Bricks and Mortars

Is President Trump suffering from dementia?

By Lawrence Reichard | Oct 13, 2017

Merriam Webster: Dementia: "a usually progressive condition (such as Alzheimer's disease) marked by the development of multiple cognitive deficits (such as... the inability to plan and initiate complex behavior)."

This is not about politics. I have in the past been very critical of candidate and President Trump's politics and perhaps even his temperament and suitability for the office of president. But this particular column is not about politics or temperament. This is about whether the president of the United States — a man with at least nominal control over thousands of nuclear weapons — is suffering from senility or dementia.

Merriam-Webster: Senility: "the physical and mental decline associated with old age; especially the deterioration of cognitive functioning associated with old age."

I do not lightly throw around the words "senility" and "dementia." I have never in print used either word in association with Donald Trump (or anyone else). In fact, despite my criticism of Trump, it never occurred to me that he might be suffering from senility or dementia.

But all that changed when I heard a recording of Trump talking with a resident of Puerto Rico during Trump's Oct. 3 visit to the hurricane-ravaged island:

Trump: "Did you feel safe in the house during the hurricane?"

Hurricane Survivor: "Well, since it's concrete, we were safe, yeah."

Trump: "Not a lot of movement? Did you feel vibration? Movement?"

This exchange struck me because the second part of Trump's side of this exchange sounds to me like Trump is talking about an earthquake, not a hurricane.

Granted, it is far from certain that Trump was in fact talking about an earthquake; but the exchange did spur me to look into whether Trump might in fact be suffering from senility or dementia. What I found is not reassuring.

Again, this is not about politics.

Since the start of the 2016 campaign, it has been clear that Trump knows few if any details or specifics about the policies he espouses — or if he does, he doesn't verbalize them, at all. He invariably describes policies, laws, people, events, etc., as either great, fantastic, terrible, awful or some variation thereof, without any details, specifics or reasons behind such thoughts. I have always thought of this as Trump being lazy or dimwitted. But it's hard to accomplish what he has accomplished while being lazy and/or dimwitted.

So I dug deeper.

Trump may have a substantial vocabulary, but if he does, he doesn't use it. The vocabulary he uses is along the lines of a child of 10 to 12 years of age. In speech he is very repetitive. He uses very few specific nouns and uses many non-specific nouns such as "things, something, anything, everything, nothing." He uses simple verbs such as "is, has, goes, got." He doesn't speak in long or complex sentences, and he speaks in highly fragmented and even incoherent sentences, if indeed they are sentences at all.

Speaking in simple sentences can be a deliberate way of reaching a broader audience, but what if it's not deliberate? The entire previous paragraph describes classic symptoms of dementia or senility.

As indicated in the above Merriam-Webster definitions, dementia and senility are by definition progressive conditions — they don't suddenly appear in full bloom — and here the evidence of senility or dementia starts to mount.

Google "is Trump senile?" and you will find videos of 1980s and 1990s Trump interviews in which he speaks in complex, relatively long sentences with an extensive vocabulary. In the interviews he is intelligent, articulate and impressive. Again, the change in his speech over time could be deliberate, or normal cognitive deterioration associated with age, but I don't think so. The difference is too stark, too striking.

And then there are mood swings, making things up, paranoia, lack of restraint and unsteady walking, particularly up and down stairs — all symptoms of dementia and all displayed by Trump. Watch Trump walking with British Prime Minister Theresa May on YouTube.

It is widely accepted that President Reagan suffered from early symptoms of Alzheimer's in the latter years of his presidency. Reagan's speech increasingly showed the classic signs of dementia described above. Reagan's staff moved aggressively and forthrightly to shield Reagan from public view. Press conferences all but vanished.

In one memorable — and in retrospect disturbing — press conference held on Reagan's birthday, Reagan's wife Nancy waited in the wings with a birthday cake, and upon the first tough question posed by the media, Nancy waltzed out with the cake, effectively ending the exceedingly rare press conference. In 1994, five years after leaving office, Reagan was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

President Trump has held only three press conferences, and one, Feb. 16, was shockingly incoherent.

While not suffering from dementia or senility, President Nixon was mentally incapacitated in the final weeks of his administration when his presidency was disintegrating before his eyes and he took to heavy drinking, and Al Haig, Nixon's chief of staff, took away Nixon's nuclear codes.

It may again be time to take away the codes, if indeed that hasn't happened already. Or it may be time to invoke Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, by which a president is removed from office by the cabinet because of disability, or inability to conduct the office of president. The problem with that potential solution is that Trump's cabinet is stacked with demonstrable toadies and sycophants who are, to say the least, unlikely to muster the kind of bold leadership and vision needed to invoke something as dramatic and historic as the first-ever use of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.

There are still more than three years left in Trump's term, and in a world full of considerable peril — particularly in Korea and in Syria, where U.S. warplanes fly perilously close to Russian warplanes — that is a very long time to live with a president who may be suffering from dementia or senility.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist living in Belfast.


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