Chris Creegan

Comment | Ideas | Opinion

Why Trump’s state of mind is the wrong target

by Chris on 6th January 2018

I’m not going to read Fire and Fury. I have a stack of books I want to get stuck into. Some non-fiction, some fiction and a bit of poetry too. Some will make me laugh, others will make me cry and all of them will, I hope, make me think. I’m sure Fire and Fury would make me think too. But, forgive me, life’s too short. We’re told, of course, that it’s mesmerising. Indeed you can probably find any number of superlatives out there which will testify to its allure as a book that you just won’t be able to put down.

But, forgive me some more. I don’t want to spend hours of my life I won’t back only to learn what is self-evident. That the current White House takes institutional dysfunction to a whole new level. That it is awash with layers of claim and counterclaim, replete with deceit. And that at the nerve centre of all this is a malevolent, vainglorious, narcissist. Like, I get all that. But if I want to read about a cesspit, I think I’d get more out of, Inside the Belly of the Beast, Exploring London’s Victorian Sewers.

But I have a bigger problem with all this. My concern about Trump is not so much that he’s all of the above, but that he’s a crypto-fascist and is one the most dangerous world leaders in my lifetime. Yes, I also find it chilling that Twitter is his go-to diplomacy tool, particularly when he descends to boastfulness about button size. And yes, I find it kind of yukky that all of this is apparently fuelled by a McDonald’s mega mac meal.

But seriously, it’s what he wants to do and what he’s doing that makes me weep. That he fundamentally misunderstands climate change and seeks, deliberately, to mislead the American public about it. That he adds insult to injury by proposing the largest ever expansion of offshore drilling. That he equates White Supremacism with the cause of Black Lives Matter and then compounds it by wilfully promoting the cause of the far-right Britain First in our own country.

That his first legislative victory is a $1.5 trillion tax bill which will hugely benefit the very wealthiest Americans. If you’ve been to America lately you’ll have seen what happens when the interests of the richest are privileged over those who have nothing left. They fall out of the bottom of the system and the human suffering is laid bare in the public realm. All this from a man who swore to the jobless and left behind of America’s Rust Belt and beyond that he would drain the swamp.

I understand, of course, that the inner workings of the White House are far from irrelevant to all this. I get that such unprecedented access is the key to a political anorak’s dream tome. Yet all the hype about it also surely serves as a grotesque distraction from the real harm that is being propagated by the Trump administration. And it begs the question, is this actually how he’s going to be brought down? Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s a political alternative the American public need to be offered and they wouldn’t be the only beneficiaries if one succeeded in winning them over.

At the heart of all this, there’s something even more troubling, for me. Something, I think, that should bother us all. That’s the increasingly obsessive, sometimes even gleeful, focus on Trump’s mental capacity and his mental health. To be clear, by the way, these are not necessarily the same thing. I run a learning disability charity and chair the board of a mental health charity. I speak for neither in this piece but it’s no coincidence that I can’t help feeling disturbed by the level of armchair psychiatry and psychology that is filling the ether.

For all I know, Trump may be unbalanced. Calling oneself a genius in response to such accusations probably doesn’t help to quell the hysteria. But I’m not a doctor. And a persistent focus on his state of mind by political opponents and commentators, supporters and readers alike, leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth. The stigma associated with mental ill health and mental incapacity is a scourge on our society. And this isn’t helping.

Just as focusing on the mental health of dangerous offenders serves to obfuscate their criminality, so dwelling on Trump’s alleged state of mind obscures the real problem with what he’s doing and the damage that it will reap. And all the while it creates an atmosphere in which he becomes the object of ridicule in a dystopian political freak show.

The cause of those whose lives are blighted by ignorance about mental incapacity and mental illness has nothing to gain from this and plenty to lose. The insidious assumption that either or both make you unfit for public office, or even a job, should make us all stop and think. Not about Trump, but about what we are really saying about human potential. Because it just isn’t true. I meet people every day who illustrate why.

So if, unlike me, you are reaching for Fire and Fury, spare a thought for people with learning disabilities and people with mental health problems. They don’t deserve to be caught, unwittingly, in the crossfire. There are myriad reasons why Trump is unfit to be the leader of the so-called free world. Some of them, not least his misogyny, have noxious behavioural consequences.

Yet, if we want to see an end to his terrifying Presidency, we’d be well advised to focus on the policies. He may be impeached yet. Something quite unforeseen might happen. But I think in the end, it is his politics that will have to do for him. And if the alternative is to be worth anything, so it should be.

  • Paul Burton

    A typically thoughtful piece Chris. It’s so easy to fall back on the old perjorative labels just because it’s Trump. My fear is that he’s set the scene for an even more pernicious successor.

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