Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 1

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on February 20, 2017

This is my sixth installment to a now-apparently ongoing if still occasional series of postings to address politics in the United States, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. I began this now-series with a brief thought piece that I developed out of a talk that I had just given on the challenges that we have come to face when communicating – or at least attempting to, across the growing chasms of our political differences: Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs. And I have since then, and to my complete surprise, I have found myself continuing from there in this endeavor and with no clear-cut end to it in sight and certainly as I write this posting. You can find that first entry in this progression of postings, and what follows in it at Social Networking and Business 2 as posting 244 and loosely following (with its installments identified as such in the directory page by text lines accompanying their listed links.)

My source of impetus for all of this has been the nomination and then election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and his up to now first disastrous month in office, as it has unrolled since his swearing in. And in keeping with his expression of what might arguably be called his one true genius: continuously projecting himself fully into the news and conversation and seemingly everywhere and all of the time, I have also found myself writing about now-president Trump and his administration in other contexts here too: particularly with regard to his China “policy,” or rather his China ad hoc and unconsidered. See my series: China and Its Transition Imperatives, for that at Macroeconomics and Business 2 and its here-relevant Part 39: rethinking China’s emerging trends and challenges in the emerging era of a United States Trump presidency (as its posting 296 there) and following.

But my goal here is not one of addressing the spur of the moment actions and snap decisions that Trump has arrived at, that reasoning people cannot simply ignore and that have been the focus of most of the pro and con debate in all of this. I have been focusing on that area of his overall story too, and certainly up to here. But m goal here, in keeping with my first posting offered concerning him, is to discuss what he does and how, that would make him the center of such concerned attention: not the actions and decisions themselves. And I begin addressing that by stating a point of observation that I have absolutely never ever considered as even a remote possibility when discussing a sitting president of the United States:

• Donald Trump: our current leader in United States national government, is not what you might call a reality-based president. How is his mental health and is he in fact capable as he is now, of fulfilling his duties and obligations as the president of the United States?

I have been assembling my above-cited China series in terms of a progression of recent news and analysis pieces: puzzle pieces that I have sought to assemble in order to present and discuss a larger overall organizing narrative that they would fit into and inform. I have found myself following essentially the same approach in all of my current Republican Party and Trump-related postings too. So I begin this posting with a goal of explicitly offering a new if briefly selective set of these bigger picture building blocks here too.

One consequence of Trump’s erratic ad hoc is that new action and decision challenges: new What issues keep unavoidably popping up, and thrusting themselves into the thoughts and conversations of this nation and the world, and in a manner that can in effect blur the more underlying How and I add Why questions and issues that we have to consider too. That flow of new What keeps him so actively in the news and commentary – and also makes new puzzle pieces essential for anyone who would seek to map out and understand what is happening in all of this. But for purposes of this posting, I will mostly set that aspect of this larger story aside.

Let me be more precise here. My goal in this posting is not to offer up the newest details of Donald Trump’s conflicts of interest challenges, where he does not even pretend to try to separate his own personal business interests and his own generation of personal wealth from his duties and responsibilities as president. I simply note that more and more troubling details related to that keep emerging seemingly every single day, these days. Similarly, my goal here is not to look into or examine the newest details coming out, as to how deeply entangled Donald Trump and his administration are with Vladimir Putin and his Russian government. I simply note that Trump’s now former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, by all appearance did a lot more than simply offer Putin reassurances of better days ahead once Obama was gone and Trump was in the White House. And it is beginning to look like more than just Flynn were, and I add still are actively involved in all of this too, with the larger “this” here quite possibly including direct participation of Donald Trump himself, and with direct Trump political campaign involvement in Russian interference in the 2016 US congressional and presidential elections. My goal here is also not to delve into or more deeply consider the fact that senior members of the Trump administration are now coming out as followers of the teachings of people like Julius Evola – a fascist who took so extreme a position in that, that he saw Benito Mussolini as being way to lacking in ideological purity. (I have to give a news reference to that one now: Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists. And Evola has become something of a thought leader for the “intelligentsia” of the alt-right, so Bannon definitely has company in this.)

There are an amazing and I have to add frightening range of topical issues: What issues such as these that I could focus on here – and I do expect to return to them as central areas of consideration. But for here and now my goal is to step back from those details and consider Donald Trump and the How of his floundering administration, and not the “trees in the forest” What details that his How comes to make our emerging reality out of.

Donald Trump ran on a campaign promising that he would bring the best and the brightest people into his administration and that together they would accomplish great things: “tremendous” things to use his preferred term there. Who does he look for and how does he vet the people who he considers as potential candidates? Trump’s ONLY litmus test in selecting candidates for senior appointed positions is unwavering and unquestioning loyalty/fealty to him – all else is optional:

Trump, an Outsider Demanding Loyalty, Struggles to Fill Top Posts.

That is a What story but it also offers a window into the How and Why of all of this. And Donald Trump has gone beyond simply calling the Press his own personal enemies and liars – purveyors of “fake news” who are out to get him. He has ratcheted up the rhetoric and has begun proclaiming them the enemy of America and the American people, and of democracy itself as a whole, and with dire warnings that those of the news media seek to suborn and undermine the nation and all that it stands for as a whole. Consistent with that, he has called upon the Justice Department to investigate “criminal leaks” coming out of government agencies and offices, or from individual government officials or employees and even just as they voice their own personal concerns – for the crime of putting his administration and himself in a less than flattering light. He has made himself very clear in his Twitter posting and in his public statements on that. See this Washington Post piece of February 17, 2017 as a puzzle piece relevant to this side of this How story:

Trump calls the media ‘the enemy of the American People’.

But the most important and I add troubling puzzle pieces that I would add here, on this How side of this emerging history-shaping story all involve Donald Trump’s capabilities as a manager and leader – as shaped by his mental health. And that is where this narrative becomes a lot more complex and a lot less certain.

When Barry Goldwater ran for president in 1964 he was challenged by an assortment of mental health professionals with accusations of his suffering from mental illness – and by clinicians who had never met with him, and who had obtained all of their evidence from the news and other distant and at least arguably biased sources. This came back to haunt them personally and it came back to haunt their overall profession too, and one consequence of that was the enactment of what came to be known as the Goldwater rule, to use the better known and more colloquial name that is used to identify Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics. This rule bans as unethical, psychiatrists from publically offering psychiatric diagnoses of people in the public eye who they have not specifically and individually met and clinically assessed.

• Trained and licensed mental health professionals in general – psychiatrists and also psychologists, psychoanalytic social workers and others all now find themselves bound by restrictions of this type, as meeting a basic ethical requirement of their professions. So as a matter of principle, a mental health professional can only develop and publically share a diagnostic assessment if they in effect take on a person under consideration as a patient.
• But if a mental health professional were to meet with Donald Trump under circumstances where they could make a meaningful and valid diagnosis they still could not in most cases discuss it because of clinician/client confidentiality requirements – unless specifically compelled to do so as for example in giving testimony in a court of law.
• So the most these professionals can in fact do is to openly, publically discuss mental health issues and problems in more undirected general terms (that by coincidence happen to have come to mind due to more casually observing someone in the White House with a somewhat orange complexion and hair) leading to what amounts to diagnosis by dog whistles. We are in fact starting to see that and word of it in the news now.

And this is where this narrative gets really complex and uncertain. I was initially planning on addressing a wider range of its issues in this one posting, but I will stop this discussion here, and continue it in a few days with a next series installment. In anticipation of that, I note that I will raise and discuss issues involving functionality and ability to perform in office, as well as normal and abnormal mental health conditions and their diagnoses. And I will, of course discuss the 25th amendment to the US constitution and its critically important Section 4 – and the consequences and implications of that being completely untested and certainly in anything like a mental health context. And I am also going to offer some historical parallels and examples through all of that to help organize and flesh out my discussion there. That is just a starter list for what is to come next.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1. And I also offer this and related material at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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