What’s Trump’s Diagnosis? A Cautionary Tale (and Not for the Reason You Think)
Words have power. These include the power to heal, especially words spoken by physicians, mental healers in particular—psychiatrists. I’ll start here.
People approach you and say, “You’re a psychiatrist . . . what’s Trump’s diagnosis?” Their reason for asking seems beside the point as they offer none, their interest clearly unrelated to treatment or healing. Something else is on their mind, something they want to know. Or need to hear. Their subtext is hidden, possibly even from themselves, but we’re not unfamiliar with hidden subtexts. What is unfamiliar is being blind-sided and questioned in a public place, like during a lunch break or at a party among friends making small-talk. So, how do we respond? How ought we respond? Need we even respond?
You’ve no time to think, plus it’s complicated and a medical diagnosis is out of the question. Mr Trump has neither a mental illness nor dysfunctional personality disorder, so the question boils down to the generic: What’s with him? What’s going on with him? Our elected president clearly marches to a different drummer and, like all of us (and that question), there must be multiple motives behind his behavior, motives not necessarily known even to him. Happily, once again, we’re not strangers to queries with multiple and possibly concealed motives. What rattles us is the cheeky expectation that we are able and willing to provide an impromptu public sound-byte about a touchy and seriously contentious topic.
Clearly, words have the power to derail. But words also have the power to heal. Remember the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” we were taught as children to repeat to ourselves when bullied by name-callers? That mantra was our talisman of words that, like placebo and laughter, fostered relief as if emitting healing energies. It’s the same for words we seek today to master something that confuses, bedevils, or scares us. We’re groping for words with similar “healing power.” Mr Trump’s behavior, so unpredictable and inconsistent and with troublesome consequences, generates an anxiety we react to. Our seeking relief is automatic, instinctive. We look for the right name, the “diagnosis,” because it just might be the antidote for our anxiety. A primitive survival instinct has just kicked in. (That smile and chuckle that sometimes accompanies the query is very much part of this.)
Dr Climo is the author of Psychiatrist on the Road: Encounters in Healing and Healthcare, an account of his Locum Tenens experience.