A recent Washington Post story chronicled the rise of Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, who has gained special influence with President Trump. McCarthy’s methods include obsequiousness, attention to detail, and an ability to bring the discussion down to a sub-literate level so Trump can follow it. At Camp David, McCarthy gave a presentation on the midterm elections. “According to two people familiar with the presentation, Trump appreciated McCarthy’s use of pictures and charts rather than a memo. It was a basic and ‘foundational’ presentation that explained midterm politics to Trump, in the words of one senior White House official.”
Note that McCarthy was not walking the president through a complex technical policy requiring expertise in a field like science or economics. He was trying to explain the elections. He had to use pictures. It has been publicly known since last year that Trump cannot read a memo longer than a page, and any written material must be in bullet-point form. Trump himself admitted (or bragged) a year and a half ago that he does not read. “I never have. I’m always busy doing a lot. Now I’m more busy, I guess, than ever before.” By this point it is simply taken as a matter of course that people wishing to communicate with the president must treat him as though he is suffering a severe mental impairment.
Trump is not actually suffering a severe mental impairment. White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has served in the post since 2013, informed reporters on Wednesday that the president is in fine physical and mental health. The report comes as the national media has discussed whether Trump’s functional near-illiteracy, minuscule attention span, and narcissistic pathos are the symptoms of dementia or some other kind of cognitive incapacitation. We should take Jackson’s diagnosis at face value. Trump is just an idiot.
The evidence of this appears almost daily, primarily from Trump’s own allies (who, in the main, have access to him). It is impossible to report accurately on the state of immigration talks without accounting for the fact that literally nobody believes Trump holds a clear understanding of the issue, and therefore lawmakers share a belief that he can be manipulated by anybody he speaks with. Recent negotiations “appeared to be headed in a positive direction until the president ‘dropped a grenade into the middle of everything,’” a Republican aide tells the Washington Post. Another report notes, “Some White House officials, including conservative adviser Stephen Miller, feared that Graham and Durbin would try to trick Trump into signing a bill that was damaging to him and would hurt him with his political base.”
And this suspicion clearly has a sound basis. Trump agreed to an immigration deal with Democratic leaders last year, only to walk away from it when his advisers managed to get ahold of him. During a televised negotiation intended to display his command, Trump accepted a Democratic offer that fellow Republicans had to talk him out of.
The basic elements of Trump’s worldview and methodology have been in place for decades. He honed and mastered a business technique that revolved around generating as much free media as he could, and leveraging that to sell himself as a business mastermind. Trump has been a racist, anti-intellectual narcissist from the beginning. Barbara Res, Trump’s top construction executive in the 1980s, frankly confessed to Marc Fisher, “Every decision process was clouded by his sense that he knows more than anybody else. But you could work with that: The way we got things done was to approach him with an idea and make him think it was his. It was so easy.”
Trump’s supporters have taken the news of his successful physical examination with a reputable doctor as vindication. Never has a president won such frenzied praise for being declared dementia-free.
But while Trump’s behavior may not be medical symptoms of a debilitating mental disease, it is clear evidence of a mind that’s totally unfit for the presidency. What excuse does he have for his behavior?