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.

37 thoughts on “SUNDOWNING”

  • Edith Wilson, bless her massive, MASSIVE set of balls–pretty much put this one to bed back in the day. Though it's now canon to tell the story that "No, she TOTALLY kept it a secret from EVERYONE that Wilson was completely ga-ga, post-stroke," anyone who's given a couple minutes of serious thought to that scenario knows it likely to be bullshit. They knew. And she knew they knew. And everyone just…agreed that they were gonna keep pretending otherwise, and, fingers crossed, it'd all come out right in the end.

    Skip ahead 60+ years, and Reagan's second term got REAL dire there, towards the end, but, again, the folks in the inner circle just…agreed that this was a manageable scenario. Nancy would stand next to him and feed him answers and they'd make sure the helicopters made too much noise for him to answer questions whenever he walked to/from, and, fingers crossed, it'd all come out right in the end.

    Ed's right, in short. The precedent is historical–in the court of a mad king, everyone whose livelihood depends on the continuance of the reign just…agrees to make it work. And, generally, they do. It helps, as in the case of Reagan, that Trump was never really president in the first place. Figureheads don't need sanity in order to smile and wave. (Or to bluster and tweet.)

    But let's just hope that the folks around him have already had the wherewithal to tell everyone in the chain of command, "You didn't hear a launch until six other people TELL you you heard a launch command–GOT IT?!"

  • schmitt trigger says:

    J Dryden:
    "…The precedent is historical–in the court of a mad king, everyone whose livelihood depends on the continuance of the reign just…agrees to make it work."

    I fully agree with your statement.

    And is not only related to monarchs or rulers, either. Look at what happened to Elvis Presley.

  • One of our local retro TV channels is running old episodes of "The Dick Cavett Show."

    I watched a 1971 episode in which Ronald Reagan was the guest. He talked extemporaneously for several minutes on the importance of conservation of natural resources and property tax reform in California. You can see it here:

    He sounded great. Smart. A policy wonk. I couldn't believe it. He was not the befuddled Reagan I remember from my childhood and early teen years.

    Sure, he had the same personality traits (jovial and polite, but a little condescending) but he was so much more articulate than I remembered from the 1980s.

    I agree — Trump is getting senile. He keeps his kids around him because he needs familiarity and someone to watch out for him. His personality traits, like Reagan's, are still intact (he was a colossal dick then, he's a colossal dick now), but his higher functions are going.

    And like you, I also believe there is zero chance of his cabinet removing him under the 25th Amendment unless he's walking around the Rose Garden with a pantload of shit, asking where his mommy is and eating Tide Laundry Pods, and even then, Fox News will say he looked presidential.

  • Diagnosing Trump from a distance is futile.

    While I understand most of the rest of the OP, in this case I find Levitz more convincing:

    It’s absurd to believe that a psychiatrist who has spent a couple of hours talking to a patient in an office is qualified to make this diagnosis — but one with access to hundreds of hours of a patient’s interviews and improvisatory remarks, along with a small library’s worth of biographical information and testimonials from his closest confidants — is not.

    I have heard about a psychiatric evaluation closer to home not too long ago, and can only say that if what I heard is correct the psychiatrist in question spent so little time with the people they were supposed to evaluate that I find it hard to take any report seriously. (For example it is not too difficult for an accomplished pathological liar to fool their conversation partner for an hour, it is only after interacting with them for a few weeks that you notice how they constantly contradict themselves and established fact.)

    But in the case of a public person, much more material is already available for evaluation than could be generated during a few short interviews, so why limit oneself to the latter?

  • That's an interesting argument, Alex. Pretty convincing, actually. We as a population do tend to defer too much to standard "structures" of expertise, and the in-office "diagnosis" may not warrant such deferral.

    One could also argue that a befuddled but well-meaning person who surrounded himself with good advisers and handlers (i.e., not the Trump snake pit) may be preferable to an intelligent sociopath in full command of his or her faculties.

  • The change described here reminds me of people in the early aughts describing how a once-reasonable older relative or acquaintance changed after they started watching Fox News. (Thinking back on it now, it seems like there were a lot of those anecdotes going around.) I don't have a theory, but it's remarkable.

  • bleeding gums murphy says:

    The slurring looks to me like his dentures started trying to escape from his mouth and his lips and tongue are trying to contain them. Just my take.

  • It's the lifetime diet: corporate food, corporate media, corporate sense surround: The 3C recipe for insanity, dementia and all it spawns.

  • As long as he has access to his twitter account he is a threat, unless the entire world recognizes he is just an old man being humored. I think if his three generals were to see a serious situation evolving as a result of President Trump’s actions, they could sit the cabinet members and VP Pence down and explain to them that it’s time to invoke article 4 of the 25th. This is as close as we will come to a military coup, but if that’s what it takes to preserve our republic it will be done.

  • Thanks for posting that video, Ed. I only really started paying attention to Trump after he became president, so I had no idea how much he's changed over his lifetime. You're right about the difference: Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, perhaps? I do recall Trump making the news about the destroying that old building, and it seems just like yesterday.

  • It will disappoint some of you to hear that I find all of the arguments involving the 25th Amendment and Trump to be silly.

    I cheerfully admit Ed is much better versed in these matters than I am. But I've read elsewhere that the 25th Amendment was intentionally left vague enough to cover mental illness as well as physical, for example:

    … the Constitution offers no measure of physical debility, mental infirmity, or emotional instability that would satisfy it. The framers of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment intentionally declined to provide a clear constitutional rule…

    Of course, mental illness is hard to define and diagnosis-from-a-distance is a fool's errand. Being ignorant and destructive doesn't qualify; there was never any serious discussion of applying the 25th to George W Bush. But it's at least plausible that Trump is unable to understand and process information well enough to fulfil his minimal duties as President; that he's not only mentally ill, but mentally disabled for the purposes of doing his job.

    It's all a moot point anyway. It would take something a lot worse than we've already seen, before enough Republican Senators vote to remove Trump by whatever means.

  • @Alex SL: The problem with diagnosis based on interviews and public behaviour is, the person in public is deliberately playing a part. If a person knows they are playing a part, and can change their behaviour at will, they probably aren't mentally ill.

    To take a silly example, the UK parliamentary candidate known as Lord Buckethead behaves like a crazy person, but the man beneath the bucket is likely to be quite sane.

    Distinguishing between mentally-ill and deliberately-acting requires discussions in private.

  • Barkus Annointo says:

    Not merely discussions in private, but discussions with a mental health professional whose authority the subject is bound to respect.
    The current preznit would not recognize anyone's authority or order him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, would not recognize the expertise of the professionals sent to check him out, & would certainly treat any negative mental health evaluation by responding as he has to critical newspaper or teevee reports–"Fake news!"

  • Talisker,

    That doesn't really make a lot of sense to me. Lord Buckethead deliberately behaves like a crazy person, yes. A politician who is crazy and does not want to be recognised as crazy will, conversely, try to keep their act together in public. So take that into account; now if they clearly behave like a crazy person even when they try their best, what does that tell us?

    That apart from the fact that somebody in that situation would likewise play a part when talking to the psychiatrist, with the advantage that they only have to fool that person for a few hours, while they have to fool the public record every day.

  • Robert Biemer says:

    My take on this is that the Repubs and Russians will keep him in just as long as they need him to distract us and not very much longer.
    As much as Trump thinks he's a player, he is being used by both as their tool to fuck us all. Once that's done, he'll be gone by impeachment, Article 25, or, Ricin.

  • postcaroline says:

    Between the germ phobia, paranoia, and delusions of grandeur (esp as they relate to flying – claiming he’s responsible for safe air travel) it seems like we’ve got Howard Hughes in the Oval Office.

    Also, I watched the video and, like, wow.

  • postcaroline says:

    (To be fair to Howard Hughes, he wasn't exactly delusional about his contributions to flight – that was more the C. Montgomery Burns parody).

  • @Alex SL: I think you're approaching this the wrong way. Politicians, entertainers, and salespeople are performers; and Trump falls into all three of these categories.

    In public, Trump is not trying to "perform" normality; he is performing a highly artificial role he has constructed for himself, an unholy combination of reality television star, business tycoon and emperor. In principle, Trump's ability to perform this role is no more relevant to his underlying sanity than Christian Bale's ability to perform Batman.

    We believe Bale to be sane because we can see him stop being Batman. But in Trump's case, the line between performer and character is a lot more blurred. Trump doesn't stop being Trump-the-character in public, ever, because his public image is the foundation for his wealth and power. So the only way to really assess his sanity would be a confidential interview in private, by a trained professional with whom Trump was communicating honestly. (As Barkus Annointo notes, squadrons of flying pigs will soar over the Potomac long before that happens, but that's what it would take.)

  • Benny, I was just thinking of W. I believe that Ed may have made a post years ago with a video of Bush in a debate for Texas governor where he sounded like an intelligent person. The accent was not Boston Brahmin, but it did not sound like Bush while president. We can't discount playing up a public persona.

  • I agree that there is something going on with the guy in addition to normal aging. But I do think we shouldn't underestimate the difference between a person talking about subjects he knows about (or at least WANTS to talk about)- that's Trump up until he ran for President- and a person who is suddenly expected to talk constantly about subjects he doesn't understand, doesn't care about, and doesn't want to learn about- that's Trump as President. Because he wasn't expecting to win, and doesn't actually want to do the job, and yet he can't stop talking.

  • Connecting some dots:

    The precedent is historical–in the court of a mad king, everyone whose livelihood depends on the continuance of the reign just…agrees to make it work. And, generally, they do. It helps, as in the case of Reagan, that Trump was never really president in the first place. Figureheads don't need sanity in order to smile and wave. (Or to bluster and tweet.)
    The reason the majority in Congress cannot be entrusted with removing a semiliterate, authoritarian, emotional toddler from the Oval Office is how closely they reflect the voters who put him there. –Tom Sullivan
    Death to crusty Republican boomers can't happen soon enough?

  • Talisker,

    Perhaps you are overthinking this? If Trump does not stop being the character, ever, then how is the character not in practice what one would have to worry about? If it is "not ever", then how do you even know there is a different person under the mask – is such a claim not untestable by design?

    And in what universe would ANY candidate for psychiatric evaluation "communicate honestly" with the psychiatrist? If they know that the interview is about declaring them unfit then nobody will communicate honestly.

    But I don't buy the permanent role-playing claim anyway. For public figures we generally do have information on what they said to people and how they behaved in private, when they had just stepped away from the cameras. In the present case more is leaked than normal perhaps, but, it could be argued, that is precisely because mental capability is potentially a concern, meaning that in every other case where an evaluation was necessary similar amounts of information would become available.

  • While Trump is a loose cannon, Pence is the Christian Elite connected with Money. it's a hard choice, no matter who runs America for the Corporations Being a figurehead/spokesman mostly, like St. Reagan, worked the Con like few others had before. a better return than buying Congress through "lobbying" and it works wonders like no amount of money the Elites ever spent since Money bought the Press.
    Trump works in reverse. Keeps everybody focus on the "circus atmosphere", a joker amongst us.

    The damage Pence would do makes me think of the mix of Government and Religion. and i hear how conservative hate Government in everyday life.
    the show must go on. with Trump as a bull in a china shop sounds like a perfect distraction. from something else, I suppose. lol

    Bread and circuses

  • I suspect that a lot of Republicans in Congress and the Senate recognize that Trump is a huge problem – but also think they've gone too far with him to get off the train now without completing destroying whatever shreds of credibility they and their party have left. Their gamble is almost certainly to appease Trump just enough to keep him semi-happy and with a clean diaper while doing as little as possible to anger his base, all the the time hoping that they aren't forced into doing anything more overtly destructive than necessary on the international stage. I wouldn't be surprised to see them losing some of their last hold-out seats in liberal states for good as a result and having trouble getting back to a majority in the House for a decade or so after the mid-terms of this year. They've got a party running on fumes, while the Democrats are genuinely enraged at every level and held back largely by the morons who run the official party apparatus.

  • "while the Democrats are genuinely enraged at every level and held back largely by the morons who run the official party apparatus."

    Fact not in evidence.

  • @democommie

    Look at the DNC and tell me that the facts are not in evidence. Look at the array of clueless Clintonistas who are still clogging up the veins of the Democratic party and tell me the facts are not in evidence. If the Democrats win this year, it will be because the grassroots decided to make a move without waiting for the usual strategists and consultants to give their worthless approval.

  • @Bernard; you notice Pence has kept a very, very low profile since he and "mother" walked out of the football game in that taxpayer-funded, expensive, staged poutrage. He's a snake.

  • @ Nick T:


    "while the Democrats are genuinely enraged at every level and held back largely by the morons who run the official party apparatus."

    is your opinion.

    Give me some citations for studies or polls that show MOST dems are "genuinely enraged" at the DNC.

    I really KNOW that you hate the DNC. You and other commenters have made it abundantly clear that you hate the democratic party and are going to replace it any day now with a slate of candidates who will selflessly represent their varied and internally contentious constituencies. Those candidates will either persuade with brilliant arguments or coerce with threats of something, something the DNC into giving them its MONEY and structures for raising same to them to use as you and your fellow Berniebroz see fit. Then, your candidates–all of whom will be squeaky clean and have long track records of service to their communities, business acumen, experience in polity and governance and tidy family situations–will simply apply those same arguments to their campaigns and woo over not only the dems but all of the morons who didn't vote or voted for some OTHER 3rd party shithead, last election.

    Okey-dokey. Let's do that. I'd like to request the names of the shiny, new prog candidates that are running in your ward, city, county, state or other races and let me know how their campaigns are going. I'd also request that you explain how any of the candidates you are working with are going to take over Congress.

    I see those requests being fulfilled around the same time I get a personal flying rainbow unicorn who will eat toxic waste, drink foul water and then piss really good wine or beer
    and shit Krugerrands.

  • I also find arguments for the 25th Amendment thing unconvincing; it conjures images of the whole Terri Schiavo incident. Much of medicine is opinion-based. Just get Ben Carson, et al. up there to tell us that in their professional medical opinions, Trump is fine, and all you armchair psychiatrists consulting Dr. Google can go pound sand.

    On the other hand, impeachment trials are based on facts and evidence. Opinion and circumstantial evidence doesn't hold a lot of water. Unless the guy is literally unable to hold a pen, no one's going to agree that the 25th Amendment applies. That's all the Republicans need him for anyway.

    A major problem is how Trump and the GOP are shaping the Judicial branch. The GOP certainly knows how to play the long game. This goes well beyond just the Supreme Court. See…Trump keeps nominating judges that are just as unqualified for their positions as he is. Like, really REALLY unqualified. People like Matthew Petersen, who was nominated to become the judge of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. And the GOP is confirming the fuck out of them. In case you're wondering why the hell I brought this up, it's because if/when Mueller finds some serious dirt on Trump and the fam, guess where the case is heard?

  • When we all argue about whether or not Trump is losing it, we're kind of missing the point. We can all mostly agree that the man needs to go so he doesn't get us all killed. I think we're in a post-"but Pence is scarier" world at this stage of the game. Admittedly, it does appear that cognitively or behaviorally, there's something amiss–but the 25th Amendment is a questionable tactic at best, in terms of effectiveness and practicality. We've got a perfectly promising method on the horizon; seeing it through to the end is probably the best shot we have, so let's just quit the bickering and focus, umkay?

  • @NickT: dude, you simply have to seek treatment for your Facebook-bot-driven obsession with Hillary Clinton; it's simply not healthy. The woman actually won the majority of votes in the country, where your preferred candidate couldn't even win the majority of the votes in the Democratic Party.

  • Another Mother's Ed says:

    As an experienced hypnotist I'm telling you that djt has not only been hypnotized, but has been masterfully reprogrammed. Probably by the KGB.

  • Pence is very dangerous to religious liberties. Only Real Christians need apply.
    More of the Elmer Gantry scam.

    always brings me back to the Golden Age of Sinclair Lewis. Carrying a Bible and waving an American Flag.

    Oh, well, they are screwing up the environment so completely. there's hell to pay. Just who pays the bills is the real answer/question.

    The return to serfdom will not be pretty. as Bette Davis said, "It is going be a bumpy ride" or something like it.

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