Quick Takes: Is Trump Incompetent, Delusional or Unhinged?

A roundup of news that caught my eye today.

* You know it’s a bad day for Trump when the questions focus on whether he’s incompetent, delusional or unhinged. Stephen Collinson questions the president’s competence, especially in light of the North Korean crisis.

Donald Trump potentially has millions of lives in his hands as the threat of a devastating war with North Korea swiftly escalates.

Yet the President of the United States is raising new questions about his temperament, his judgment and his understanding of the resonance of his global voice and the gravity of his role with a wild sequence of insults, inflammatory tweets and bizarre comments.

On Wednesday Trump caused outrage and sparked fears of violent reprisals against Americans and US interests overseas by retweeting graphic anti-Muslim videos by an extreme far right British hate group. Earlier this week he used a racial slur in front of Native American war heroes. He’s attacked global press freedom, after cozying up to autocrats on his recent Asia tour.

And now there are reports that the President has revived conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace and is suggesting an “Access Hollywood” video on which he was heard boasting sexually assaulting women, and for which he apologized last year, had been doctored.

In normal times, it would be a concern that the President is conducting himself in a manner so at odds with the decorum and propriety associated for over two centuries with the office he holds.

But the sudden escalation of the North Korean crisis, following the Stalinist state’s launch of its most potent ever missile on Tuesday, takes the world across a dangerous threshold.

* Similar to what I wrote earlier today, Johnathan Chait says that Trump isn’t simply a liar. He’s delusional.

The Washington Post and New York Times have accounts from insiders suggesting Trump habitually insists upon the impossible in private. He does not merely tell lies in order to gull the public or to manipulate allies. He tells lies in private that he has no reason to tell. He still questions the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birthplace, despite the birth certificate. He insists voter fraud may have denied him a popular-vote triumph. He tells people Robert Mueller will wrap up his investigation, with a total vindication of the president, by the end of the year.

He questions whether the Access Hollywood tape, on which he was recorded boasting of sexual assault, is even him…

If Trump actually has the ability to convince himself of his own lies, it would suggest a possibility far more dangerous than even his critics have previously assumed. He might be in the grip of a mental-health issue, or at least one more serious than mere sociopathy. And the mutterings that he might need to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment could grow more serious than many of us have expected.

* Greg Sargent says that “unhinged” doesn’t even cover it.

The brazenness of it is the whole point — his utter shamelessness itself is meant to achieve his goal. In any given case, Trump is not trying to persuade anyone of anything as much as he is trying to render reality irrelevant, and reduce the pursuit of agreement on it to just another part of the circus. He’s asserting a species of power — the power to evade constraints normally imposed by empirically verifiable facts, by expectations of consistency, and even by what reasoned inquiry deems merely credible. The more brazen or shameless, the more potent is the assertion of power…

As Trump biographer Tim O’Brien puts it, Trump constantly “tells fables to himself” and “about himself,” and has long self-consciously regarded this as “one of his great skills.” Trump has been doing it for so long that the separation between instinct and conscious technique has probably disappeared. But one thing is clear: Terms like “lying” or “delusional” don’t do justice to what we’re seeing here, and we have not yet seriously reckoned with its true nature and what it really means.

* By now you’ve probably heard that Trump retweeted three videos from Britain First, a violent extremist group. Sam Thielman tells us more about them.

Nick Ryan, who works for UK-based antiracist group Hope Not Hate, told TPM that Britain First is committed to violence in a way that distinguishes it even from other far-right outfits. Publicly a “Christian” organization, Ryan said, Britain First uses crucifixes and Bibles in pranks intended to provoke angry responses from Muslims, which are videotaped, often misleadingly edited, and posted on social media in a bid for the sort of attention and publicity that the President of the United States provided Wednesday morning.

“[Britain First] originated from a very far-right party in the UK, the British National Party,” Ryan explained. The group is nominally involved in electoral politics, he said, but it is more interested in public stunts that can make Muslims look bad or bring them physical harm. Its membership—and it is a small organization of about 1,000 people across the entire U.K.—is composed of “thugs who are committed to violence.”

“These aren’t guys in bow ties discussing eugenics, as disgusting as that may be,” said Ryan. “They’re coming from a street-based understanding of politics.”

* That a sitting President of the United States would associate himself with a group like that is beyond unconscionable. And yet his press secretary excuses it because “the threat is real.”

* Senators Collins and Murkowski are beginning to sound like they will support the GOP tax cut bill. But Tara Golshan suggests that a recent CBO report should give them cause for concern.

With moderates expressing concern over a provision that would repeal Obamacare’s individual mandate — leaving an estimated 13 million more uninsured by 2027 — Republican leadership hatched a plan to simultaneously pass a bill to stabilize the Obamacare marketplaces, a proposal negotiated by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA).

But this proposal hit a major snag Wednesday when a new CBO report found passing the Alexander-Murray proposal — the centerpiece of which is funding Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction subsidies that Trump has threatened to pull — would not in fact help mitigate the coverage losses and premium hikes triggered by repealing the individual mandate.

* Finally, I don’t know about you, but that list of stories is a perfect example of the toxicity we’re immersed in right now. I need an antidote. How about a Santana/Isley Brothers collaboration on a great oldie? Yeah, that should do it!

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.