Trump Isn’t The First POTUS To Be Called Crazy

Image: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

Questioning of the mental state of a US president by political opponents is nothing new

| PLUS: Trump Derangement Syndrome explained

| By Jude Sheerin, Apr 15, 2019

| BBC News – Donald Trump is not the first president to be called unhinged, by political enemies and medical professionals alike. But some of his predecessors were manic depressives, bipolar and even psychopathic, say experts.

In the summer of 1776, the American Revolutionary War was going so badly for the rebels that George Washington apparently attempted suicide by redcoat.

As his militiamen fled in panic at Kip’s Bay, Manhattan, the 44-year-old supreme commander lapsed into a catatonic state, according to biographer Ron Chernow.

Washington just sat on horseback staring into space as dozens of British soldiers charged at him across a cornfield.

The future first US president’s aides grabbed the reins of his mount and with some difficulty managed to spirit him to safety.

One of his generals, Nathanael Greene, later said the Virginian was “so vexed at the infamous conduct of his troops that he sought death rather than life”.

Washington’s suspected emotional breakdown illustrates how even the greatest of crisis leaders can snap under pressure.

Fast forward nearly two-and-a-half centuries, and the mental state of his political descendant Donald Trump is under somewhat less forgiving examination…

But Mr. Trump – who maintains he is “a very stable genius” – is by no means the first US leader to find himself depicted as a lunatic:

  • John Adams was described by arch-rival Thomas Jefferson as “sometimes absolutely mad”. The Philadelphia Aurora, a mouthpiece of Jefferson’s party, assailed Adams as “a man divested of his senses”.
  • Theodore Roosevelt, the press theorized, would “go down in history as one of the most illustrious psychological examples of the distortion of conscious mental processes”. While Roosevelt campaigned in 1912 to return to the presidency, prominent US historian Henry Adams said: “His mind has gone to pieces… his neurosis may end in a nervous collapse, or acute mania.”
  • After Woodrow Wilson had a stroke, his critics claimed the White House had become an insane asylum, pointing out the bars installed on some first-floor windows of the executive mansion.

But as John Milton Cooper recounts in his Wilson biography, those bars had in fact been fitted during Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency to keep his young sons from breaking windows with their baseballs.

And yet, according to a psychiatric analysis of the first 37 commanders-in-chief, Adams, Roosevelt, and Wilson did have actual mental health issues.

The 2006 study estimated that 49% of presidents suffered from a malady of the mind at some stage in their life (a figure said by the researchers to be in line with national rates).

Twenty-seven percent of them were found to be affected while in office. Read more. 

Is “Trump Derangement Syndrome” a Real Mental Condition?

“Lack of official recognition does not mean that TDS is not a real mental condition.”

Jan 04, 2019

Psychology Today – Many clinicians, political commentators and members of the public have speculated upon the mental health of President Donald Trump.

Indeed, over 70,000 people self-identifying as “mental health professionals” have signed a petition declaring that “Trump is mentally ill and must be removed.”

In sociological terms, the ‘medical gaze’ has been hitherto focused on President Trump, and to a lesser extent his ardent supporters.

However, in recent months many have been questioning the direction of this ‘medical gaze.’ In fact, more and more people are suggesting that this ‘medical gaze’ should be reversed and refocused on President Trump’s most embittered and partisan opponents.

Some have even suggested that these opponents are experiencing a specific mental condition, which has been labeled ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ (TDS).

What does DSM 5 say about ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome?’

Mental illnesses are officially classified in a dense and dry book published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-version 5 (DSM-5).

This book contains 947 pages and lists hundreds of mental disorders; TDS is nowhere to be seen in DSM-5. Similarly, a review of scholarly databases such as MEDLINE and Google Scholar reveal no academic papers on this alleged syndrome.

Officially at least, TDS is not a real, diagnosable or treatable mental disorder.

That said, medical anthropologists and critical sociologists have convincingly argued that DSM-5 is a flawed document.

Indeed, social scientists have long recognized that there are numerous ‘folk categories’ of mental disorders that are considered real conditions by the general public, even though they are not recognized as such in the DSM.

These include categories such as ‘burnout’ or ‘nervous breakdown.’

As such, lack of official recognition does not mean that TDS is not a real mental condition.

Lay Understandings of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’

There is no shared lay understanding of TDS, mainly because it is a folk category rather than a professional category. As such, there is currently much armchair speculation about the nature and existence of TDS, without consensus. Read more. 

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