NPR INTERNATIONAL HOUR OF DIANE REHM SHOW CONCLUDES TRUMP MAY HAVE DEMENTIA
The following is from the transcript of today’s broadcast of the International Hour of the Diane Rehm Show. More than two months after the Tax Wall Street Party presentations on Trump at the Left Forum in New York City, the question of Trump’s mental illness has become a central theme of the political campaign. Taking part in this discussion are Yochi Dreazon of Foreign Policy, Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal and Uri Friedman of The Atlantic.
REHM All right. Let's open the phones here. We have a caller in Winter Haven, Fla. Larry, you're on the air.
LARRY Hi, how are you, Diane?
REHM Good, thanks.
LARRY Thanks for taking my call.
LARRY Diane, I had a question and a concern. I'm a former police -- I'm a retired police officer and I'm a former military, Army volunteer from back in the '70s. I have four military children, two who are still currently active after 18 years each. I have concerns that -- about -- my thought was that when I was a police officer, prior to taking the very serious position, I was -- it was mandated that I took a psychological evaluation. And if you didn't pass that psychological evaluation you could not conduct work and the -- doing the responsibilities of the law enforcement officer. In the highest office of the land, president of the United States, is there any type of protocol concerning psychological evaluations or considerations as such, thinking about all the ways of -- a presidential candidate, such as Donald Trump.
DREAZEN No, there isn't. What you're beginning to hear though, and it's coming from frankly Republicans, as well as Democrats, is a serious, not glib, conversation about is something mentally wrong with Donald Trump. So it's easy to take pot-shots six months ago, but now it's becoming a serious topic of is there dementia, is there…
REHM Why? Why is that becoming a topic?
DREAZEN I think because the severity with which he responds to people, the kind of ferocity and his inability to let anything go, combined much more substantively with the fact that he says again and again and again things that are just flat-out lies. We're beyond the stage of being able to say they're falsehoods or use softer language. They're lies. They're just things that are untrue. And then the question is does he know them to be untrue when he says them or does he not know them to be untrue. And if he doesn't know them to be untrue that's -- you can get into an argument of which is scarier. A president who has perhaps dementia and doesn't know that what he's saying is false or a president who does know and just figures out that his supporters don't care and just says them over and over and over again. But I'm not saying this lightly, because this has becoming a serious topic discussed by both parties, that there may in a very literal medical sense be something wrong with Donald Trump.
LEE Yeah, this is something that we're -- we haven't seen before in a presidential election. You know, usually you just -- these are not questions that have come up in recent cycles. And -- but when you have a candidate who says things like this week Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton was behind the $400 million -- he linked her to the $400 million payment. And she had been gone as secretary of state for several years. And then he says it seems like every week there -- or every couple days there's something. You know, candidates typically release their health records. Whether or not that would include some sort of mental health evaluation, you know, is unclear. And Donald Trump's not releasing his tax return, so who knows if he'll release his health records. But this is a very unusual situation.
REHM Here's something from Linda, in Mount Lebanon, who is a psychiatric nurse. She says, "Since political candidates do not submit to psychiatric examination, the voters have to make educated guesses." She goes on to say, "Over the past year Donald Trump has exhibited increasing mood behavior and cognitive deterioration." Have you all seen that?
DREAZEN I mean, I think that there's been an increase in the frequency with which he says things that are untrue. And I think there is -- there has been a difference in the way in which he responds to people. He now -- you know, referred to Hillary Clinton first as the devil. …. So by comparison to being the, you know, Lucifer, that's probably a step up for Hillary. But you saw it in his attacks on the Khan family. I mean his tweet was, "They've attacked me. How can I not respond?" You don't normally hear a presidential candidate figure that they have to respond to literally everything that's said to them or about them. That's change, but the frequency with which he's saying things that are false has gotten larger, faster, bigger almost by the day.
FRIEDMAN I think, you know, one thing that I've noticed is that there's been, I think, more media and public discussion of these questions recently. Only in the last few weeks. I think one kind of turning point was at the Democratic convention when Michael Bloomberg stood up and at the end of his speech he said, "Let's elect a sane, competent person." And I think that that kind of public full-throated argument for electing one candidate and not another kind of created a situation in which it became more of an open discussion. I will say that, you know, there is a tendency here to conflate a question about his mental health and -- with questions about his policy ideas. And I think that can sometimes be distracting in a way. You know, I think until recently there was a lot of discussion of these are good or bad policy ideas. Now, it's become more a question of mental health. But there are also real policy issues that he's been voicing that need to be debated, whether you agree with them or not.
LEE Well, to add to that, the Democrats love this conversation. This is their core argument. And they're feeling it. If anything, you know, the -- Hillary Clinton's main calling card this -- from now until November is that he's unstable, he's irrational and to the extent that you can create a narrative in politics and the person you're creating the narrative about can play into the narrative, it just makes it more effective.