Thanks to Trump's reaction to "Fire and Fury," people are talking about his mental fitness

Anecdotes from Michael Wolff's book aren't helping the president's case

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 5, 2018 10:34AM (EST)

 (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Donald Trump is responding to questions about his mental fitness in ways that have underscored the severity of this issue.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders dismissed the questions about Trump's mental health as "disgraceful" on Thursday, according to CNN. She also claimed if he weren't fit, "he probably wouldn't be sitting there, wouldn't have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen."

By Friday, Trump had taken to Twitter to denounce the upcoming book "Fire and Fury" by Michael Wolff which contains anecdotes raising questions about his psychological health.

Wolff elaborated on the concerns that he reported were shared by many of Trump's closest advisers about the president's mental health.

"Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his [Trump's] repetitions," Wolff wrote in a part of his book released Thursday. "It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions — he just couldn't stop saying something."

Wolff also described Trump engaged in troubling behavior (he attempted to "barricade himself into his bedroom with his own lock over the protests of the Secret Service") and being dismissed by many of his own advisers in deeply unflattering terms ("a f**king fool," "a child," "a moron," "dumb as s**t," "a hopeless idiot"). Chief of Staff John Kelly admitted that he accepted the job of working for Trump, despite the president's uncontrollable nature, so that he could prevent the man from causing a catastrophe. Former chief strategist Steve Bannon even predicted that there was a one-out-of-three chance that Trump would have to resign due to the 25th Amendment — that is, because of mental incompetence.

Concerns about Trump's mental health have stretched all the way back to the 1980s. Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of "The Art of the Deal," recalled in an interview with "The New Yorker" back in 2016:

Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood. It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit—or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then...

Schwartz later added, "If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time."

It also came out on Thursday that a dozen lawmakers from the Senate and House of Representatives had received a briefing Dr. Brandy X. Lee, a Yale psychiatrist, about their concerns over Trump's mental fitness to president, according to CNN.

"Lawmakers were saying they have been very concerned about this — the president's dangerousness, the dangers that his mental instability poses on the nation. They know the concern is universal among Democrats, but it really depends on Republicans, they said. Some knew of Republicans that were concerned, maybe equally concerned, but whether they would act on those concerns was their worry," Lee told CNN about the briefing.

Although there have been concerns that Lee violated the so-called "Goldwater Rule," which implores psychiatric professionals to not speak out about political figures who they haven't personally met, Johns Hopkins University psychologist Dr. John Gartner told Salon in November that he felt that situation didn't apply to Trump.

"The American Psychiatric Association is a guild. Its main interests are the those of the American Psychiatric Association and American psychiatrists. This is very, very important," Gartner told Salon. "They are just trying to stay out of the way of anyone powerful who might get angry at them and interfere with them making money. It is that simple. The Goldwater rule is not an example of psychiatric ethics. It is an example of psychiatric corruption where they put the needs and the money of their profession above the welfare and the survival of the American public."


By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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Donald Trump Michael Wolff Sarah Huckabee Sanders