I recently wrote about Donald Trump’s superhuman ability to completely insulate his psyche from both precedent and consequence. His deftness at detachment is, in fact, so advanced and so natural, I questioned if he might be an unknowing reincarnated Buddha. It’s an especially compelling argument when you consider that his skin is orange, and he shares a common physique with statuary Chinese restaurants’ entrances.
I’ve started reading a book called The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, by Dr. Bandy Lee. It’s a collection of papers written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health practitioners. The overarching theme is an investigation of the intersection between two competing rules: (1) the ethical prohibition on diagnosing public figures from afar without their express permission (the “Goldwater rule”) and (2) the duty to warn society of potentially catastrophic harm by a psychotic person.
In other words, it’s potentially unethical to “diagnose” Donald Trump as mentally ill. And even if a shrink could sit down one-on-one with Donnie and make a real diagnosis, it would be ethically questionable (at best) to publicly disclose information derived from that doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship.
But it may be even more unethical to refuse to use learned, professional judgment to interpret Trump’s actions and traits as dangerous to the world.
In learning about this subject, I was struck by a possible alternative explanation for Donald Trump’s “forever in the moment like a golden retriever” persona. Perhaps it’s not that he’s the reincarnation of Siddhartha Gautama. Perhaps, instead, he’s exhibiting extreme present hedonism.
Time Perspective Theory says that everyone makes the bulk of their decisions from one of three time zones: the past, the present, or the future. Within each time zone, there are two orientations possible, essentially positive or negative.
If you’re a person rooted in the past, you could be driven more by negative experiences or by positive experiences. If you’re past-negative, you could have your decisions consistently influenced by the aftereffects of abuse or embarrassments. If you’re past-positive, you could rely heavily on nostalgia, remembering the good times above all else.
If you’re more future-oriented, you might more of a goal setter (future-positive) or focused entirely on your own mortality and the hope for something better in the afterlife (future-negative).
A person slanted toward the present could be aimed in one of two primary directions: fatalistic (negative) or hedonistic (positive).
The present fatalist is primarily motivated by the perception that fate is predestined and no action or inaction today will affect what comes next.
But an understanding that today is all that matters drives the present hedonist. Current stimuli rank #1 among all considerations. As such, sensation and pleasure are the most important goals for the present hedonist.
Of course, any person can be hedonistic, fatalistic, positive, or negative depending on the situation. And anyone can dwell on the past or look to the future, sometimes both in the same day.
The need for therapy comes when your time perspective and orientation stop serving your overall mental health.
Being a thorough planner is great, but needing to plan every minute of every day robs you of the enjoyment of today.
Being nostalgic about the good old days or becoming consciously aware of past abuse is a major part of your growth as a human. But locking yourself in your room because of arbitrary, now misplaced fear prevents you from having normal human experiences.
And there’s an entire industry devoted to the present. Deepak, Oprah, Joel, and other people broadcasting through vignette filters encourage us to “live in the now.” There’s value in being mindful. Enjoy that cookie for the sake of enjoying that cookie. Cookies are delicious.
But there are negative consequences if the only thing you do is live for this very moment. Like if you eat nothing but cookies, you will get diabetes and wish you’d mixed in a salad here and there. Just ask Cookie Monster. Little known fact: his blue fur is caused by diabetes. He had white fur back before he started chasing the cookie dragon.
And if you’re the President of the United States, those negative consequences aren’t just affecting you and your family. An unchecked present-hedonistic slant has the potential to negatively affect every living being on the planet.
If being a present hedonist has the potential to disrupt a person’s mental health, being an extreme present hedonist completely untethers a person from all vestiges of normal human behavior.
If “cookies” are another way to say “enjoyable stimuli,” we all like cookies here and there. It’s not even human nature; it’s animal nature. But extreme present hedonists don’t just eat cookies. They freebase them while driving 120 mph in a stolen car while getting road head from a woman they just met outside of an Arby’s.
And we all blurt things out we wish we wouldn’t have. Like, “I have to pee!” or “I hope no one finds the tape of me asking Russian girls to pee on me!” Usually, no one has physical evidence of our misstep, thank goodness. But if someone has that physical evidence, they’d be a real patriot and possible savior of the universe to go ahead and release that kompromat. Just saying.
Extreme present hedonists tweet insulting nicknames and taunts to unbalanced dictators who have 18,000 artillery tubes aimed at one of our closest allies. They claim a former POW-turned-elder statesman isn’t a “hero” because he was captured. They mock disabled reporters to get a cheer from a sycophantic crowd. They incite violence to assuage their own self-esteem. They change the story when the facts don’t match their own self-aggrandizing narrative, because facts are more malleable than their egos. Their drive to “win” makes them try to increase the nuclear arsenal tenfold, ignoring 70+ years of nonproliferation strategy.
For those of you who voted for him because he was going to “shake up Washington,” I’m fearful the shaking you’re going to get will come with a hefty dose of radioactive fallout.
Pro tip: When you see the flash, be sure to get into a funny pose to leave a hilarious shadow on the wall you’re vaporized in front of!
I have a tendency to give people the charitable assumption. That is, I tend to assume people act from a positive place. My joking assessment of Donald Trump’s “mindfulness” was rooted in my own tendencies. I shuddered to think he was a madman with his finger on the trigger. I preferred to envision a reality where, as odd as he is, Trump’s idiosyncrasies were manifestations of his congenital divine characteristics.
Having read the assessments of concerned scientists, I’m now pretty sure he’s just an extreme present hedonist.
And I’m certain that he values however he feels this minute more than he values your life, my life, your children’s lives, or his own children’s lives. We’d arrest him if he were driving a city bus like he was at Talladega. We’d throw him in prison if he were an airline pilot who out doing barrel rolls, indifferent to the lives of his passengers.
He’s the president, and his psychological makeup—as judged by numerous professionals—makes his nature wholly inconsistent with the amount of life-and-death power seated in his office.
So, when are we going to listen to our gut and to the informed opinions of mental health professionals?
I hope we get to that point before the temptation to go down in history gets the best of his itchy, hedonistic trigger finger.