Exploring Human Potential

Trump is Mentally Ill. Say It Out Loud.

Posted on | January 6, 2024 | 5 Comments

Sunday Op-Ed:

Mike Magee

With the January 23rd New Hampshire primary in the rear view mirror, and the SC Republican primary February 24th primary fast approaching,  a tragic Donald Trump continues to dig himself into a hole that will eventually lead to some personal hell.

I think we are at a point where Trump’s mental illness is undeniable to most. Those who continue to support his candidacy now do so despite the risk to all of us, and for their own personal gain. There remain a few on the religious right who honestly believe that “God put Trump here for a purpose” (to support patriarchy, outlaw abortion, advance Christian nationalism etc.) A Divine hand at work was part of the immoral justification in both Germany and Japan during WW II as well. That did not end well for the citizens of either nation.

But before Donald Trump, there was William Frederick Kohler.  Kohler, like Trump, was not mentally well. Those who have analyzed this fictional creation of philosopher and novelist William H. Gass, describe him this way:  “Preoccupied with evil, the nature of truth, and the effects of an individual’s relationship with others, he recalls his bookish childhood with a mother who drank to remember the ‘good old days’ and a bigoted father; graduate work in prewar Germany, where he hurled a brick on Kristallnacht; his unhappy marriage … Kohler, the personal memoirist … is as unreliable as Kohler, the eminent historian. A virtuoso performance without a grand finale.”

The real-life Gass who created Kohler was the author of the award winning novel, “The Tunnel.” He died in 2017. He received his PhD from Cornell in 1954, in return for his dissertation “A Philosophical Investigation of Metaphor.”

A metaphor, as we know, is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money).”

Gass’s love of metaphor is on full display in “The Tunnel”.  You can almost hear the beloved high school advanced placement English teacher pleadingly asking her sleepy students “What do you think Kohler’s obsession with digging a tunnel in his basement represents?”

Of the novel, one critic wrote, “As the novel progresses we see the lies, half-truths, violent emotions, and relative chaos of Kohler’s life laid bare, and while he continues to dig away at the memories of his past he also begins digging a tunnel out from the basement where he works, a reflection of his tunneling through himself.”

Beyond Gass’s own story line, and that of William Frederick Kohler, one can easily catch glimpses of  Donald Trump.  As he entered the strange world of politics, he embraced the use of metaphor with memorable 3 and 4 word phrases like “drain the swamp”, “the system is rigged,” and “take our country back.” Secretive and opaque, Kohler and Trump focus on a very special audience, one the fictional Kohler labels the “Party of the Disappointed People”, a group with whom he shared the affinity “that the loss has been caused in great part by others.”

Trump mixes old, worn out “dead” metaphors like “take our country back” with occasional “live” ones. When he hits the mark, he makes news. For example, in a 2016 foreign policy speech, he used the metaphor, “shake the rust off American foreign policy” only to have it within days appropriated as a headline in the Financial Times.

Academics, Jurists, Priests, and Corporate CEO’s have been careful not to label Trump as mentally ill. But mentally ill he is.

Sadly, his words in 2024 remind of another influential essayist, Kenneth Burke, whose 1939 masterpiece, The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle, is required reading for graduate students from English to Philosophy, and from Political Science to History and Religious Studies. The piece’s main focus involves a critical analysis of Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“my struggle”) which includes this stark warning.

Leaders of the free world need “to discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man…concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against, if we are to forestall the concocting of similar medicine in America.”

Trump too has written his own fictional story; a despotic force with his own signature “idiolect”; as admiring of Nazism as was William Frederick Kohler, and as taken with sticky metaphors as William Gass in search of his own “Party of the Disappointed People.”

Loyal indeed, like zombies, his followers and the Republican Party have followed him into the basement, and are heading down a tunnel which has no end. It has been  “a virtuoso performance without a grand finale”, unless, that is, it be the destruction of our democratic form of government.

On this Epiphany Sunday, the voices of Americans need to rise as one, and declare out loud – “Trump is mentally ill, and unfit to serve as President.”


5 Responses to “Trump is Mentally Ill. Say It Out Loud.”

    January 7th, 2024 @ 12:39 pm

    I agree with everything in your message, but have the following question for you: How do you explain the behavior of (presumably) mentally healthy individuals like Elise Stefanik? Her remarkably articulate performance on Meet The Press this morning attempted to justify everything Trump is doing, in a manner that would have made Adolph Hitler proud. This was the single most frightening session I’ve seen yet on TV. The only good thing: “MAGA Americans” (that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it) don’t watch Meet The Press…. so this ended up as a powerful warning to those of us who do: If people like her are representative of Republican leadership today, our democracy is truly in trouble.

  2. Mike Magee
    January 8th, 2024 @ 4:48 pm

    Thanks, Art. It is confusing, disorienting, and distressing to be forced to acknowledge that humans are capable of embracing situational ethics in pursuit of power, fortune and influence. But that is our human species. I will always remember seeing “The Glass Booth” on Broadway as a young man. Centered on the Eichmann Trial, in the very last scene Adolf Eichmann turns to the audience and says, “If you had been me, you would have followed him too.” I’d like to believe that for most of us us, that is not true. We will see. We are fast approaching a point of reckoning in America. Best, Mike

  3. Nadeem Ahmed Ansari
    January 10th, 2024 @ 9:10 am

    I Totally agree with your message.

  4. Lawrence Williams
    January 14th, 2024 @ 5:43 am

    Hey Mike, what you say is true. We need to bring the MAGA crowd to an understanding that the current position of Donald Trump is not some kind of political game, it is deadly serious poison being poured down the throat of our democratic republic and the only cure is for Trump sycophants to have a true epiphany and see the truth.
    The highlighted links throughout your piece took me on an amazing trip into the linguistic world of aphorisms, metaphors, idioms and similes. These various linguistic tools all have a similar purpose, to convey a long thought into a short, memorable phrase or sentence that is easily remembered. A good writer could spend years studying these things in order to use them effectively. I don’t think Donald Trump has any understanding of the structures and classifications of these things but he has something else. He has a natural ability to use them to bring people to believe the things he says regardless of the fact that he is using them to instill belief in his lies. And he is very good at it. So good that more than 70 million of our fellow citizens voted for him in the 2020 election and most of them seem to still believe what he says regardless of the mountains of evidence showing them to be false.And they are prepared to vote for him in the next presidential election. Those mountains of evidence take some time and effort to understand and it is much easier, and for many just more fun, to just believe those few catchy Trump words about how he is being persecuted in the courts, about all the election fraud, and about how their country is being stolen from them. That epiphany is going to have to be a doozy.

    My best to you as always….Larry

  5. Mike Magee
    January 15th, 2024 @ 12:11 pm

    Larry, as always, your insights are on the mark. He is a “natural communicator,” as much as Ronald Reagan was a “natural actor.” But what distinguishes him is a level of dispassionate anger and distain that is in no way principle driven, but rather directed toward human challenges of any and all varieties. Trump can be credited in revealing the weaknesses of human kind, of our form of government, and of a culture that over values entertainment and celebrity and violence, and under values goodness, kindness, and wisdom. We will see in 2024 how we fare in our response. Best, Mike

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