Personalities like our president invite the satire of late night talk hosts, satirical columnists and stand-up comics, who almost daily are served a rich pile of fresh material at which to poke fun. It’s irresistible. But our laughter fades when we realize how serious are the consequences when our nation is led by a person whose grip on reality is in doubt.
Ordering the White House phones to be wrapped in tin foil might be a joke for satirists, but when our president imagines that his phones have been tapped by former president Barack Obama, it is time for us to get serious. Have we become so accustomed to Donald Trump’s lies and fantasies that we now accept them, shrug and go on, as if this is normal behavior?
Journalists and this blogger lack the professional credentials to pass judgment on the question of whether someone’s behavior is rational, but we all would be well served to take seriously the views of those who are in a position to know. In yesterday’s New York Times, we find a letter written by two such experts sufficiently concerned to speak out in a public forum. One is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. The other is a professor emeritus at City University of New York and lecturer in psychiatry at Columbia University.
These two psychiatrists wrote of their concern over Trump’s “alarming symptoms of mental instability” that became evident during his campaign for the presidency. Since then, their concern has grown. In these first weeks, “the demands of the presidency have magnified his erratic patterns of behavior,” they wrote. The psychiatrists in particular are struck by the president’s “failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted.” Wait. His failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy? No wonder they are concerned. Everyone should be.
Their letter goes on to address his attacks on the press and his accusation without evidence that former Barack Obama engaged in partisan surveillance against him. “He repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy,” they wrote. They aver that they are not offering a diagnosis from a distance but feel obliged to express their alarm. “We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.” Their letter ends with a plea to our elected representatives to “take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.”
In this harshly partisan environment, who among them will have the moral courage to act to protect both Americans and the rest of the world from an egocentric president who fails to distinguish between fantasy and reality and holds the power to act on his irrationality?
We are waiting. How much time do we have before it’s too late?