An Inoperable Tumor

How to remove a madman from the White House?


It’s time to face this central fact, while facts still matter. The president of the United States is mentally ill, and not mildly ill either. He’s a hollow shell of diseased self-regard who’s been stuffed with alt-right ideology by some of the most loathsome opportunists in the political ecosystem — if you don’t recognize Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway as the kind of bottom-feeding creatures who breed in solid-waste lagoons, you really aren’t paying attention.

Some of us have been saying since 2015 that Donald Trump was better qualified for the madhouse than the White House. Post-inaugural events have advanced this argument beyond debate or objective denial. Thomas L. Friedman, the least excitable of anti-Trump columnists, warns us in this morning’s Times, “His lack of respect for institutions and truth pours out so fast, you start to forget how crazy this behavior is for any adult, let alone a president …” Note the word “crazy.” Carl Bernstein, whose reporting on Watergate helped to rid us of the last president whose mental health was precarious, can be heard on CNN declaring this a far worse case than Nixon’s paranoia, a genuine psychiatric crisis that has some of Bernstein’s best sources in the Republican Party sharing dark fears of chaos and breakdown. According to one of my best sources in Washington, the psychiatric department at Georgetown’s medical school is unanimous in its verdict that the president is not and has never been playing with a full deck.

Glenn Beck, of all people, calls him “dangerously unhinged.” Historians will argue about similar displays of instability by previous presidents. But Trump is our curse and our burden at this critical moment, as he and his eerie team of belligerent generals, reactionary billionaires and white nationalists dismantle a federal government that reflected, at times, the values and aspirations of progressive Americans. In order to replace it, apparently, with a banana-republic plutocracy that brings words like “oligarchy” and “junta” to mind, and wire-service photos of beribboned dictators with pencil-thin mustaches. This is not fanciful, or alarmist in the least. The overwhelming question facing us, of course, is “What the hell can we do?”

If I could tell you, in so many words, what to do with a legally elected mad president, I’d be the logical nominee for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Anyone who has attempted to commit a seriously deranged family member knows just how legally exhausting and emotionally wrenching it can be. A delicate business at best. Even Uncle Leo, who streaks high-school football games in a Speedo, has his rights, and his feelings. And Trump, an orange-crested lunatic who sits up there in the Lincoln Bedroom in his bathrobe tweeting hate mail at journalists and imaginary antagonists, is currently commander-in-chief of the most powerful military machine in the history of this sweet planet.

Frightened yet? The commander’s judgment is not questionable—-it’s unquestionably invisible. There’s no evidence that it ever existed. You don’t need a degree in psychiatry to diagnose this one. Just study the man’s facial expressions, in most of those news photos none of us can avoid. On this morning’s front page, he greets Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a grimace like a wolverine in a leg trap, while Vice President Mike Pence looks on, looking … worried.

President Donald Trump is an emotionally disturbed 10-year-old, aged to 70 years and inflated to 240 pounds without progressing an inch beyond the spoiled child’s bunkered, bellicose worldview — he feeds off sycophants, savages critics and sails on oblivious to everything that doesn’t affect him directly. Remember that Trump, unlike Nixon, never drinks, and there are no reliable reports of opiates or hallucinogens. He performs his tricks on pure pathology, on the unpredictable impulses of a tiny gangrenous brain. All of it, good God, on Twitter, in 140-character outbursts that even his most mendacious flunkies are struggling to defend.

Sad. Grim. Terrifying. There are no precedents for dealing with little Donald because there is no precedent for placing such a creature at the helm of such a colossal ship of state. Kim Jong-Un of North Korea executes disfavored officials with flamethrowers and anti-aircraft guns, and sent an assassin to kill his half-brother. Bashar Assad of Syria, according to the New York Times, starves and tortures his dissidents and hangs them by the score; Vladimir Putin of Russia, Trump’s idol, has been accused of prescribing exotic poisons to eliminate his critics. Are they crazy? The fat Korean, perhaps. But North Korea is no USA, and Syria isn’t either. Evil is not the same as crazy; unless we insist that any racist is evil by definition, Donald Trump has yet to deserve any comparison to these monsters. It’s his devastating negative potential, along with the recent track record of the American behemoth, that has the rest of the world shaking in its boots. (George W. Bush was neither crazy nor evil, in my opinion, and look what happened when he fell into bad company.) To small nations and precarious allies, reading about Trump tweeting revenge in his bathrobe is like looking into the cockpit of a jumbo jet, just before you take your seat, and seeing that the pilot has a hypodermic sticking out of his arm.

We can grind our teeth, groan and scheme and conspire, and still the reign of Mad King Donald is upon us with the weight of a dozen Pearl Harbors. There’s no obvious solution or logical prophylaxis. We are royally screwed. But before the Resistance can mobilize in earnest, several things need to be clarified. Trump didn’t just loom up out of the fog, a giant orange dirigible releasing air. His election is the result, not a prime cause, of the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party. After veering recklessly to the right for decades, consolidating the support of racists and religious extremists, achieving power at the price of self-respect, the GOP no longer has a place for moderates or even fully rational, conscientious citizens. Only the cynical, gullible and fanatical remain. If that sounds too harsh, consider the Senate vote to confirm the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Trump’s Secretary of Education.

At least half of the 52 Republican senators must have clearly understood that this woman who disparages and undermines public schools was the worst conceivable nominee. But only two crossed the aisle to vote against her, along with 48 outraged Democrats. Since both of them were women, that means not one of the GOP’s 47 male senators had the guts — balls? — to buck his party and his president. DeVos’s opponents canvassed the Senate majority for one more ally, and were unable to locate a single testicle on the other side of the aisle. This should permanently cancel the credibility (and masculinity) of senators like John McCain, Lamar Alexander and Lindsey Graham, who pose as Republican voices of reason.

“I think there’s a high level of satisfaction with the new administration,” says Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the original political eunuch. Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who ever to himself has said, “If only my son could grow up to be Mitch McConnell.”

As an independent who was never tempted to cast my lot with a major party, I always shunned hysterical partisans and deplored the extreme polarization that infantilizes democracy. But it must take an incredibly strong stomach to identify as a Republican in the age of Trump. Maybe stubborn “hereditary” Republicans and the faithful country-club crowd will be forced to turn around and consider some of the “deplorables” marching behind them, and maybe it will make a difference in 2018. But I see no sign of it yet.

Let’s put all those recriminations about the scorned “deplorables” behind us, too. Hillary Clinton wasn’t referring to the marginalized working-class voters who may have found plausible reasons to vote against her, or who might have adopted false and ridiculous reasons from rightwing media. She was referring to white racist scum. The Republican Party is a white people’s party — the only difference in 2016 was that arch-trolls like Steve Bannon aren’t afraid to admit it — and all those red states in the Old Confederacy are controlled by Republicans who chose Trump because he’s a racist who joined the “Birther” movement to delegitimize Barack Obama. If there’s anything in America more deplorable than a Birther, they keep it locked up at night.

I live in the South; I’ve worked in the South for 30-odd years, and I know race-coding and retro-segregationist politics when I see them. Trump voters in Michigan or Kentucky may have been protesting lost jobs, Trump voters in Wyoming may just love guns and hate Mexicans, but in the South most of his voters hate Obama and anyone who looks like him. It surprises and amuses me that so many Northern observers and academics fail to get this, or refuse to acknowledge it. They try so hard to be tolerant of the intolerant that they make idiots of themselves. The United States remains a profoundly racist country. If you don’t think so, I can book you an educational tour of ugliest America, and not all your stops will be in the South. The only travelers who wouldn’t learn much from my tours are African-Americans. They know already.

For 40 million black Americans, Trump’s choice of Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for Attorney General was a straight-faced “f*** you,” and the president is not too crazy to know that. He seems to have selected his entire cabinet with one thing in mind — how to offend the most liberals, and make it most clear to them that each nominee represents one of the president’s stubby middle fingers thrust right in their faces. None of the dubious, improbable people he elevated to America’s highest offices are carrying Trump’s personal hopes or deep convictions. Arrested in pouting pre-adolescence and stuck in a behavioral rut common to mental patients, he was simply rewarding supporters and punishing enemies. At his level of malignant narcissism, “for me/against me” is all he knows.

Fifty books will be published trying to explain what happened on Nov. 8, 2016, with the bizarre subplots of Russian and FBI interference and fake news — convincing millions, apparently — that Mrs. Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria. Add the obsolete Electoral College and an ill-informed electorate inebriated on social media, and the impossible result became the reality America is obliged to live with — a comic-book president unfit for any public office, an addled embarrassment the world regards with equal measures of hilarity and horror. Spoiled by a decade of Barack Obama’s intelligence and sophistication, presidents and prime ministers of our few reliable allies now find themselves bullied and insulted by a demented dimwit.

I guess I’ve made myself clear. Short of armed rebellion, there’s no such thing as overreaction to the Trump administration. It’s red-alert time in America; no honorable compromise is possible. Beware of anyone who counsels us to get over it, make the best of it, search for a silver lining. If Paul Revere were still among us, he’d already be in the saddle. The country is hopelessly divided, racially and ideologically; the president is nuts, Congress is emasculated, and half our fellow citizens are walking the streets with deadly weapons stuffed into their cargo shorts. The world is crawling with terrorists, Europe is inundated with desperate refugees from dozens of disintegrating nation-states. The polar icecaps are melting, fossil fuels are a huge part of the reason, and Le Grand Orange has just named the CEO of Exxon-Mobil our Secretary of State.

Crunch time, as sportscasters say. After dinner the other night, nine or ten of us sat up late over wine to dissect the latest White House atrocity. There were no Republicans, but no radicals either — just middle-class white Americans, grandparents, speaking in the muted, strained tones of conspirators. The candlelight made me think of Christians in Rome’s catacombs, hiding from the centurions who rounded up soul food for lions and tigers in Nero’s arena. Intense, earnest, engaged, these friends of mine. Scared.

I’m past 70 and I don’t remember evenings like this one before, not in America. The closest I ever came was a favorite café in Paris nearly 50 years ago, where several of the men I’d taken to drinking with were Basque separatist insurgents. They’d talk about women and sports in French or English, and then turn to each other, lower their voices and plan church bombings and priest kidnappings in the strange Basque tongue no one else understood. These were serious men, believers. Their enemy was Francisco Franco. In the United States right now, a great number of such serious men and women — but committed to nonviolence, I hope — might be the republic’s last hope under the long, wide, ridiculous shadow of Donald the Deranged.

Hal Crowther is a longtime journalist whose essays have been awarded the H.L. Mencken, Lillian Smith and American Association of Newsweeklies prizes for commentary and the 2014 Pushcart Prize for non-fiction. His latest book is An Infuriating American: The Incendiary Arts of H.L.Mencken (University of Iowa Press, 2014). Email

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017

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