At his most recent rally, Donald looked at his watch and then regarded his assembling fans with evident satisfaction, saying “that’s a big crowd for 11 in the morning!” It was a good turnout, actually, because the audience was composed of union members who were more or less compelled by their leaders and bosses to attend. OK. That’s just typical Trumpian bullshit, just more of the same sort of political theatre that used to be exclusive to dismal dictatorships like North Korea. More worrying: it was 2:40 PM.
We’re used to it. The non-sequiturs, the word salad, the lies, the flip-flops, the incredible gaffes when reading the teleprompter. But it’s starting to get frightening. Take a few instances over the past couple of months. During his ponderous, plodding July 4 speech, Trump lost sight of the teleprompter, and, deprived of his script, claimed the Continental Army under Washington stormed and seized the enemy’s airports. In his address to the nation following the recent mass killings in Dayton and El Paso, he looked straight into the teleprompter, only a few feet away, and commiserated with the people of “Toledo” instead of “Texas”. He’s always been a craven liar, but the pace of his lying has accelerated, to over a dozen a day – he’s now, according the indefatigable Daniel Dale, uttered over 12,000 falsehoods – and the lies are becoming more extravagant. He’s claiming with increasing fervour to have won prizes, like Man of the Year in Michigan, which were never awarded to him, and couldn’t have been, because they don’t exist. He rants and raves ever more frequently on Twitter, growing increasingly shrill, most recently quoting right wing conspiracy kooks who assert that Donald is beloved in Israel like he’s their king, and indeed, “the second coming of God” (a strange attitude for Jewish people to adopt). Utterly insensible to context, he stands there in a photo op with his wife holding a baby orphaned in the El Paso murders, and smiles broadly while giving a big thumbs-up. Lately, he’s been furious with Denmark, cancelling a state visit (a big diplomatic deal) because they won’t sell him Greenland. On the White House lawn today, while giving one of those always god-awful “chopper talks”, hollering at the press corps over the whine of Marine One’s turbines, he asserted that he had no choice but to start a trade war with China because, after all, somebody had to do something, and he’s “the chosen one”. He looked heavenward as he said that. No fooling.
All sorts of excuses are made for this behaviour, and not just on Fox News; it’s indicative of just how bad things have gotten that the best people can do to defend Trump is insist he’s not losing his mind, he’s just an asshole. Thus he stumbles during his “hostage video” teleprompter addresses because he doesn’t believe in what he’s mumbling, and loses the thread when he gets bored. He lies so much because Donald is, well, a grifter. It’s what he does; and anybody, even the most mentally agile grifter, would stumble a bit and contradict himself sometimes if he told as many lies as Trump. Grinning like a polecat while brandishing an orphaned infant? Well, Donnie’s tone deaf, isn’t he, and always has been. Claiming to have won non-existent awards? That’s our Donnie! “People have been saying”? That’s our Donnie! Buying Greenland? Hey, that’s not so nutty as it sounds – Harry Truman tried to buy Greenland too!
Yes, Truman offered the Danes a princely sum for Greenland in the late 1940s; at the dawn of the Cold War, when the need to detect and defend against Soviet bombers was sure to become pressing, Greenland was obviously going to be strategic. Donald doesn’t know anything about the strategic imperatives of air and ballistic missile defence, and I’d bet the mortgage that he doesn’t know that America already leases the space it needs for its massive radar facility, which is located at Thule. No, Donald wanted Greenland because he’s bonkers. Somehow the idea got into his head (an idea that pundits and politicians alike first thought must be a joke), and to him it didn’t seem strange. Actually, it sounded pretty cool. It’s just another real estate deal to him. He can’t tell the difference. He probably thinks that if he succeeds, Greenland will be owned by the Trump Organization.
Maybe he stumbles and mumbles in front of the teleprompter because he can’t read properly any longer – maybe comprehension of those strange squiggles intermittently eludes him, and he fills in the gaps with random thoughts just to fill the spaces, even if that means talking about airports existing in 1778 (anyway, weren’t there airports then? Or were there?). Maybe he claims to have been responsible for legislation that Obama passed years prior to his own Presidency because he really believes what he’s saying. Maybe he says things like “this is one of the wettest hurricanes we’ve seen, from the standpoint of water” because he started a sentence, knows he has to finish it, but can’t muster up anything more than filler. Maybe he contradicts himself all the time because he can’t remember which lies he told a day ago. Maybe he’s alway’s claiming corroboration with fibs like “people are saying” and “I’ve been hearing” because he really has no idea where he got the supposed information, but figures it must have come from somewhere. Maybe he always spouts the talking points planted into his head by the last person he talked to, no matter what he’d been saying just a little earlier, because he can’t recall whatever he was told by the next to last person he talked to. Maybe he keeps claiming that China pays the tariffs he slaps on their goods not just because he’s a liar, or even merely a moron, but because no matter how many times his advisors explain it to him he just can’t keep it straight. Maybe he compares himself to God and calls himself “the chosen one” because he’s sort of certain that he really is a demigod, sent here on a mission by The Almighty. That’s what the Evangelicals say.
Maybe he isn’t just a sociopathic malignant narcissist and pathological liar. Maybe on top of all that he’s suffering dementia. For real.
This isn’t a novel idea, of course. Anybody could see from the get-go that Donald was several different flavours of mentally ill, and a lot of people, me among them, have long been wondering aloud whether Donald might have incipient dementia, some of us ever since his campaign started back in 2015. Here’s what I’m beginning to think, though, and why this suddenly seems to merit more than a passing mention: incipient be damned. He’s not just a poster boy for half of the disorders described in the DSM-V, he’s full-bore demented. His mind is going. He’s reverting to petulant childlike behaviour because his cortex is being peeled like an onion, and he’s regressing. He’s a reactionary bundle of almost completely ungoverned id because his higher executive functions are failing. Increasingly, there’s nobody home.
Sure, he was always a prick. He was always a cruel and endlessly selfish cheat and a conman. But once, he was lucid. Once, he was cunning. Back in the day, he kept straight which lies he was telling, and stuck to a consistent line of bullshit. Look up old interviews on YouTube, from the 90s – he’s a different guy. I’m increasingly convinced that what we’re seeing is an extensive pre-existing set of character disorders and pathologies now being amplified and warped by a physically diseased and deteriorating brain. I’ve seen this sort of thing before, up close and personal, and much of what Trump says and does these days is looking frighteningly and hauntingly familiar.
He looked at his watch and couldn’t interpret what time it was. One thing the doctors do, when conducting the initial tests for dementia, is get you to draw a clock face with the numbers in the right places. It’s a really, really bad sign if you can’t do it.
We should be afraid.