SUNDOWNING

Posted in Rants on January 4th, 2018 by Ed

It will disappoint some of you to hear that I find all of the arguments involving the 25th Amendment and Trump to be silly. My take on the purpose of that Amendment is to deal with a president who is comatose, alive in a vegetative state (e.g. Ariel Sharon in Israel), or bedridden in such overwhelmingly bad health that he doesn't have the time or ability to do the job (e.g. someone dying of end-stage cancer). Could a president's mental competence short of that be a reason to trigger the 25th? Sure, in theory. But add partisan politics to the mix and I think there is essentially zero chance that presidential incapacity could ever be agreed upon short of the individual being inert. Short of the president wandering around screaming at imaginary dragons like we all too often see among the homeless, "The president is nuts" is never going to work. It's just too subjective, and people who want to believe the president is fine will always be able to construct an argument for that.

So with the caveat that I absolutely do not believe that the Trump Problem will be solved by the 25th Amendment I've paid very little attention to any of the (extensive) takes out there about him suffering dementia or something similar. Eric Levitz offered another such take today. Unlike anything previous, there is one thing about this piece I have to admit is stunning. Watch this 1980 interview with Trump. It's short. Try to forget how much you hate Trump for a second and just watch this with, if possible, neutral feelings:

That is, without overstatement, a completely different person. Nobody's going to mistake him for Socrates, and he still (of course) comes off as an arrogant dick. But ignore what he's talking about and just listen to his voice and demeanor. He has a normally-sized vocabulary. He speaks in a normal tone at a normal volume. His responses are relevant to the questions. He cites facts – several times mentioning a specific building or price. He makes a joke, and it's appropriate in tone and context ("If you have any at that price, I'd love to buy them.")

There are plenty of ways to explain this away if you're so inclined. He's much younger, he's motivated to make a good impression, and he's speaking about (perhaps) the only topic he really knows anything about. But Levitz's point is made regardless – the ranting, repetitive, incoherent mess we hear interviewed today is a departure from this person's track record in the public eye. While still a smarmy ass, 1980s Donald Trump spoke in full sentences like a normal human and didn't struggle to string two thoughts together. He talked as if he knew more than six adjectives. He sounded – god help me – like an educated rich kid.

Diagnosing Trump from a distance is futile. A political majority large enough to declare Trump incompetent could just as soon impeach him, which is cleaner and less fraught with questions. With respect to specifics like what appeared to be slurring during a recent appearance or his weird glass-grasping which ignited speculation about his motor skills, I don't find armchair diagnoses terribly persuasive. There is no doubt, though, that something beyond ordinary aging is at play here. Comparing audio or video of a person talking over time usually surprises in how much they sound the same, not how they have grown into a totally different person.

Whether the explanation is internal or external – A viable hypothesis, for example, is that Trump has conditioned the way he speaks in public to positive reinforcement from sycophants and strategic attempts to give the media what it wants – something has changed. And it has changed quite a bit. The 25th Amendment isn't going to solve this problem, but it is hard to deny that for whatever reason, Donald Trump no longer acts like he used to.