Even before Trump was elected, a controversy has raged over whether or not it was okay for mental health professionals to weigh in on his fitness for office. The American Psychiatry Association already has a section informally known as “The Goldwater Rule,” named after a survey in 1964 that deemed the Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater to be psychologically unfit to be president. After Goldwater lost, he sued the magazine that commissioned the survey for libel, and won.
And yet the dangers posed by Trump have warranted numerous professionals to still weigh in on his mental health. Stat News takes a sober look at only his public, unscripted utterances over the past few decades, having psychologists, linguists, and psychiatrists analyze them, and they all agree that the tape shows clear evidence of a marked deterioration in the quality of his speech, with many going on to say that it could indicative of cognitive decline.
The article features damning footage of a hale ’80s Trump speaking in full, eloquent paragraphs, able to grapple with difficult issues using a more voluminous vocabulary. These are compared with more recent public statements, which Stat News puts as delicately as it can:
Some sentences, or partial sentences, would, if written, make a second-grade teacher despair. “We’ll do some questions, unless you have enough questions,” Trump told a February press conference. And last week, he told NBC’s Lester Holt, “When I did this now I said, I probably, maybe will confuse people, maybe I’ll expand that, you know, lengthen the time because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago.” Other sentences are missing words. Again, from the AP: “If they don’t treat fairly, I am terminating NAFTA,” and, “I don’t support or unsupport” — leaving out a “me” in the first and an “it” (or more specific noun) in the second. Other sentences simply don’t track: “From the time I took office til now, you know, it’s a very exact thing. It’s not like generalities.”
So it’s clear that he’s speaking much worse—the question is, why? There are a few options floated in the article. This could be a masterful mangling of language to better communicate to his base of supporters. It could be because of stress, anger, or fatigue, although it’s worth noting it started significantly before he took office. Or, of course, it could be because of cognitive decline as a result of aging (he’s 70), or some undisclosed neurodegenerative disease.
Whatever the case, we can all agree that the president no longer uses the spoken word to communicate clear, rational thoughts, nor does he wield a vocabulary capable of expressing the nuance required for his position. (Just this morning, he referred to the terrorists behind the Ariana Grande bombing as “losers.”) As for why that matters, Stat News writes:
The reason linguistic and cognitive decline often go hand in hand, studies show, is that fluency reflects the performance of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the seat of higher-order cognitive functions such as working memory, judgment, understanding, and planning, as well as the temporal lobe, which searches for and retrieves the right words from memory.
Those are things we would like our sitting president’s prefrontal cortex to be capable of. Could that lose him the job early? Eh, maybe. Check out the whole insightful article on Stat News here.