Something is seriously wrong with Donald Trump: Let's stop kidding ourselves about that

Whether it was genuine madness or all an act, Donald Trump's CPAC creepshow was evidence of profound crisis

Published March 6, 2019 8:00AM (EST)

Donald Trump looks to the cheering audience as he arrives to speak at CPAC 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md., March 2, 2019. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Donald Trump looks to the cheering audience as he arrives to speak at CPAC 2019, in Oxon Hill, Md., March 2, 2019. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

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If you’ve only watched the clips and highlights from Donald Trump’s CPAC speech last Saturday, you’re not getting the full picture of the explosive horror show that is the worsening status of the president’s mental health. For reasons that defy comprehension, I decided to watch the whole thing live. At the outset, I tweeted that given the Michael Cohen testimony in the immediate rear-view mirror, Trump’s CPAC speech was going to be “next level crazy.” In hindsight, I feel like I low-balled it.

Before we continue, I’d like to emphasize that I’m not a mental health professional, nor am I an expert in the pharmacological effects of cognitive enhancers like Adderall or Provigil to make a judgment call on the specifics of what’s wrong with the president. However, I can say with confidence that something’s extraordinarily wrong with him, and it’s only getting more dangerous for the nation and by extension the world as time advances.

At CPAC, Trump ricocheted from his prepared teleprompter remarks into what can only be described as a herky-jerky, stream-of-conscious creepshow -- a Willy Wonka ride into the dark, twisted world of Trump’s increasingly haunted and scattered brain. There was sweaty red-faced performance art; American flag leg-humping; bizarre and often shouty anecdotes leading nowhere; insults and obscenities directed at his enemies, both real and imagined; mean-spirited attempts at jokes; unabridged fear-mongering about infanticide and murderous immigrants; bug-eyed facial contortions more terrifying than the Momo Challenge; and other kneejerk outbursts that defy description.

Remember during the 2016 campaign when Trump mocked Serge Kovaleski’s disability? Imagine that for two hours and 20 minutes, from a man who now has the nuclear launch codes in his pants pocket.

The president is unfit to continue serving. This is a crisis.

Indeed, no president before and especially since Trinity has acted like this in public until Trump. Why? It’s chiefly because presidents with access to weapons of mass destruction, specifically an American nuclear arsenal that could destroy the world a thousand times over, are elected partly based on their sobriety and mental stability. We need our presidents to have immensely sound judgment so that the use of the aforementioned nuclear codes is preceded by sound thought, emotional clarity and informed deliberation. Trump appears to possess none of these traits. Nor is he inclined to even fake it. His judgment was never stellar (ask any New Yorker) and it’s only disintegrating further as the rigors of the job worsen while law enforcement closes in.

Again, I don’t possess the psychological expertise to diagnose whether his behavior is reflective of mental illness or whether it’s a politically-motivated act for the enjoyment of the Red Hats. If it’s an act, it’s just as bad, and still perhaps indicative of a mental health condition. In and of itself, acting like a mentally ill chief executive, a Mad King, displays an absence of sound judgment, highlighting a disconnect from social and political norms, as well as telegraphing a profound degree of ignorance about why such an act is unacceptable.

Somewhere along the line, though, this became perfectly acceptable behavior inside the Fox News biosphere. At some point, Fox News disciples were successfully conditioned to abandon reverence for presidential decency and decorum in favor of whatever-the-hell-that-was at CPAC.

If I were to quiz Fox News viewers about Trump’s unspooled madness at CPAC, I’d ask them in particular whether they’d ever accept this kind of behavior from their doctor, their kids’ teachers or their own bosses at work; whether they’d accept it from a member of the clergy or the bus driver who picks up their children for school every day. The honest response would have to be no way -- that is unless it’s okay for our doctors, mid-prostate exam, to snap off a bunch of insulting impressions of the nursing staff, followed by paranoid threats about Hollywood types and racist blurts about competing physicians. As indoctrinated into the Fox News cult as they are, I don’t believe they’d be OK with that. And if it’s unacceptable conduct for their doctors and teachers, why on earth is it acceptable for a world leader cloaked in immense power and backed by the most powerful military in the history of civilization?

Baby Boomer Trump voters in particular, the men and women who taught my generation, Gen X, about how to properly behave in public; how to recognize and surround ourselves with people of strong character, modesty and good will -- the ideals of contrition, sportsmanship, expertise, rationality and reason -- don’t seem to hold their current president to any of those standards. Indeed, they expect to Trump reject all those values in order to own the libs, among other ridiculously infantile justifications.

When I observe these people, as I did on Saturday, wildly swooning when Trump mockingly impersonates everyone from his military generals to his political foes, when they cheer for his childish flailing and his total rejection of the dignity of the presidency to the point where he insultingly mocks the very notion of being presidential, I wonder to myself whether they grasp how badly they’ve sold out their own morality for the sake of petty grievances and racial entitlement. I wonder if they realize that they’ve forsaken the social compact in order to support this glorified street hustler. Tens of millions of Americans have abandoned it all for the sake of propping up a well-documented con man who’s only in this, in Michael Cohen’s words, for “the world’s greatest infomercial.”

The normalization of Trump's unpredictable, spasmodic presidency, as well as the fact that so many of us don’t have the stomach to tolerate two-plus hours of watching him, are perhaps the only reasons why more Americans aren’t gathered as we speak, devising how best to legally remove him from office. For what it’s worth, I propose here and now that this conversation must begin in earnest.

Trump’s obvious mental instability and emotionally erratic behavior has reached a harrowing new depth. They need to be addressed by our political leadership with the same urgency as the myriad investigations into his crimes. This has to begin now before it’s too late. He will clearly do and say whatever it takes to secure his status, and it’s the presidency alone that’s keeping him out of federal prison. He’s at least competent enough to understand this, and he might be crazy enough to do anything to avoid accountability. We’re in new territory. There is no road map, and what we do now will determine whether Trump is the last Trump, or possibly the first of many Trumps along the not-so-lengthy journey into a permanent form of lunatic authoritarianism. It’s time to take his madness seriously now before he levels-up again.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.