyone can be. In fact, we’re better off knowing that not everyone is a genius, much less a stable one. We have systems in place to accommodate the different levels of intelligence and capabilities.
But there are certain jobs that require both intelligence and a knowledge of the limitations, and most of all an awareness of them, and you don’t give them to people who are incapable of understanding that. Being the president is one of those jobs.
The fact is that Trump will never admit that he’s not up to the job because he’s unable to understand the concept. That’s not a mental disease. It’s plain old stupidity.