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When the Maximum Leader is insane



Much of the reporting lately has been how Trump is going crazy, as in this piece from PoliticusUSA that says he’s “depressed, angry and losing his mind” and this one from the Washington Post headlined “Pure madness: Dark days inside the White House as Trump shocks and rages.”

He is furious about losing so many key players—Jared, Hope Hicks, probably McMaster—and concerned about his constant quarrels with others, like Gen. Kelly and Sessions. He is increasingly freaked out by Mueller, annoyed how badly his tariff scheme blew up in his face, resentful about the ‘fake media,” upset by Ivanka’s mounting legal difficulties, torn between his NRA overlords and the 70% of Americans who want to ban assault weapons, apparently on the outs with an increasingly frigid Melania, who appears to loathe him. When Putin delivered the most belligerent speech I’ve heard any Russian leader give since Khrushchev, Trump was on Twitter, attacking Alec Baldwin and pretending he, Trump, gives a shit about Christianity and Billy Graham.

Oh well, just another day in the reality show known as “The White House.”

Woodward and Bernstein have left indelible word-portraits of another erratic and bizarre president, Richard Nixon, who was possibly high on booze and pills as he wandered the White House late at night, muttering to paintings, with Watergate oppressing him. The anecdote about him urging Kissinger to pray with him—Kissinger, an agnostic, lapsed Jew—could only have been leaked by Kissinger himself.

History accords many examples of other maximum leaders who went insane. Hitler supposedly threw tantrums, foamed at the mouth and chewed on the carpet when he was enraged. King George III, “Mad King George,” against whom Americans fought the Revolutionary War, had to be put into a straight jacket, behind bars, when he went into insane conniptions.

Another “Mad King,” Ludwig II of Bavaria, was deposed after accusations of insanity were lodged against him; his behaviors were said to include pathological shyness, avoidance of state business, complex and expensive flights of fancy, dining out of doors in cold weather and wearing heavy overcoats in summer, and sloppy and childish table manners.” And who could forget Caligula, who appointed his horse as a priest and Roman consul? But my favorite all-time mad emperor has got to be Sulla, the first century B.C. dictator of Rome, who ordered his bootmaker to be flogged to death because his new boots didn’t fit. If Sulla had lived today, no doubt he would have raged against the bootmaker on Twitter.

Politicians who are subordinate to insane leaders find themselves between a rock and a hard place. It’s difficult to tell a maximum leader he’s unfit to rule: you can easily lose your head. Caligula famously executed his political enemies by “chewing on their testicles…while they were restrained, upside down.”

In many ways, things are no different from Caligula’s time and our own. Trump’s people are as afraid of him as Caligula’s were of their master, although it’s not likely that Trump would eat their testicles.

Still, it’s worthwhile to ponder what our national leaders would do if and when it becomes apparent that Trump really has lost his marbles. I’ve written extensively about the 25th Amendment, for instance, here; that is one possibility. Impeachment seems implausible, what with a Senate and, especially, a House in which the Republican majorities are doubling down on Trump-style authoritarianism and fascism. The American people seem hopelessly divided: let’s say that 36% of them support Trump no matter what he does or what they find out about him. Even were every psychologist in America to swear that he is deranged, they would simply denounce psychology, and call it a fake, or Jewish, or liberal, or Islamic, or elitist snowflake hoax.

So we are exactly where we’ve been for more than a year now, except for this: Trump is melting down faster than the Arctic glaciers. Although we have no proof Republicans know this, I find it hard to believe they don’t. My thoughts wander over to the Republicans on the Supreme Court—not the committed crazies like Clarence Thomas, but the more “centrist” ones (if I can call them that), such as Roberts and Kennedy. Surely they see what’s happening. Surely they know. They must talk about Trump’s deterioration privately, amongst themselves, with their closest friends, with their families, with their law clerks. They are patriots. I wonder if, at the end of the day, the saviors of our nation will be, not Democrats, not “courageous” Republicans in the Congress (for there are none), but the conservative majority on SCOTUS. Co-equal to the Executive branch, they are in a position to warn about and, if necessary, eliminate a clear and present danger to the Republic.


  1. Bob Henry says:

    Resurrecting my comment to your blog titled “The rightwing media wants birtherism to go away as an issue. Gee, I wonder why.” and the Goldwater Rule.

    “A Professional Opinion: You Don’t Need a Psychiatrist to Know There’s Something Wrong with Donald Trump”

    By Matthew Goldenberg
    Assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine.



    “. . . the American Psychiatric Assn. issued a statement this month [August] reminding its physician members, myself included, to avoid psychoanalyzing the presidential candidates.

    “That ethical standard has been in place for decades. In 1964, thousands of psychiatrists, in response to a magazine survey, openly questioned then-GOP nominee Barry Goldwater’s fitness for White House duty. Several psychiatrists offered specific diagnoses. The fact that so many psychiatrists were willing to casually diagnose a person they’d never met embarrassed the profession and led to the codification of the so-called Goldwater Rule — no professional opinions on people we have not personally examined.

    “. . . there are several reasons why we should resist using a psychiatric framework to describe Trump. . . .”

    [And op-ed author Goldenberg goes on to elaborate on those reasons. ~~ Bob]

    “The Goldwater Rule” as summarized by Wikipedia:


  2. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (March 10-11, 2018, Page A6):

    “Trump and Kim Face Both Opportunity and Peril”


    By Gerald F. Seib

    “In short, perhaps Mr. Trump has engaged in the MADMAN THEORY of international relations: Scare your adversary into cooperating by convincing him you’re capable of anything. Indeed, the president made a reference to exactly that — a prescient one — at dinner with Washington journalists on Saturday night, when he joked: ‘I won’t rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won’t. As far as the risk of dealing with a MADMAN is concerned, that’s his problem, not mine.’

    “For his part, Mr. Kim has seemed even more the MADMAN. Yet he also has played his hand shrewdly. He has accelerated North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs to the point that the world knows he either has, or is close to having, the ability to strike the U.S. with a weapon of mass destruction. Having shown he can thereby guarantee his own survival, he may feel he has the latitude to negotiate.”

    — AND —

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Main News” Section
    (December 5, 2017, Page Unknown):

    “Why the U.S. Considers North Korea’s Kim a ‘Rational Actor'”


    By Nancy A. Youssef

    “U.S. intelligence and military officials believe Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, a conclusion that for now is guiding Washington’s approach to the North Korean leader as he risks economic sanctions and military reprisals to build nuclear weapons and threaten rivals.

    “The assessment by the main components of the U.S. national security community has shaped their thinking toward North Korea in two major ways, U.S. officials said. It means they believe that Mr. Kim understands that any attack on the U.S. or its allies threatens the security of his country and his grip on power. And it means that they believe there is potential to alter his behavior through diplomacy to lower the threat of war.

    “U.S. officials are also calculating that Mr. Kim’s ability to act rationally is compromised.

    “‘We in the intelligence community…have said that Kim Jong Un is rational, but it is also the case today that we don’t think he has an understanding about how tenuous his position is — domestically and internationally,’ Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo said in an address at a security forum in California on Saturday.

    “U.S. military and intelligence officials, detailing the U.S. assessment in interviews, said that conclusion doesn’t mean Mr. Kim isn’t brutal or provocative, and they consider him to be immature and brash.

    “But the finding means the U.S. sees someone who is methodical and driven by a desire for world recognition, securing his family’s dynasty and developing his nation economically.

    “‘Rational actors have clear goals and know how they want to get there based on reality,’ a senior U.S. intelligence official explained. ‘He hasn’t demonstrated anything that would make one reconsider his rationality.’

    “Had the U.S. feared an irrational actor, U.S. officials would likely have gone beyond threats of military action and undertaken a massive and sustained U.S. military buildup around the peninsula in anticipation of unexpected actions by North Korea, two U.S. officials said.”

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from POLITICO Magazine Online
    (Aug 11, 2017):

    “The Madman and the Bomb”


    By Garrett M. Graff
    Journalist and Historian

    “The scene from the White House south lawn on August 9, 1974, is vivid in the nation’s memory. That morning, President Richard Nixon famously boarded Marine One for the final time, put on a wide grin and fired off a final double-V to the assembled crowd.

    “But one of the most interesting aspects of that day is what didn’t happen on the south lawn: Even though Nixon had more than two hours left in his tenure, the most critical tool of the modern presidency had already been taken away from him. He never noticed it, but the nuclear ‘football’ didn’t travel with him as he boarded the helicopter, and later, Air Force One for his flight back to California.

    “In a democratic country without hereditary power, royal crowns or bejeweled thrones, the nuclear football is in some ways the only physical manifestation of our nation’s head of state.

    “Yet, on that August day, it had been quietly removed from Nixon’s hands — remaining behind at the White House with the incoming commander-in-chief, Gerald Ford.

    “Moreover, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger recalled years later that in the final days of the Nixon presidency he had issued an unprecedented set of orders: If the president gave any nuclear launch order, military commanders should check with either him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger before executing them. Schlesinger feared that the president, who seemed depressed and was drinking heavily, might order Armageddon. Nixon himself had stoked official fears during a meeting with congressmen during which he reportedly said, ‘I can go in my office and pick up a telephone, and in 25 minutes, millions of people will be dead.’ Senator Alan Cranston had phoned Schlesinger, warning about ‘the need for keeping a berserk president from plunging us into a holocaust.’

    “Cranston’s concern is something that has nagged at nuclear war planners since the earliest days of the Cold War. The U.S. nuclear system is designed to respond to a commander in chief’s launch order instantaneously. Missiles would leave their silos just four minutes after the president’s verbal command. During the Cold War, there wasn’t a second to waste.

    “That unilateral launch authority is so powerful, so unchecked, and so scary that, years before Watergate, Nixon had turned it into its own geopolitical strategy, the so-called MADMAN THEORY, with which he threatened the Soviets and the Vietnamese that he might actually be crazy enough to nuke Hanoi — or Moscow — if they didn’t accede to his demands. The ‘mutually assured destruction’ of the Cold War was predicated on the idea that the leaders of both superpowers were rational enough to avoid a war that would end with the destruction of both nations. The Madman Theory forced the world to consider a more frightening option: That the man in charge of the nukes might not be rational at all.”

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