It has been pointed out by many that Trump lacks, among other traits, a sense of humour.
This is not quite true.
He regularly deploys the kinds of labelling of others that is usually seen in unsupervised groups of boys age 7 to 13 and draws from the same age group the occasional chuckle. His “Crazy Bernie” and “Sleepy Joe” and “Nervous Nancy” are equivalent to the mockery of prepubescent boy children: “fatso”, “idiot”, “dickwad”…..
And at his rallies he occasionally tries a false modesty routine that never quite works: a hint at his prowess, greatness, attraction, and success that the audience might have missed, ha, ha.
But that is it.
And I wonder if the absence of an adult sense of humour may be a marker – that is an indicator of a narcissism so profound and all encompassing that its absence should be an early warning sign.
There are many kinds of humour. There are even scales people have devised to judge a sense of humour.
But, I think, to be able to quip, to wit, to pun, to successfully use sarcasm, double meaning, innuendo, to tell jokes in long form with a twist, or short form with a punch line, to lighten mood with an unusual association….. – all of these require adult empathy.
And true empathy is an adult trait, hints of which can be seen in childhood, but which does not fully form until the brain has fully developed.
Perhaps not having an adult sense of humour should be a disqualifier for any public office.
But the USA is where the action is, where the polarization increases under duress, where racism rears up, where the social contract is broken, where guns are carried to protests, where the selfish I openly struggles with the We, where each blames the other, where politicians regress to school yard taunts, where expedience trumps knowledge, and where this might all go the wrong way.
I recently watched a discussion between Samantha Bee (a Canadian) and Stephen Colbert on the Daily Show around the time of the Kangaroo Court Impeachment. Colbert asked about impeachment in Canada which Samantha tried to answer before they went back to exchanging quips.
She did say it does not exist in Canada and while Canada is not immune from a Trump (as Ontario has in the Trump wannabee, Doug Ford), I do not think that what is happening in the US could happen with the British Parliamentary System we have. Let me explain.
The US Congress (House of Representatives and Senate) are tasked with the job of passing legislation which must them be signed by the president. Unfortunately, the president can veto any law he does not like or approve of and it can only be passed by a 2/3 of both houses defeat the veto. The president may also unilaterally sign treaties with foreign powers subject to approval by 2/3 of the Senate. The president also appoints his cabinet but those cabinet members are not elected but rather approved by the Senate.
And here we have the problem. The president is elected separately from the members of Congress by the Electoral College and he acts separately from the Congress. He is not held accountable to the Congress and his appointments to cabinet (while needing to be ratified) are not elected by the citizens and are only accountable to the president.
The result is lame presidents like Obama who had no support in Congress because the Republicans had a majority or Trump who does his own thing without being accountable to Congress.
Under the British system, each political party elects a leader and elected not by those in parliament but by all members of the party. The leader is a politician who has to run for office in his/her constituency and be elected. If that party wins a majority in the elected House of Commons, then the leader of the party becomes Prime Minister. The Prime Minister sits in the Commons and is subject to daily question period where members fire questions at him and hold him accountable for what is happening. These can become quite rowdy as we’ve seen in Britain over Brexit. Can anyone imagine Trump having to show up daily in Congress to be questioned?
The Prime Minister must satisfy two groups – his own constituency which he/she represents and his party which can call a leadership review if they are sufficiently angry with his behaviour. After the current election in Canada in 2019, the losing Conservative Party became fed up with their leader and he has been turfed.
As for the cabinet, that is another significant difference. Members of the cabinet are chosen from the pool of elected members of the House of Commons. Again, they are responsible and accountable to their constituents at home and to the members of their party and to the House of Commons.
The other aspect of the Parliamentary system involves majority and minority governments. The party winning the most seats can have a clear majority holding more than 50% of the total seats or a simple majority where they have more seats than anyone else but fewer than 50%. In the latter case (called a minority government and mentioned by Samantha Bee) the government can be defeated by a vote of non confidence and be forced to call another election before their four year mandate is up.
All of this, in my opinion, makes the British Parliamentary system far more responsive to the interests of the people and less likely that we would see a Trump.
Now I did mention Ontario’s Doug Ford (brother of later mayor of Toronto Rob well known in the US) who acts like Trump and did win a majority. His election was more of a non confidence vote in the previous government which had ruled too long and with whim people were getting fed up.
Doug set out to undo many of the policies accepted as necessary by the voters. He immediately tried to change funding for kids with autism and was forced to backtrack when parents descended upon the legislature. He went after the educational system to freeze wages, increase class sizes and make certain numbers of courses into e-learning. Teachers are involved in work to rule, rotating strikes and have the support of the majority of the citizens. This youtube clip of Question Period in Ontario after the budget is actually quite funny. The premier praises his finance minister for his brilliant budget but shortly after this (with attacks from all over) he fired the guy.
A number of his early policies are before the courts and those cases that have been decided have not been in his favour. His popularity across the country is about the worst of any politician ever and he is often booed when he shows up to public events like the celebration for the Toronto Raptors win.
Given the fragmentation of the US constitutional system, I can’t see any of this every happening there. Hatred of Britain clouded the vision of the Founding Fathers and gave the US what I consider to be a deficient system of government.
At the end of December US psychiatrist Allan Frances tweeted that in 1977 he had dinner with Thomas Szasz (The Myth of Mental Illness). Frances reported that he asked Szasz if he would intervene were his child suicidal because of psychosis. He smiled/answered: “I am a father first, a libertarian second”.
Dr Frances responded that “Szasz could hold extreme views re meds/commitment only because he never once treated a severely ill patient”.
Dr George Ikkos replied that “In 1994 Szasz insurance paid $650,000 for negligence to widow of patient with “manic depression” who committed suicide following his advice to stop lithium. The source is a book called Mad Muses by Jeffrey Berman (P110).” Dr Ikkos is an “elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The Honorary Fellowship is the highest honour the College bestows” (from his website.)
Szasz concedes that society should treat the gravely disturbed (“mad” or psychotic) person in the same way it treats the person who has been rendered unconscious by an accident, implying support for involuntary treatment in these cases.
The entire interview can be seen below and these comments are made around the 34 minute mark. Prior to that, Szasz states that psychiatrists either lock up the innocent or free the guilty and that no mental illness existed prior to the advent of asylums in the mid 18th century.
I’m not sure what provoked the initial tweet by Dr Frances but a couple of comments before transitioning to Channuka. The initial question asked of Szasz is something that I always ask of doctors when they propose a certain course of treatment or a medication. If this was you (or a spouse or parent) would you still suggest that? We should all do that.
The other comment pertains to libertarianism. Szasz suggests that libertarians would always propose no involuntary action. I’m not sure that is a valid position for libertarians and it is definitely not for a psychiatrist I know who is one. This particular Toronto psychiatrist once told me that no one is as libertarian as he is and he firmly supports involuntary committal and treatment. People have an absolute right to decide their own fate but in the case of someone who is psychotic, he said, their mind is incapable of making rational decisions. It would be wrong to allow them to make those choices when so impaired.
While this twitter feed was happening, New York State and FBI officials were declaring the attack against a Channukah party in New York State to be an act of domestic terrorism and that the perpetrator, Grafton Thomas, would be charged with hate crimes. Of course, we all now know that Mr Thomas is a man with untreated schizophrenia.
It is not a hate crime nor is he a domestic terrorist.
He is a delusional soul who has not been provided with treatment as the mental health advocate DJ Jaffe pointed out in his excellent assessment in the New York Daily News. Jaffe points out that Thomas’ long term pastor could not understand why he had never been institutionalized stating “There hasn’t been anyone who has given a real solution to deal with a grown man who is dealing with schizophrenia, other than ‘Go home and call us if something happens.’ ”
Situations like this are not unique to New York State or to the United States but to Canada as well. Every one of those jurisdictions has examples of crimes committed with and without deaths due to the failure to treat people with serious illnesses.
Of course, one of the key reasons that people do not get proper treatment even if it requires involuntary hospitalization stems from the works of Szasz and all the others who deny the existence of serious mental illness.
What is also equally galling is the rise of anti-semitism and other forms of racism in the world today. While US officials were quick to jump on the Channukah attack as a hate crime, they have seemingly ignored others. In the week before the holidays, there were 4 attacks against Jews in the New York City area plus the assault in Jersey City of a Kosher supermarket according to Bernie Farber. Farber is the Chair of the Canadian Anti-hate Network.
Farber also reminded readers of Trump’s anti-semitic comments at a dinner for the Israel American Council. Faber neglected to mention Trump’s comments after the White Nationalist march in Charlottesville or Rudy Guliani’s anti-semitic tirade as reported by CNN.
Attributing the violent delusions of a man with schizophrenia as a hate crime when the villain is our failure to treat mental illness while ignoring real acts of hatred is a travesty.
I never thought I would ever applaud anything from Boris Johnson or from a Chasidic Rabbi but both got it right. Johnson delivered a very forceful speech on fighting anti-semitism while the Rabbi whose house was invaded spoke out about the need for greater understanding and support between minority communities. “The Hasidic Jews of Monsey must ignore the outsiders who want us to take up arms and politicize our tragedy.”
In most unfolding human disasters, in my lifetime and historically, it is difficult to ascertain a time, a moment, a place, when the actions of one person could have made a difference, could have changed the course of an unfolding disaster.
But this is one of those rare moments. Simply put as a request:
“President Trump, please call President Erdogan and tell him to stop. Say it simply and firmly. Do it now before it is too late. Then quickly return two hundred or two thousand American advisors, experts, medical personnel and soldiers to the border towns, encampments, prison camps of Northern Syria.”
You made a mistake giving Erdogan the green light, for reasons only you and Erdogan might understand. You can rectify this with a phone call.
Western powers meddling in, invading, colonizing, any of the middle east Nations has seldom if ever resulted in something good. I must leave this as “seldom if ever” because the history of such meddling, colonization, invasion, corruption is too long and complicated to review. Even the fact there is no Kurdistan but rather populations of Kurds in three adjacent countries is the product of Western meddling, of arbitrary boundaries drawn up after European wars.
But then we arrive rather suddenly in the last months of 2019 and even though, albeit through much tragedy and failed foreign policies, we are at a point of relative peace and success (defeating ISIS), and an opportunity for Western powers, this time mostly the US, at a relatively small cost, to stay with just enough presence to prevent more war and genocide, to provide the Kurds with some defacto autonomy, to prevent Erdogan’s Turkey from exercising its genocidal impulses, to prevent a resurgence of ISIS…. and now, with a rare chance of doing great good with minimal cost the US cuts and runs.
Not the US actually, but Donald Trump. Supposedly after a little quid pro quo phone call with Erdogan.
Such an irony. The most foolish inept corrupt president the US has ever suffered is given an opportunity to have success, and to save lives, and preserve peace by simply doing nothing and he blows it. Over the next few weeks and months we can all watch how this unfolds, causing more suffering and more de stabilization of the region.
But why is this happening? Even Trump’s acolytes know it is a bad move and are speaking out.
I think we are hostage now to Donald Trump’s rather severe personality flaw. As bombastic and ruthless as he appears to be with ordinary mortals he lapses into a craven sycophant seeking approval whenever one on one with a man who holds true life and death power over his own tribe.
As the drums of impeachment beat louder he will seek and need this kind of approval more and more, from both chanting crowds and one on one from those he perceives as powerful men.
I am sitting by a fire in a campsite in a National Forest enjoying the cool mountain breezes, the clouds floating overhead with the last light of the setting sun. A CPR train moans in the distance, another fire crackles, someone chops wood for kindling, and families abound, some with tents and bicycles, some with big rigs. It is here one can easily see the nature of Earth, the complex ecology, and the fair and (mostly) equitable social order of Canada. The rules are stringent and thorough: two hours for generators in the morning and two hours in the evening, quiet after 11, no alcohol or cannabis off campsite, none of either after 11 on a long weekend.
We are ants on a planet, a fragile orb, and my thoughts should be of life and fellowship, of eternity and mystery, of the grandchildren who visited our campsite last night.
But instead, but instead they are of Donald Trump. I have not read a newspaper but google news tells me of his absurd antics, his wish to buy Greenland, his arguments with the the Fed over interest rates, possibly declaring the Antifa (anti-fascism) a terrorist organization, his statements about Jews and Israel, and his fight with the plans of American automakers who wish to produce environmentally responsible automobiles for California.
I know. I could decide not to click on Trump news while on holiday. But….
Previously I wrote about the dangers of a cornered narcissist but he slipped away from every accusation. So now the danger lies with an unbridled narcissist who has learned he can get away with anything, and whose insatiable need for praise and pomp has already reached the grandiosity of buying part of another country, declaring himself the chosen one, threatening annihilation of a few populations, and dabbling in car design and macro economics.
He is appalling. Please, America, come to your senses.
No good can come of this man. It will take decades to recover from his influence and we don’t have the luxury of time. Or, more specifically, this melting earth cannot afford 8 years of Trump and the damage he brings to it with every tweet.
The next day a Chinese couple identify for me the sound of barking in a fir tree as that of a Raven, an Alberta truck driver apologizes for momentarily blocking our path to the air pump for a trailer tire, large fat clouds sweep over the craggy granite ridges near Canmore, and we drop from the Rockies into the foothills, lush and productive. My mental health is restored.
When Robert Mueller finished his 8 minute presentation I felt vaguely heartened. Here was a man choosing words and phrases very carefully in order to convey exactly what he meant. And here was a man adhering strictly to the rules of law, of propriety, of the constitution.
He had not found sufficient evidence of “criminal conspiracy” to pursue this issue further, though his report documents many instances of the ill defined, and not illegal, activity of collusion. And he had not entertained the possibility of guilty of obstruction of justice because a sitting president could not be charged, and had his official report proclaimed guilt, this in itself would be unconstitutional for it would be the same as accusing someone of a crime without allowing him his day in court, and the opportunity to defend himself – though the report itself documents many instances of obstruction of justice, or attempted obstruction of justice, or as Mueller put it, “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
Thoughtful and commendable. And clearly passing the problem on to the legislative body that can investigate the criminality of a president.
But then I realized Mr. Mueller had brought not even knives, but a rule book, to an active gunfight. And it was probably as effective as waving the Marquis of Queensbury Rules at Wyatt Earp and Billy Clanton in the middle of the OK Corral.
Meanwhile an emboldened Donald Trump coyly suggests in his twitter feed today that the American People, after his next 6 years in office, may not want to see him give up the presidency.
Congress, Mr. Mueller has handed you the torch.
Here is the plan: Start impeachment proceedings. A major narcissistic injury to a person like Donald Trump will cause him to recklessly lash out and impeach himself.
As for the self promotion, Two Years of Trump on the Psychiatrist’s Couch just received an excellent five star review on Amazon. The review was entitled “Not an Ordinary Book About Trump”. Mary Ann who wrote the review said “I’m finding it hard to put down!” She added “The author is a Canadian psychiatrist, so offers a refreshing “outside” point of view. I’m not only finding his comments about Trump to be worthwhile, but am also just enjoying his comments about the world and life in general.”
She highly recommends it. And you can buy it in print or in e-book format not only at Amazon but wherever you prefer to get your books.
Later this month, the book will be at the annual conference of the American Library Association in Washington, DC. It is already in a number of libraries worldwide including the Institute for Defense Analysis Library in Alexandria, VA, and libraries in the United Arab Emirates, Germany, the UK and the Netherlands.
I was reading today about the “climate change deniers” Trump is putting on a panel, The Presidential Committee on Climate Security. One of these people has publicly compared our demonizing of CO2 to Hitler’s attitude toward Jews.
But, overall, the tone that strikes me most is that of adolescent thinking processes.
That’s where sharks come in.
If you ask a child the simple question, “Would you swim with sharks?” almost all will quickly and firmly say “No.”
If you ask an adult if he or she would be willing to swim with sharks the answer comes quickly and in the same form as the child’s. “No. Are you kidding?”
But if you ask the same question of a teenager what often follows is a pause, some consideration and deep thought, some partial sentences, some qualifications, some reasoning such as, “Well, humans are not the natural prey of sharks….so…”
They are exercising their newly formed reasoning processes, often arriving at something like, “In a supervised pool, with a well fed shark, and ensuring that I am not bleeding anywhere, I think the odds of surviving are pretty good, so yeah, maybe I’d try it.”
Similarly the adolescent male’s reasoning process can arrive at the following conclusion: “I think there is an 80% chance that I can make this sharp turn driving at 100 K an hour (in mom’s car) without crashing, so let’s go for it.”
What is missing is perspective in the adolescent thinking, and in the climate change debate. An 80% chance of winning would be wonderful at a casino, and not too bad for a necessary heart operation. But not for taking unnecessary risks with one’s life.
Risk benefit analysis requires a pretty clear understanding of the potential long term results for self and others. This is often a task for which the adolescent brain is not yet equipped. This is not always a bad thing. For it is our youth, our teenagers, who are willing to embark on a journey with only 10% chance of success.
The consequence of persistent global warming is the destruction of human life on this planet, preceded by years of increasing turmoil, migration, wars, destruction, suffering. Though not of my life or the lives of Mr. Trump’s proposed panel.
Is man made CO2 the cause? The cause or a major contributor?
The facts and the science support this to be the case with a small percentage of doubters. If the consequences of being wrong were minor we should let the argument continue. But they are far from minor.
Even if the odds were only 40% that man-made CO2 is a major contributor, we are not adolescents and so, considering the stakes for my grandchildren and their grandchildren….
And therein may lie the problem. Though Trump’s experts have adult brains perhaps they do not have the ability to imagine what life will be like in Africa, India, the small islands in our oceans, out coastal communities, our plains, and for our grandchildren – that is, for others.
From 1934 until the end of WWII the Nazi party passed over 40 incremental laws restricting Jewish presence and participation, leading inexorably to “the final solution”. This is a desensitization process; each seemingly benign step leading to the next slightly less benign step.
In a previous blog, somewhat flippantly, I wrote out a do-it-yourself manual for the erosion and destruction of an established democracy. To a surprising degree much has already come about in the USA under Trump and the Republican Party in a mere 18 months.
Several recent events have pushed this timeline dramatically along.
Trump has quite unnecessarily pardoned Dinesh D’Souza as a message to Comey, Mueller and Rosenstein, and undoubtedly to Flynn and Cohen, demonstrating his power to the men who prosecuted D’Souza in the first place, and his support to those currently charged.
Then in a tweet he threw Manafort under the bus in a clear statement to the others that there are conditions attached to his promise of support and future pardon.
In the midst of this his lawyers sent a letter to Mueller suggesting or stating that The President cannot be charged and indicted for anything because ultimately this same man can decide what is illegal and what is not.
(I gather the idea that the President is not above the law is not that clearly spelled out in the constitution).
This notion should be shocking, but instead I hear it discussed, argued over, with talk of precedence and norms rather than disbelief, horror and immediate action.
Each of these steps are akin to the Nazi rulings. Desensitization is occurring.
I suggested a war with Iran or Korea would be necessary for Trump to enact some emergency measures in his waddle to dictatorship, but his instincts may be more clever than mine. For he seems to be ignoring Iran now, and cozying up to North Korea, while starting a trade war with his allies. His use of “national security” as a pretext for the imposition of tariffs is telling. Maybe he does not need a real war. Perhaps he only needs a trade war with Europe, Canada and Mexico, with each of these allies retaliating in a way that hurts his base. In such a trade war the American people will feel more and more surrounded by enemies, a fortress besieged, alone in this fight with the world.
And that is when people are willing to turn to a charismatic leader who promises them everything – safety, security, prosperity, greatness – in return for a little blindness.