In an “interview” with Sean Hannity last night, President Trump boasted about one of his greatest accomplishments in office: passing a test used to measure patients suspected of dementia. When the recovery you inherited is in shambles, your major legislative initiatives are either unpopular (tax cuts) or failed (repealing Obamacare), and you have no plan to control a raging pandemic, you are reduced to boasts like this:
I actually took one when I, uh, very recently, when I was, uh, when I was — you know the radical left was saying, ‘Is he all there? Is he all there?’ And I proved I was all there ‘cause I aced it, I aced the test, and he should take the same exact test, a very standard test at Walter Reed Medical Center. I took it in front of doctors, and they were very surprised. They said, ‘That’s an unbelievable thing, very rarely do people do what you just did.’
Notably, the effect of this statement reduces rather than enhances confidence in the president’s cognitive abilities. He describes an event from two and a half years ago as “very recently,” rambles through his story, and reports doctors were “very surprised” that the test did not reveal any cognitive impairment.
Trump and his allies customarily assert he “aced” the test in 2018. The result does not, however, prove that Trump is a very stable genius.
The Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which Trump took, is an extremely simple test. As James Hamblin reported at the time, its questions include the likes of knowing the date and where you are, being able to say what a train and a bicycle have in common, and correctly identifying pictures of a lion, camel, rhinoceros, and so on. Here are a few sample questions:
It is not an accomplishment on the order of “winning Civil War” or “enacting major social legislation.”
Second, while Trump’s perfect score was reported as fact in 2018, there is at least some reason to question it. The source for the reports was White House physician Ronny Jackson.
At the time, Jackson was deemed credible enough that his say-so could be taken at face value. Since then, he has been behaving like other loyalists looking for repayment from Trump. The president nominated him to run the Veterans Affairs Department, only for the Republican Senate to reject him in humiliating fashion. Jackson then ran for Congress as a Republican with Trump’s endorsement, where he has made some fairly unhinged claims:
Jackson also alleged Joe Biden could not pass the test Trump “aced”:
At the time Jackson reported Trump’s test result, he told reporters Trump was “very sharp,” “very articulate when he speaks to me,” and that he saw “no reason whatsoever” to doubt his mental acuity. Trump speaks in public constantly. He is obviously not sharp or articulate. Of course this doesn’t mean he is suffering from dementia, but Jackson’s assessment lacked credibility on its face, and his actions since then raise the clear possibility that he made his statement with his own career interests in mind.
Trump reportedly brought up his successful test result in an early June White House meeting. Trump “waxed on about how he’d dazzled the proctors with his stellar performance, according to two people familiar with his comments,” reported the Washington Post last month. “He walked the room of about two dozen White House and reelection officials through some of the questions he said he’d aced, such as being able to repeat five words in order.”
And he has publicly dared his opponent Joe Biden to take the same test he “aced”:
His use of scare quotes also does not enhance the impressiveness of this boast.
Trump 2020: As of 2018, He Wasn’t Suffering Dementia may not have quite the ring of the great historical reelection slogans. The fact that Trump seems so eager to emphasize the message might itself indicate something about his brain.