People are still talking about the interview of Donald Trump published in the New York Times on Thursday. It’s an incoherent mess. None of the headlines come close to how alarming it is. As Charles Pierce wrote,Â Trumpâ€™s New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline.
In this interview, the president* is only intermittently coherent. He talks in semi-sentences and is always groping for something that sounds familiar, even if it makes no sense whatsoever and even if it blatantly contradicts something he said two minutes earlier. To my ears, anyway, this is more than the president*â€™s well-known allergy to the truth. This is a classic coping mechanism employed when language skills are coming apart.
If you read nothing else about the interview, make it Ezra Klein’s analysis. It begins:
The president of the United States is not well. That is an uncomfortable thing to say, but it is an even worse thing to ignore.
Seriously, there is no other reasonable assumption to be made from that interview except that Donald Trump has a major mental impediment that goes beyond being merely stupid. There’s no question about that; the only questions areÂ what is wrong with him?Â and how bad is it?Â IMO “dementia” and “pretty effing bad” are safe guesses.
One thing the interview cleared up for me is how he could continue to claim that he has signed more bills than other presidents, when in fact his bill signing record is way behind the norm.Â Trump has signed fewer bills to this point in his presidency than any elected president since Dwight Eisenhower. The issue is that he doesn’t seem to understand that an executive order is not the same thing as a bill. At one point Trump said this:
So now I have associations, I have private insurance companies coming and will sell private health care plans to people through associations. Thatâ€™s gonna be millions and millions of people. People have no idea how big that is. And by the way, and for that, weâ€™ve ended across state lines. So we have competition. You know for that Iâ€™m allowed to [inaudible] state lines. So thatâ€™s all done.
Now Iâ€™ve ended the individual mandate. And the other thing I wish youâ€™d tell people. So when I do this, and weâ€™ve got health care, you know, McCain did his vote.
… Weâ€™ve created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didnâ€™t have insurance. Or didnâ€™t have health care. Millions of people. Thatâ€™s gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So thatâ€™s a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people donâ€™t even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. â€¦ With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.
Somewhere in that word salad one finds reference to associations. Ezra Klein explains,
He signed an executive order making it easier to formÂ association health plans, which are health plans formed by groups of small businesses, and making it easier for those plans to skirt Obamacareâ€™s insurance regulations and to contain small businesses from multiple states.
As of now, and Trump doesnâ€™t seem to realize this, itâ€™s just an executive order â€” the rules defining and implementing it have not been written, so it is not yet happening, and we donâ€™t know how it will work in practice, much less how many people may eventually sign up. Nor does the order get rid of the prohibition on selling insurance across state lines for most people â€” itâ€™s only for this one kind of plan which can include members in multiple states, and which will only serve a tiny minority of the health insurance market.
In the past few days Trump has been on a de-regulation roll. He scaledÂ back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents, for example.Â He rolled back offshore drilling safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill.Â Also this past week he laid off the entire Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) without bothering to give a reason. Here I go back to something Charles Pierce said —
In Ronald Reaganâ€™s second term, we ducked a bullet. Iâ€™ve always suspected he was propped up by a lot of people who a) didnâ€™t trust vice-president George H.W. Bush, b) found it convenient to have a forgetful president when the subpoenas began to fly, and c) found it helpful to have a â€œdetachedâ€ president when they started running their own agendasâ€”like, say, selling missiles to mullahs. Youâ€™re seeing much the same thing with the congressional Republicans. Theyâ€™re operating an ongoing smash-and-grab on all the policy wishes theyâ€™ve fondly cultivated since 1981. Having a president* who may not be all there and, as such, is susceptible to flattery because it reassures him that he actually is makes the heist that much easier.
It’s not just Republicans in Congress; probably the whackjobs who make up his “staff” are happily writing whackjob executive orders and putting them in front of him to sign. One can imagine Mike Pence behind the firing of the HIV/AIDS advisors.
One part of the interview that drew a lot of criticism is his comment,Â Â “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Ezra Klein did a good job unpacking that, I think. He points to this section of the interview —
TRUMP: Itâ€™s too bad Jeff recused himself. I like Jeff, but itâ€™s too bad he recused himself. I thought. â€¦ Many people will tell you that something is [inaudible].
NYT: Do you think Holder was more loyal to â€¦
TRUMP: I donâ€™t want to get into loyalty, but I will tell you that, I will say this: Holder protected President Obama. Totally protected him. When you look atÂ the I.R.S. scandal, when you look at the guns for whatever, when you look at all of the tremendous, ah, real problems they had, not made-up problems like Russian collusion, these wereÂ realÂ problems. When you look at the things that they did, and Holder protected the president. And I have great respect for that, Iâ€™ll be honest, I have great respect for that.
In other words, Trump thinks the job of the attorney general is to protect the president; he thinks the Justice Department works for him. And when he said of the Mueller investigation,Â â€œFor purposes of hopefully thinking Iâ€™m going to be treated fairly, Iâ€™ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter,â€ Ezra Klein wrote,
Here, Trump offers insight into his own thinking. He appears to believe that he is engaged in some explicit or implicit quid pro quo with the Department of Justice: He doesnâ€™t fire Jeff Sessions, demand prosecution of his political enemies, or whatever it is he imagines doing with his â€œabsolute right,â€ so long as they treat him and his associates â€œfairly,â€ which likely means protecting him from Muellerâ€™s investigation.
See also Josh Marshall, “Read His Words Carefully.” “President Trump has a decades-old penchant for public comments which are nominally conciliatory but contain an indifferently concealed note of menace,” Marshall writes. Trump is saying that he’ll leave the Department of Justice alone as long as they do their job as he defines it, which is to protect him. If he thinks they are not protecting him, however, heads will roll.
To me, the most frightening thing about the fact that the so-called president is mentally incapacitated is that nobody’s doing anything about it.Â We’re well into 25th Amendment territory here. A responsible Congress would be taking steps in this direction already. However, the current Republican-dominated Congress isn’t going to do anything as long as they think having Trump in the White House is useful to them. So, safeguards don’t work.