Sunday, December 31, 2017


Thank you again, Yastreblyansky and Crank, for some great work while I was away.

I'm coming late to the discussion of President Trump's interview with Michael Schmidt of The New York Times. The full interview hasn't been published; what we have are "excerpts" that "have been lightly edited for content and clarity, and omit several off-the-record comments and asides." Yastreblyansky says that the Times should publish the entire transcript unedited; I agree -- or publish it as close to unedited as permissible (omitting portions the president insisted were off the record).

Or maybe it would be better to have the audio. I'd like to hear how the president sounded, because after the excerpts were published there was a lot of discussion about the president's mental state. Charlie Pierce, who wrote a book about his father's Alzheimer's and whose aunts and uncles also suffered from the disease, is certain that Trump is showing signs of cognitive decline, as afre many other readers.

I've seen full-blown dementia in my family. I once watched an aging relative try to dip a spoon into a photograph of a plate of food on a restaurant placemat. But another relative lived with mild cognitive impairment that persisted until death but didn't worsen. According to the Mayo Clinic, those suffering from mild cognitive impairment are at high risk of developing Alzheimer's, but that doesn't inevitably happen. MCD might be what Trump is experiencing.

On the other hand, Trump is lazy. He sought a job that should have required him to master many subjects, but he clearly believed he could get by without deep study. He likes to tell us that he has a "very good brain"; he boasts that he understands subjects better than the experts do. In the Schmidt interview, he says, "I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most." When Trump says these things, I don't think he's just trying to impress us; I think he's telling us how he sees himself. He doesn't like to work hard, but he's persuaded himself that he's so extraordinarily gifted he doesn't need to. (He has, he's told us, "good genes, very good genes.") So are we watching a man whose mind isn't working properly -- or are we watching a man who isn't really trying?

If, like Trump, you were lazy and were certain you could get away with doing very little work, you'd reduce every complex subject to simple phrases -- for instance, "no collusion." If you were a huckster like Trump, you'd do the same thing. He's keeping it simple, stupid -- except that he's doing that in his own mind as well as for public consumption by his base.

I also think Twitter and Fox News have diminished Trump's interest in complex thought. Twitter is all aphorisms and invective; Fox finds a way to reduce every story to a simple morality tale in which greatness flows from True Conservatism and evil thrives everywhere else. Fox sells conservatism the way Trump has always sold Trump -- no complexity, no fine print, just cheerleading. Enemies? Fox and Trump take the same approach: find a weakness, or even an aspect that can be sold as a weakness, and never stop pounding away at it. Fox is praise and blame but never knowledge in depth. That suits Trump -- he just wants to know what to boast about and what to attack; acquiring deep knowledge is hard work he'd rather avoid.

Years ago, Trump must have needed to sweat the details at least some of the time. But I think he's left the complicated stuff to others for so long that his mind has atrophied. His eating, sleeping, and dietary habits don't help either. Is this true cognitive impairment? It could be, but I don't think we know for certain.

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