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"The chosen one": Now more than ever, the press needs to address Trump's manic instability

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Trump calls himself the .Chosen One. as he defends trade war with China
Trump calls himself the .Chosen One. as he defends trade war with China
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In a presidency marked by incoherent pronouncements and bizarre visions of grandeur, Donald Trump seemed to reach new, troubling heights last week.

He referred to himself as "the chosen one." He quoted a rabid conspiracy theorist radio host who declared that Israeli Jews love Trump as if he were the "King of Israel" and "the second coming of God," while Trump himself accused American Jews of "great disloyalty" if they voted for Democrats. He attacked the prime minister of Denmark ("nasty") because she will not sell him Greenland and she mocked the very idea as "absurd." He suggested he might serve more than two terms in office. He slurred his words while reading a speech off a teleprompter. He accused journalists of trying to ruin the U.S. economy. He claimed Google had "manipulated" millions of votes in Hillary Clinton's favor during the 2016 election. He suggested giving himself a Medal of Honor. He said doctors in El Paso, Texas, left their operating rooms mid-surgery in order to greet him during his visit there following a local gun massacre. And he referred to the NRA as if it were a co-equal branch of the federal government.

That was all within the span of approximately 48 hours. For all previous American presidents, that would have far surpassed the irrational missteps they made during entire four- or eight-year terms. For Trump, it was just his vacation week.

Yet the press remains consistently timid in dealing with Trump's blatantly unstable behavior. Newsrooms today nearly uniformly refuse to address the mounting, obvious signs that Trump remains a deeply troubled man. In other words: Nothing to see here, folks.

Following Trump's erratic Greenland episode, The New York Times ran a head-shaking editorial headlined, "Mr. Trump and Greenland: Is This Real Life?" and described his strange view of the world as "frightening." But the Times refused to acknowledge the obvious context regarding Trump's instability. And of course, the Times refuses to call for Trump's resignation, even though it's clear the paper's editorial board views him as a dangerous, befuddled fool.

In its news pages, the Times labeled the Greenland farce an "odd moment" in the Trump presidency, which is an overly kind description. Then, in reviewing his bizarre week, the paper conceded the diplomatic embarrassment came "at a time when Mr. Trump has seemed particularly erratic."

True. But what does that mean, for Trump to be "erratic"? What does it mean for the most powerful leader in the free world to be acting in a bizarre and often schizophrenic fashion? Why aren't the Times and other news outlets consulting experts in the field of mental health on a regular basis? And why isn't Trump's obviously "erratic" behavior the story of his presidency, since it's so obviously an unprecedented development in this country's history of nearly 250 years?

Meaning, why is the press normalizing this shocking and unheard of news story, casually slipping in mid-article references to the president of the United States as being "erratic"? And doesn't "erratic" behavior (i.e., unexplainable actions that threaten the country's standing) basically represent grounds for removing Trump from office, via the 25th Amendment?

Most D.C. journalists just don't want to be part of a national discussion about Trump's fitness for office, which is why the same newspapers that demanded Bill Clinton resign from office remain silent on Trump today. The press appears to be terrified of the fitness-for-office framing because of the right-wing backlash it would create. The media's lack of serious, constant attention is especially galling considering how much time and attention news outlets these days are giving to documenting so-called "gaffes" produced by Democratic candidates. These are relatively trivial verbal missteps that are sometimes portrayed as possibly campaign-ending miscues. But Trump's mental incapacity largely get a pass.

"To not mention the batshit craziness with which Trump approaches issues of huge importance like a national emergency, to turn a blind eye to the way he behaves in front of all of us, is journalistic dereliction of duty," stressed Medhi Hasan, host of the Deconstructed podcast. "It's media malpractice."

When the issue of Trump's obvious instability does get mentioned, it's often to portray Trump as being wily and savvy. "I can't assess the president's mental state, but I will tell you is my sense of it, covering him for a pretty long period of time now, is that he's more crazy like a fox," CNN's Jim Acosta recently noted, suggesting that Trump's incoherent ramblings were all part of a larger communications strategy to stay two steps ahead of the media. That's the exact wrong message to be sending about Trump and his deeply erratic ways -- that it's somehow all pre-planned and doesn't represent a dangerous path for the country.

Meanwhile, the calls of concern are growing louder, and they're not coming from the fringes of our political debate. "This guy is having a complete and total meltdown," tweeted Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, suggesting constitutional steps should be taken to remove Trump from office. "The President is a raving lunatic. He is not well," tweeted former Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum. And from retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey: "Trump cancels trip to Copenhagen because the Danes won't let him "buy" Greenland. Trump wants Russian dictator who seized Crimea, invaded Ukraine, hacked US elections back into G7. Erratic. Unstable. Dangerous."

On MSNBC, host Lawrence O'Donnell devoted an entire segment to Trump's mental failings. And appearing on CNN, longtime Trump chronicler David Cay Johnston addressed the issue forcefully. "Given how common mental illness is, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that at some point we're going to have a mentally ill president," said Johnston. "That's what we've got now."

That's how the media should be dealing with Trump's manic instability: forthrightly and unapologetically.


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Eric Boehlert is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press, 2006). He worked for five years as a senior writer for, where he wrote extensively about media and politics. Prior to that, he worked as a (more...)

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lila york

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Psychiatrists are divided on Trump's mental state - some calling him mentally ill or deranged and others stating that a personality disorder - narcissim in his case - does not qualify as mental illness, but that he must be removed from office because he is evil. whatever. he is a danger to the planet in many ways. ps I would like to respond to one quote you included: Putin was elected by a wide majority and is not a dictator; Russia did not seize Crimea, the population of Crimea which is over 90%Russian voted and literally begged Russia to take them back when the civil war in Ukraine threatened to destroy them. Russia at no point ever invaded Ukraine. Given Russian military power, if they had, it would be Russia owned now. Neither Putin nor anyone in any way connected to the Russian government hacked the 2016 election in any way, as has been finally and utterly proven six ways from Sunday.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 27, 2019 at 12:49:24 AM

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Charles Homer

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(Member since Aug 27, 2018), 1 fan, 140 comments
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Here is what Donald Trump had to say about the U.S. government's debt before taking office:

click here

Apparently, it's not as easy to solve Washington's debt problem as it appeared from the outside.

Submitted on Tuesday, Aug 27, 2019 at 1:13:32 PM

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