Following Trump’s speech about Iran on Wednesday, reactions were pretty typical. One of the president’s chief enablers, Lindsey Graham, compared it to a famous speech by another Republican president.
Lindsey Graham says Trump’s speech from this morning will be remembered long after his second term. He also says it’s as good as Reagan’s Tear Down This Wall speech pic.twitter.com/62sqN76cV0
— Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) January 9, 2020
On the other side of the divide, liberals were outraged that Trump blamed former President Obama for the missiles launched by Iran.
Trump ended any chance of making a presidential address when he just lied that the missiles launched on US troops were paid for by Obama. Every day Trump reminds us of why he is not fit to be in the White House. #IvotedforHillaryClinton
— (((DeanObeidallah))) (@DeanObeidallah) January 8, 2020
As has become common in the Trump era, the fact-checkers had their work cut out for them. The Washington Post identified at least seven misleading statements from the president during a nine minute speech.
All of that was based on what the president said. But anyone who actually watched the speech would have noticed the proverbial elephant in the room that isn’t being talked about.
I don’t know why so many of my colleagues are reluctant to say in print or on the air what many of us saw in the room during today’s Iran speech. @realDonaldTrump appeared sedated.
He slurred his speech and had trouble pronouncing words.
He sniffed constantly.
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) January 9, 2020
Anyone who has watched Trump speak over the last couple of years has noticed these things. The Daily Show even put together a compilation of Trump’s habit of mispronouncing words.
But Wednesday’s speech was on a whole new level. Initially, the president seemed out of breath—as if he had arrived at the microphone after completing a morning jog. His affect was completely flat, giving the appearance of having no investment in the words he was reading from the teleprompter. There was a heaviness to his delivery, as if he was struggling to talk through cottonmouth. He particularly struggled with the letter “s” and was unable to pronounce words like “tolerated” and “accomplishments.” Finally, tracking something that has become common in Trump’s speeches, Timothy Burke documented that he snorted 58 times during those nine minutes.
In case anyone is tempted to suggest that this is simply the way Trump talks, it is helpful to go back to interviews he’s done in the past and notice that, while his positions might be similar, his speech patterns have seriously digressed. For example, here he is talking to Oprah in 1988.
While it would be inappropriate to speculate about a diagnosis for these symptoms, it is equally problematic to simply ignore them. There is something physically wrong with this president and, especially given the circumstances of an escalation of tensions with a foreign adversary, the American public has a right to know about the physical health of the commander-in-chief.
Early on in Trump’s presidency, I made the case that it is important for us to talk about the obvious signs pointing to his mental health issues. At the time, I referred to a quote from Lee Siegel.
We don’t need to be told by a doctor that the guy who is coughing and sneezing at the other end of the train car is probably sick, though we don’t know if it is a cold, the flu, bronchitis, pneumonia, or an allergy. All we know is that the safe thing to do is to stay away from him. When someone is compulsively lying, continuously contradicting himself, imploring the approval of people even as he is attacking them, exalting people one day and abusing and vilifying them the next, then the question of his mental state is moot. The safe thing to do is not just to stay away from him, but to keep him away from situations where he can do harm.
Since then, it has been primarily conservative NeverTrumpers who have been willing to talk openly about this president’s mental state. We’re now in a place where Siegel’s analogy about someone who is physically sick is staring us right in the face. Though we don’t know the diagnosis, we have a president who is 73 years old, was recently rushed to the hospital, and gave conflicting reasons for the visit.
Given what we witnessed on Wednesday, it is time for journalists to go beyond covering the words of this president and begin to name the elephant in the room that is obvious to anyone who is actually paying attention. This president is not well.