Saturday, February 18, 2017

The New Normal: Trump Isn't Crazy, We Are

This piece in the Guardian got me thinking. It’s worth reading, even if psychiatrists do tend to get a bit wonky and longwinded.

My eyebrows shot up in the first paragraph:

"Prof Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the book (or at least the diagnostic criteria) on narcissistic personality disorder has penned a letter to the New York Times stating that although Trump is a “world-class narcissist” he does not have a mental illness as he suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition, which is a prerequisite for the diagnosis.”

Translated into the vernacular this psychiatrist is agreeing with this other psychiatrist that the subject (Trump) is not mentally ill because he “suffers no personal distress or impairment from his condition.”

This should alarm us. He is telling us not to worry because Trump is not a deranged individual––because Trump is not "personally distressed or impaired”––because he is in a position, and we gave him the power, to rearrange reality to suit his own deranged view of reality.

So, according to the guidebook on insanity, if we see someone behaving irrationally we let him alone as long as he is happy and nothing is impairing him? If he is wealthy enough and powerful enough, yes. The word “impair” means to weaken or limit function. What would impair the man with the most power in the world? We obviously cannot impair his behavior. He is impairing ours. So we are the impaired ones. We are the ones who are crazy.

He is the man barricaded in the house with high powered weapons and hostages and we are to believe he is only controlling his situation using the means at his disposal. I have a problem with that. We are the hostages. We are not the people watching from behind the barricades and live-tweeting about it.

Trump is reordering reality to conform to his bizarre mindset. He is using the vast power of our democracy to shut that democracy down because it annoys him. We are supposed to say that is fine? Even in psychiatric terms that is debatable.

There is the other possibility, raised by Trevor Noah last night, that Trump is actually a vulnerable adult, a senior citizen who is being taken advantage of by his guardians, presumably Steve Bannon and Vladimir Putin and the Russian mobsters he owes millions to. Other memes on social media depict Trump as a toddler because his behavior resembles what we have to deal with in small children. I think there is something seriously wrong when irrational behavior is OK and our problem with irrational behavior is seen as irrational.

Trump is reordering reality to fit how he thinks because he can. He can because he is rich. He can because of the vast power of his new office, which he is already working feverishly to expand further. He can do this because we let him.

The psychiatrists seem to be saying this is OK because he is not impaired or distressed. No, we are impaired and distressed. Our sudden impairment and distress should trigger alarms. It’s even got a name: Post Trump Stress Disorder. Workplaces nationwide are confronting loss of productivity and focus because of this. it is not OK.

Post Trump Stress Disorder discussed in Psychology Today

Post Trump Distress Disorder defined by the man who coined the phrase

In November, Jeff Gillenkirk, the man who diagnosed this sudden trauma the nation was experiencing, died of a heart attack. But Trump sails on undisturbed and unimpeded and undistressed.

We are suffering from the president’s disorder. He is not.

According to the best psychiatric thinking this is OK, but how is it OK? I think I understand how this is unfolding.

Psychiatrists are expensive. Only rich people can afford personal service and help. Average people who are acting and thinking in an antisocial and dangerous way are locked away in an asylum but the wealthy person suffering from mental derangement can lie down and get the personal love and attention he needs by the hour and then go out and mess with people’s lives.

Because of who pays them, the psychiatric profession has adjusted its criteria to accommodate rich and powerful people like Trump as if they are normal––thus making them normative. Normal is defined by how rich people behave and think. Since the election the definition of normal has once again shifted and conformed to the abnormality of someone with immense power who not long ago was derided as cuckoo.

Economists, who are also employed by people with lots of money, do the same thing. They defer to the feelings and priorities of people with lots of money, deferring even more to those with more. They have readjusted the norms of our economy to fit this rule. Our economy once functioned in an efficient and useful way to serve the people who worked and lived in it, but since around 1980 it has shifted to a new normal where it serves the people according to how much money they have, giving more money and choice and opportunity to those with more money, choice and opportunity.

To some extent the news media, journalism, is dealing with this same difficulty. Their job is to tell the broader public what is true, what is happening, and what it means. But right now their ability to do so is being "impaired and distressed” by the angry, narcissistic, bullying figure in the White House. Their ability to do their jobs is being restricted. Trump, who seems crazy to many of us, has put them in a strait jacket. They’d better behave or he will sick the FCC on their company. They’d better be nice to him and flatter him and pay attention to him (but only the right kind of attention) or he will sue them or investigate them or encourage his fans to shoot them. Shooting the messenger has been a big part of this presidency already. It was the central idea of the campaign. So we may see the news media normalizing Trump. The media companies cannot afford to fight him and his behaving like a car fire on TV juices their ratings and increases their income. Does anyone criticize a car fire?

What this means is Normal can be bought.

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