Next week Democratic congressman Ted Lieu will submit a bill that would require the full-time presence of a psychiatrist in the White House. Lieu’s main argument for his proposal is that the stresses of the presidency can easily affect the incumbent’s mental health and require some form of counseling or therapy, but it is obvious that when conceiving it he had the current president in mind, whose mental health is questionable – to put it mildly – with or without stress. Nobody summarizes his insanity better than Trump himself: “I was a very good student,” he said at a public event last week, “and I comprehend things very well, probably better than anybody else.” In translation, this means: I know everything. The effects of a primitive and ignorant man who believes that he knows everything better than anybody else were on full display last week, most demonstrably during the press conference Trump gave with the Japanese prime minister Abe, where Trump, without an earpiece, stood nodding and smiling while listening to a speech he could not possibly understand.
Equally telling are the images of the president signing executive orders, sometimes more than three a day, and then with a triumphant look holding them up for the press to see, his bold signature splattered over the paper like the drawing of a mountain range. The optics are arranged to create the image of a can-do president, who is rapidly making good on campaign promises, but at least in one case – and probably many more – Trump had no idea what he was signing, which resulted in Steve Bannon getting a seat on the National Security Council. Bannon and his junior accomplice Stephen Miller appear to have found the formula to address an empty head that’s full of itself. Whatever mischief they are conniving, they make it sound to Trump as if he has thought of it first and it is a logical extension of his campaign. That way they had him sign a poorly drafted, bigoted Muslim ban, which crash landed in two federal courts and could be hung up there for months. Rewriting the ban would implicitly acknowledge that Trump made a mistake, which wouldn’t sit well with him.
The conflict with the judiciary that resulted from the executive order declaring the ban revealed something else about how Trump sees the presidency. His representative on appeal tried to make the point that actions by the president are not reviewable, which would imply that he has a level of power not seen since the ayatollahs disposed of the Shah of Iran. The argument was gutted by the Appeals Court, but Trump still believes it.
It is often said that it is of the utmost importance for a president to know what he doesn’t know. At least on one occasion Trump indicated that he didn’t know something, when he called his National Security Advisor at 3 am to ask if the exchange rate of the dollar should go down or up. Apparently he didn’t know that this is not a national security issue.
While the Trump White House keeps stumbling and a spectacularly unqualified group of cabinet secretaries is descending on the departments, civil servants in DC are contemplating their resistance options. They may need a psychiatrist more than Trump.