In the aftermath of the recent shootings, mental health is certainly an issue that should be on the table. The notion, however, that national investments in mental health services would forestall the rash of mass murders by disaffected young white men is disingenuous at best, though in the wake of earlier shootings it has proven to be a slick segue for members of Congress seeking to deflect action that might anger their NRA masters.
Perhaps the notion is that psychiatrists should be empowered to sign writs approving the seizure of weapons and body armor — with PlayStation consoles thrown in for good measure — from their young white male clients with anti-social tendencies or mood disorders. This might be an appealing idea to some, but it would quickly prove to be a non-starter.
Alternatively, just imagine the blowback from Big Pharma — and these same Republicans — if some members of Congress were to go a step further and suggest creating a national registry of SSRI anti-depressant prescriptions under the auspices of Homeland Security, implying that Americans might have to choose between their guns and their Zoloft.
There is a mental health issue plaguing the nation, however, that is directly contributing to the problem of mass shootings. It is a problem for which Republicans bear direct responsibility, and the resolution of which lies within their grasp. No gun ownership would be threatened, nor additional appropriations for mental health services required. The mental health issue plaguing the nation is the state of mind of the man who sits in the Oval Office.
From early on in his presidential campaign, there have been numerous pronouncements — not the least of them from Republicans — about the nature of Donald Trump’s mental state; indeed there have been several books published on the subject. Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Antisocial Personality Disorder top the list of diagnoses that mental health professionals cite from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Pathological liar and con man were among the less technical interpretations offered by Republicans running against him in the 2016 primaries.
Trump’s actions day in and day out raise questions about his state of mind. His campaign rallies are masterpieces of populist messaging, saber-rattling and self-aggrandizement, all designed to feed his insatiable need for the affection of his followers. In a typical rally, as he feeds on their laughter and cheers, he closes his eyes, spreads his arms out wide, and literally bathes in the adulation.
The border wall and the demonization of immigrants have been among his preferred applause lines with his base voters since the beginning. At rallies and on Twitter, he decries the hordes of immigrants — variously describing them as thugs, animals, rapists and murderers — threatening our southern border and bent on the destruction of life in America as we know it.
Far from being oblivious or indifferent to the impact of his words — as his supporters who decry any linkage between his rhetoric and the rise in hate crimes contend — Trump’s intention is to build an emotional bond with his followers. At a recent rally in Florida, he bemoaned the lack of tools that he is allowed to use to beat back the invasion. “How do you stop these people? You can’t,” he concluded, shaking his head sadly. Then a voice called out, as if on cue, “Shoot them.” Trump perked up, the audience whooped in joy, while the President beamed.
In El Paso this weekend, Patrick Crusius shot them. By the dozens. What else was Crusius to do? After all, the President of the United States had assured his followers that the nation was under attack, and that if something wasn’t done, America would be transformed forever. These were the President’s words. We are at war. How were Crusius’ actions anything but the actions of a patriot?
Rally Trump and Twitter Trump bear little resemblance to Teleprompter Trump, who made an appearance in the wake of the shootings. Reading from a prepared script, Teleprompter Trump said all the right things. He told us that racism and bigotry and white supremacy are sinister ideologies. He sought to sooth a grieving nation and declared that hate has no place in America. This is not new. When the simmering cauldron of rage and resentment that has become the United States begins boils over, as it did this weekend, Teleprompter Trump can be expected to make a brief appearance.
Rally Trump and Twitter Trump and Teleprompter Trump are but three of Trump’s multiple personalities. Golf Trump, a colleague assures me, is altogether different. That is the real Trump, he argues; affable, self-effacing, generous, and remarkably non-partisan. To a casual observer, all these Trumps barely know each other. They certainly do not acknowledge each other in public.
With his words following the weekend shootings, Teleprompter Trump harshly denounced Rally Trump, while Twitter Trump brooded in silence. Teleprompter Trump would never condone the policies of Rally Trump, for whom family separations are a big crowd pleaser. Teleprompter Trump reviles the casual cruelty of Twitter Trump, for whom a photograph of a dead father and daughter lying face down in the mud on the bank of the Rio Grande is grist for his followers in the far-right corners of the Web.
Golf Trump, meanwhile, remains oblivious to the turmoil that animates the other Trumps. He spent much of this past weekend sequestered off at one of his golf clubs, casually dropping in on a wedding for selfies with members of the wedding party.
To the gaggle of reporters who greeted him later next to his helicopter, President Trump had little to say. Reconciling so many competing personalities — some that dehumanize immigrants and use images of human suffering as political props, and others that declare that he is the least racist person on the planet and a President whose rhetoric brings people together — must surely be difficult at times.
The obvious question surrounding Trump’s pathology is whether he is at any given moment aware of the distinct and conflicting nature of his multiple personalities, or whether, like Edward Norton’s diabolical character Roy in Primal Fear, Trump is fully aware from one moment to the next what role each of his personas is playing.
Ted Cruz suggested early on in 2016 that an essential element of Trump’s pathology is that he believes whatever he says in the moment that he says it. It is troubling to consider the possibility that Trump might be truly unaware of his multiple personalities, but it is probably more troubling to consider the more likely prospect that he is fully aware of each of the personas that he presents to the world. Whichever the explanation, one consistent theme is Trump’s searing indifference to the impact of his actions and words.
Most Americans know what it is that makes us American. With the exception of Native Americans, whose land was seized and civilizations destroyed by earlier generations of young white men doing their patriotic duty, we all came here from somewhere else. Americans understand that the ancestors of a significant percentage of our compatriots did not come here voluntarily, however, for those who did choose to come here, immigration was — as Jeb Bush argued when he ran against Trump in 2016 — an act of love. It was an act of courage in the face of daunting odds to leave an old world marked by pain and injustice and suffering, in the hope of building a new life and new future.
Perhaps no image captures the depth of that love for me more than that image of the father lying face down on the riverbank with his daughter. Like millions before him, he had a dream for her that he was trying to make into a reality. And, like millions before him, he was counting on the faith and generosity of the American people to allow him a chance to realize that dream. We failed him.
We can have the same old debate about gun laws, but I do not hold high hopes that anything material will be done. We have heard all the arguments before, and it is apparent each time that a few dozen more deaths will not change things. Republicans in Congress and their contributors have made their deal with the devil, and they will likely try to ride out the storm, as they have in the past. But if their strategy is going to be to deflect the nation with a discussion of mental illness, the focus of that discussion should be on Donald Trump. For his lack of compassion and evident contentment with cruelty in pursuit of his own gain — which has and continues to do great damage to the nation — is deeply rooted in his psyche.
Follow David Paul on Twitter @dpaul. He is working on a book, with a working title of “FedExit! To Save Our Democracy, It’s Time to Let Alabama Be Alabama and Set California Free.”
Artwork by Joe Dworetzky. Check out Joe’s political cartooning at www.jayduret.com. Follow him on Twitter @jayduret or Instagram at @joefaces.