Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump and the stress testing of the American system of government 4

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on March 4, 2017

This is my 9th installment to a now-ongoing if still occasional series of postings in which I seek to address politics in the United States as it has become, starting with the nominations process leading up to the 2016 presidential elections (see Social Networking and Business 2, posting 244 and loosely following.)

I begin this with a very specific and significant acknowledgement; I am not a clinically trained mental health professional. My PhD is in the biological basis of behavior and I spent a number of years doing basic behavioral research in that arena and certainly while a graduate student. When I started working in hospitals, as I did for several years after completing my graduate studies and post-doctoral training, I spent a significant measure of my time there working with clinicians: attending physicians and residents, to help them design and carry out clinical trials and related research endeavors. And I worked closely with mental health professionals and with psychiatrists in particular as a part of that. So I have a basic knowledge of the underlying principles involved here – but no direct hands-on experience let alone expertise in mental health diagnosis.

That actually puts me in a strong position relative to that faced by the elected and appointed US government officials who would have to arrive at and carry through on any political decisions as to what would be best for the country, in dealing with the challenges that Donald Trump engenders. They lack the skills and experience that would ultimately be called for in determining what best to do, and in most cases even more thoroughly than I do. True, these political and governmental professionals will turn to mental health professionals and to acknowledged experts in that for advice, insight and guidance. But if there is any real possibility of president Trump facing action under the 25th amendment to the US constitution and its Section 4 provisions and processes, as discussed in this series in Part 8, it is absolutely certain that he and his supporters will bring in experts of known standing of their own, who would contest any diagnoses of mental incapacity on Trump’s part. These government officials will find themselves having to make binding historically significant decisions, while facing competing experts who see the evidence in front of them differently and who offer differing but firmly argued diagnostic conclusions from it – throwing all of this back into their hands again and with what will most likely be more questions than answers.

It is these quandaries, or at least my awareness of my own limitations in expertise from among them, that have prompted me to take extra time in writing this posting, and I offer it here and now as a still work in progress, at least in my own thought processes. That said, I also see this as a pivotally important next step installment to a narrative that I began developing here with the first of these recent mental health-related installments: Donald Trump and the Stress Testing of the American System of Government 1. And with that preamble noted, I turn to the issues and body of this posting.

There are a number of ways that we all, lay-public or mental health professional, see a phenomenon like Donald Trump, and all of them come into play simultaneously and for essentially all of us.

• We see and hear of specific instances and events that would seem to fall outside of the range of what we might consider normal.
• We look for and for many of us see, emerging trends that would connect together the specific behaviors that we observe as following more consistent patterns: traits, or the consistent recurrence of specific types of behavior or action that fit some same basic form.
• And we all to at least a certain degree seek to organize all of those traits-level observations and conclusions into larger, still more inclusive diagnostic labels – and even if we use the diagnostic labels that we would resort to without fully understanding what they do and do not mean, and only in a more colloquial expression sense.

The higher the organizational level that we bring into this, going from specific event to a presumption of consistent trait, and on to overall diagnostic label, the more room there is for uncertainty and error – and particularly when the terms we used are not rigorously defined and characterized in explicit replicable diagnostic terms – which they are not and certainly for that third, highest category, except for trained mental health professionals, armed with tools and resources such as the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

I will primarily address this complex of issues here from the specific behavioral event and the emergent-to-that trait level, and will only address overarching diagnoses and their labels for the complications that they engender, and that they most assuredly will raise in the months to come.

Donald Trump as candidate, and Donald Trump as now-president of the United States has recurringly, repeatedly said and written, and particularly Twitter-written things that would provoke pause and concern, and that would raise doubt as to his capacity to function in office too. I will begin with a brief sample of a few of what by now are the many well-known from among this.

• Consider Trump’s adamantly held claims, and apparently genuine belief that the crowds present at his presidential inauguration where vast – the largest ever to assemble there.

Consider the photographic evidence that immediately came out to the contrary, including views from above provided by the US government’s own National Parks Service, as well as by well respected news sources. Does Donald Trump suffer from hallucinations? Did he in fact actually see those crowds, and regardless of whether they were there or not, at least in a sense and meaning that could be captured on camera? I made note in Part 7 of this series, of Britain’s King George III and his hallucinations. And I add here that a few of his more notable instances of suffering from them (real and apocryphal) have become part of the more prominently known George III narrative and legend. Did King George III actually see any of this, and did he believe it with the intensity of having witnessed it with his own eyes? Does Donald Trump actually believe he is right, and regardless of any proffered evidence to the contrary and regardless of source, because he saw it? And thinking ahead in this narrative, what does that mean?

• Donald trump has spoken and on a number of occasions now, and very publically of how he was in Jersey City, New Jersey on the morning of September 11, 2001, looking across the Hudson River to the site of the World Trade Center as it went under the terrorist attack that destroyed it – and with all of the loss of life that entailed. Where he actually was, is not the critically important detail here and neither is the question of what was actually, recordably visible from the vantage point that he claims as having had in this event. The important detail there, and certainly for purposes of this discussion, is that now-president Trump keeps claiming that he saw thousands of people (presumably all followers of Islam) cheering as the attacks took place and the towers fell. That, very definitely did not actually happen; none of that actually happened. Many people were recording everything they saw, and from many, many vantage points and there were no cheering crowds – people were horrified and in shock. But according to his words of witness, Donald Trump did see this. Does he actually remember that as a part of his actual experience of that day, or is he simply making up a story for his own purposes and claiming it to be real, and for his intentional purposes too?

What does this far more serious and consequential claim mean, and both for the United States and our citizenry here, and for our relations with other nations, and as a possible indication of a president Trump’s capacity to serve in office? The New York Times recently offered a thought piece in it’s The Upshot column that bears note here: Just How Abnormal Is the Trump Presidency? Rating 20 Events. The items included there do not all, by any means, involve possible hallucination or delusion on Donald Trump’s part, with many falling more into the categories of bad judgment or hubris-based unwillingness to consider anything beyond the scope of one’s own unconsidered snap judgment. But a few of them would arguably suggest delusional behavior as an at least contributing factor, including his increasing strident attacks against “fake news” and from whatever sources when anyone challenges his understand or his opinion – or his perception of reality.

Donald Trump reaches out to attack and destroy any who challenge him, and on anything, no matter how trivial. And this raises other potentially significant mental health traits too – other recurring patterns of instances of problematical behaviors. His grandiosity comes to mind as an ongoing source of observable events and actions too, and the news events listed in that The Upshot are at least consistent with other specific trait patterns too. And that one news analysis piece only touches upon a few of the possibilities for inclusion here, out of Donald Trump’s ongoing, well documented media presence.

Specific instances of behavior can be recorded, and certainly for as publically visible and on-camera, on-microphone and online a person as Donald Trump. And they are being recorded and noted and in tremendous volume. This makes it both easier and more justifiable, in accordance with recorded evidence, when ascertaining patterns that on a same-behavior type, recurring basis would indicate specific ongoing behavioral traits. And president Trump in fact actively exhibits a range of such traits that would both individually raise concern and that together would seem to fit larger, pathological patterns. And as noted at the top of this posting, that is where this discussion, and I add the national and global discussion concerning Trump’s mental health become less certain – and if for no other reason because this is where the rigor of precise terminology and precise diagnostic standards do not always enter in. And I return here to note the point that I made above, about how we will all but certainly see competing and conflicting syndrome and overall diagnostic assessments as to Donald Trump’s state of mental health, and even coming from mental health professionals themselves – and certainly if and when any real effort it made to challenge Trump and his functionality, and through mechanisms such as Section 4 of the 25th amendment to the US constitution.

The specific behaviors that I write of here, all arguably raise types of concern that would at least in principle raise the possibility of invoking that succession in office constitutional process. But they also raise a second level of consideration to the front in understanding all of this and in determining what to do in response to it:

• What is the prognostic value and significance of the specific behavioral instances that I write of here, and of others like them? Do the specific events and any traits that they suggest, indicate risk of fundamental constitutional incapacity to function in office of a type that from a mental health perspective, would trigger Section 4 of the 25th amendment? Or are they self-limiting and exceptions?
• And alternatively and equally importantly, what is the specific event or incident value and meaning in all of this, and for both specific instances observed and for apparent traits observed as arising from them too, where longer-term prognostic considerations might not lead to a determination of ongoing mental health challenge per se, but where the ongoing impact and friction engendered by particularly ill-chosen decisions and actions might tie the president’s hands – even if he is deemed to be mentally and otherwise constitutionally able to fulfill his duties of office?
• An event or action or a publically expressed belief can create barriers to success and to even having an effective opportunity to succeed in office, in and of itself, and even if the president is ultimately found to be mentally healthy enough to be functional in office. In this case, his “hallucinations” and “delusions” as noted above, might be found to have actually been self-serving deception: intentional “fake news” and lies on his part – and Donald Trump becomes a failed president by his own hand, even as he creates discord around himself from that and from his other wild flailings in office.

I offer those last two points and their questions as a lead-in to further discussion to come. And I will turn to consider them and their issues in my next installment to this series. In anticipation of that, I add that I am also going to write more on the basic set of issues and challenges that I have been addressing here in this posting, with an at least brief and selective discussion of framing as that term is used in the social sciences, and particularly as it becomes significant when moving up the conceptual organization scale from that of the individual observed incident or event, to that of the overarching diagnosis.

I am also currently planning on more explicitly discussing Section 3 of the 25th amendment (as also considered in more general terms, in Part 8 of this series – Part 3 of this progression of postings in it. And I am planning on more directly addressing issues that would relate more to impeachment and the possibility of removal from office by act of Congress too, under United States constitutional law. And I will discuss all of this in terms of historical examples, and exactly as I did when raising events from the lives and presidencies of Lincoln and Grant, in Part 8 of this series. This is just a partial list of what is to come here.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Social Networking and Business 2, and also see that directory’s Page 1.


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