What do we do if Trump re­ally is crazy?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - DANA MILBANK Twit­ter: @Milbank

Maybe I’m do­ing this all wrong. For five years, I’ve been iden­ti­fy­ing Don­ald Trump, now pres­i­dent of the United States, as a nut­ter. I’ve called him crazy, daft, a mad­man, bark­ing mad and mad as a March hare, and I’ve “di­ag­nosed” him — I’m not a men­tal-health pro­fes­sional and have never ex­am­ined the pres­i­dent — with nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity dis­or­der and more. To that list, I feel com­pelled to add a few more tech­ni­cal ob­ser­va­tions: He also seems off his rocker, ’round the bend and a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

The be­lief that the com­man­der in chief is barmy has be­come com­mon­place. Just last week two prom­i­nent sen­a­tors, Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Su­san Collins (R-Maine), were caught on a hot mic dis­cussing Trump.

“I think he’s crazy,” Reed said. “I mean, I don’t say that lightly and as a kind of a goofy guy.” “I’m wor­ried,” Collins replied. Now I’m wor­ried, too. If the pres­i­dent re­ally is — gulp — in­sane in the clin­i­cal sense and not just in the goofy sense, then per­haps we shouldn’t be ridi­cul­ing him. Maybe I, and other crit­ics, should ap­proach him calmly, speak in hushed tones and treat him with com­pas­sion.

For ad­vice, I turned to the rec­og­nized author­ity on such mat­ters, the In­ter­net. It turns out that, when it comes to best prac­tices for deal­ing with se­ri­ous men­tal dis­or­ders, I’m do­ing a lot of the “don’ts” with Trump but not the things I should be do­ing.

Don’t use sar­casm. Avoid hu­mor. Don’t crit­i­cize, ac­cuse or blame. Avoid sound­ing pa­tron­iz­ing or con­de­scend­ing. Don’t as­sume they are not smart. Be re­spect­ful. Be aware that the delu­sions they may ex­pe­ri­ence are their real­ity. Stay calm. Min­i­mize dis­trac­tions. Turn off the TV. Sim­plify — one topic at a time. Stick to present is­sues. Ac­knowl­edge what the other per­son says and how they feel, even if you don’t agree.

All good ad­vice, no doubt. Cer­tainly, our pa­tient would ben­e­fit from turn­ing off the TV and min­i­miz­ing dis­trac­tions. He does much bet­ter when is­sues are sim­pli­fied. He re­acts poorly to crit­i­cism and ac­cu­sa­tion. And, un­nerv­ingly, he seems to be­lieve the many false things he says.

But what works with trou­bled friends or fam­ily mem­bers doesn’t work quite so well when deal­ing with world’s most pow­er­ful man. You can’t just smile re­as­sur­ingly when he tells you mil­lions of peo­ple voted il­le­gally in the elec­tion but he has no ev­i­dence that Rus­sia in­ter­fered.

Both Reed and Collins have, quite ra­tio­nally, soft­ened their hot-mic con­ver­sa­tion about Trump’s ir­ra­tional­ity. A Collins spokes­woman said that the sen­a­tor’s worry about Trump was a ref­er­ence re­fer­ring to his han­dling of the bud­get. Reed, in an in­ter­view, told me he thinks Trump’s trou­bles are more the re­sult of in­ex­pe­ri­ence than any neu­ropathol­ogy.

We’re see­ing “some­body who has op­er­ated ba­si­cally his whole life with­out any­body to check him,” with no con­cept of the “highly struc­tured gov­ern­men­tal sphere with checks and bal­ances and le­gal re­straints in terms of who does what,” Reed said.

Trump, he said, has a “mo­ment-to-mo­ment” way of think­ing, with­out an or­derly, long-term strat­egy. When it comes to strate­gic think­ing, “it’s dif­fi­cult to dis­cern who’s do­ing that,” said Reed, an Army vet­eran and top Demo­crat on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, who — in­cred­i­bly — Trump has not once con­sulted.

Reed said he was en­cour­aged that Trump has del­e­gated, some­what more than pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents, to fig­ures such as Jim Mat­tis at the Pen­tagon and the com­man­ders. He also sees grow­ing will­ing­ness in Congress to defy the pres­i­dent on mat­ters rang­ing from Rus­sia sanc­tions to the bud­get.

That en­cour­ag­ing, but it’s in­suf­fi­cient. Con­sider the list of ir­ra­tional ac­tions com­ing from the White House over the past week alone:

Trump’s new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor al­leged that the pres­i­dent’s top strate­gist at­tempts an anatom­i­cally im­prob­a­ble sex act to him­self, called White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus a para­noid schiz­o­phrenic and ac­cused him of a felony. Priebus, one of Trump’s only teth­ers to main­stream Repub­li­cans, quits.

Trump at­tacked Repub­li­can sen­a­tors such as Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) whose votes he needed but failed to get on the GOP health-care bill, deal­ing it yet an­other de­feat.

Trump pub­licly at­tacked his own at­tor­ney gen­eral and threat­ened to fire his health and hu­man ser­vices sec­re­tary.

The Boy Scouts had to apol­o­gize af­ter Trump gave a hyper-par­ti­san speech to chil­dren.

Trump caught the Pen­tagon by sur­prise when he an­nounced he’s kick­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple out of the mil­i­tary, af­ter botch­ing the facts on Hezbol­lah while meet­ing the Le­banese prime min­is­ter.

And he jokes about be­ing chis­eled into Mount Rush­more.

It all brings to mind one more piece of ad­vice I found on­line for deal­ing with peo­ple with se­ri­ous men­tal-health is­sues: It may be nec­es­sary to lower your ex­pec­ta­tions.

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