The Media Still Won’t Address Trump’s Unfitness for Office

As long as he is president, our nation is not safe.

Now that Biden is once again the front-runner in the Democratic primary, Trump has resumed his attacks.

“Sleepy Joe,” Mr. Trump continued, “he doesn’t even know where he is or what he’s doing or what office he’s running for. Honestly, I don’t think he knows what office he’s running for.”

If Mr. Biden won the presidency, Mr. Trump said, his staff would actually do the governing. “They’re going to put him into a home, and other people are going to be running the country,” the president said, “and they’re going to be super-left, radical crazies. And Joe’s going to be in a home and he’ll be watching television.”

But that wasn’t the first time the president lodged that kind of criticism at his likely opponent. Here’s what he tweeted last summer.

As Max Boot asked at the time, “Does Trump really want to debate mental fitness?” Of course, the question assumes that there is some forethought to the president’s verbal vomiting. The more likely explanation is that the most unfit man to ever occupy the Oval Office is once again engaging in projection. After all, it’s what he always does, so this is nothing new.

After Trump’s most recent attacks, Greg Sargent brought up the critical issue in all of this.

[Trump] can be confident not just that those charges will achieve widespread uncritical media amplification, but also that his purported identification of such traits in opponents will, absurdly, be placed on a plane of equivalence with their identification of the same traits in him.

Now that Biden might be the nominee, Trump is already casting him as mentally unfit for the presidency. But Trump might not perceive the space to get away with this if the press corps had not thus far failed, in some very fundamental sense, to reckon with just how mentally unfit for the job Trump is himself.

I can respond with a big “amen” to that! And while Sargent focuses on Trump’s corruption and lying, I would add that it is way past time for the media to recognize that we are dealing with a president who has serious mental health issues.

This is becoming especially problematic during a time when we are facing a possible pandemic. As just one example, here is a quote from Trump’s news conference on the coronavirus a week ago.

This will end. This will end. You look at flu season. I said 26,000 people. I never heard of a number like that: 26,000 people, going up to 69,000 people, doctor, you told me before. 69,000 people die every year—from 20 to 69—every year from the flu. Think of that. That’s incredible. So far, the results of all of this that everybody is reading about—and part of the thing is, you want to keep it the way it is, you don’t want to see panic, because there’s no reason to be panicked about it—but when I mentioned the flu, I asked the various doctors, “Is this just like flu?” Because people die from the flu. And this is very unusual. And it is a little bit different, but in some ways it’s easier and in some ways it’s a little bit tougher, but we have it so well under control, I mean, we really have done a very good job. [Watch video.]

After providing several more quotes like that from the news conference, Dan Froomkin wrote this.

Tell me this is normal.

Tell me this is unremarkable.

Tell me this is behavior by the President of the United States of United States of America at a critically important briefing about a potentially deadly pandemic that does not bear mentioning.

Wednesday’s briefing was arguably the most abnormal moment yet in a profoundly abnormal presidency.

But top news organizations, rather than accurately representing Trump’s alarming behavior, made it sound like nothing untoward happened at all.

They made it sound like some real news was made: That Trump put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the government’s response to the coronavirus; that the president urged calm.

Here is how a couple of public figures who aren’t journalists responded.

The unwillingness of the news media to discuss Trump’s unfitness for office keeps the public from grappling with the fact that his response to this crisis has been a disaster. That will also shield the president from accountability when this particular crisis gets much worse—which most experts assume is just a matter of time.

Beyond that, as Sargent suggests, it opens the door to a “both sides do it” response when Trump accuses Biden of being unfit for office.

Since shortly after Trump was inaugurated, I have been saying that we need to talk about his mental health issues. To anyone who has been paying attention, he has only deteriorated since that time. What has been interesting to watch is that the ones who have been willing to talk about this in any depth are primarily the NeverTrumpers. For example, here is what Peter Wehner, who served under three Republican presidents, wrote a year ago.

It doesn’t take a person with an advanced degree in psychology to see Trump’s narcissism and lack of empathy, his vindictiveness and pathological lying, his impulsivity and callousness, his inability to be guided by norms, or his shamelessness and dehumanization of those who do not abide his wishes. His condition is getting worse, not better—and there are now fewer people in the administration able to contain the president and act as a check on his worst impulses…

Whether the worst scenarios come to pass or not is right now unknowable. But what we do know is that the president is a person who seems to draw energy and purpose from maliciousness and transgressive acts, from creating enmity among people of different races, religions, and backgrounds, and from attacking the weak, the honorable, and even the dead.

Donald Trump is not well, and as long as he is president, our nation is not safe.

It is becoming more clear every day that none of us are safe as long as Donald Trump is president. That is why all of us have to talk about the elephant in the room that the media wants to avoid: this president is not well.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.