Yale Medical School sponsored a conference of eminent psychiatrists and psychologists last month to discuss the mental health of the president of the U.S. The conference concluded that Donald Trump is seriously mentally ill and should be removed from office because of the danger he represents.
For this one brief moment, Yale emerged from its safe spaces, sloughed off any perceived micro-aggressions, ignored trigger warnings, paid more than lip service to academic freedom, allowed free speech and abandoned its recent slavish adherence to political correctness. Instead, it permitted the conference of experts to say aloud what is of concern to a growing number of Americans that we have a profoundly disabled commander-in-chief.
The Yale conference ran out of syndromes to describe Trump’s bizarre behavior. It touched on everything from delusional — “my inauguration was attended by more people than ever” — to paranoid — “Barack Obama wiretapped me” — and on and on through the 2-inch thick, fifth edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," the bible of mental illnesses. The conference concluded that the assorted syndromes Trump exhibits would fill volumes. Only one diagnosis was missing.
However, Yale’s Ivy sister, Cornell, completed the alarming picture, thanks to the work of professors David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the discoverers of what psychology labels the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
David Dunning explains the effect as follows:
“In many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize — scratch that, cannot recognize — just how incompetent they are … for poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack. What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”
We have had mentally challenged presidents before — Ronald Reagan believed he had liberated the Dachau concentration camp because he appeared in a movie about it, thought ketchup is a vegetable and that trees cause air pollution and employed astrology to guide his daily schedule. Richard Nixon spoke to Abraham Lincoln’s White House portrait and wept when Abe did not respond. Jack Kennedy’s mental state was severely compromised after he was pumped full of amphetamines and other controlled substances by Max Jacobson when he met with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. He came across so weak that Khrushchev was emboldened to put up the Berlin Wall, move offensive nuclear missiles into Cuba and arguably tempt John F. Kennedy into the Vietnam quagmire. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s mental condition at the Yalta Conference in 1945, the result of his physical decline (he died a few weeks later), encouraged Josef Stalin to subvert and make puppets of the captive nations of Eastern Europe.
Yale and Cornell do not really tell us anything about Trump we did not already know or that chroniclers had not reported in more than 40 years of covering his New York antics. But having it confirmed by experts makes what we are witnessing that much scarier. Combine that with Trump’s stunning ignorance of history (he is a graduate of another Ivy, University of Pennsylvania), his disdain for truth, his living only in the moment and his finger on the nuclear trigger, and that’s one nasty combination cocktail.
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.