CNN debate: Is the president mentally ill or what?

Put me down for what. As part of last night’s coverage of Donald Trump’s rally in Phoenix, CNN offered expert mental-health professionals Don Lemon and James Clapper to discuss their diagnoses of the president. First, Lemon provided his solo assessment of Trump’s sanity:

Someone who came out on stage and lied directly the American people and left things out that he said in an attempt to rewrite history, especially when it comes to Charlottesville.

He’s unhinged, it’s embarrassing and I don’t mean for us, the media because he went after us, but for the country. This is who we elected president of the United States. A man who is so petty that he has to go after people who he deems to be his enemy, like an imaginary friend of a 6-year-old.

His speech was without thought, it was without reason, it was devoid of facts, it was devoid of wisdom. There was no gravitas. There was no sanity there. He was like a child blaming a sibling on something else. He did it, I didn’t do it.

Afterward, noted clinician and ethicist James Clapper joined Lemon in a balanced discussion:

“I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it,” Clapper told CNN’s Don Lemon on “CNN Tonight.” …

“How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?”

“He should have quit while he was ahead after last night,” Clapper referring to Trump’s announcement on US strategy in Afghanistan. “Again, I think the real Trump came through.” …

“In a fit of pique he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there’s actually very little to stop him,” Clapper said. “The whole system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary. So there’s very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary.”

It’s unclear why this would come up now, during last night’s rally in Phoenix, which CNN and every other cable net made sure to cover live in its entirety, as opposed to any other Donald Trump rally during the campaign … which CNN and every other cable net also made sure to cover live. News outlets seemed pretty happy to provide Trump a national platform then, for the same reason they’re doing so now — ratings. Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t changed at all during these rallies except to become a little less stream-of-consciousness. Now that Trump won, he’s been largely consistent in his rallies, but the media has gone from carnival hucksters to shrieking hysterics. Any reasonable observer might question mental fitness in this situation, but not Trump’s.

Clapper also wondered why people show up to these rallies to listen to Trump’s rhetoric. That’s quite an indictment from a man who repeatedly misled Congress and the American people about the extent of domestic surveillance taking place in the US until the theft of evidence from the NSA exposed him. Part of the reason why people chose an outsider was precisely because of the failure of the “normals” like Clapper on the inside of government to be truthful, honest, and law-abiding. That doesn’t make Trump right, of course, but CNN’s use of Clapper as an expert on fitness for office is akin to having Bill Clinton cluck his tongue about the impact of sexual harassment in the workforce or the corrosive nature of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Basically, Trump was Trump last night, but that has its ups and downs too. On the downside, Trump tried a little historical revisionism last night about his remarks on Charlottesville, part of which got Lemon so annoyed. In reciting his initial comments, Trump excised his ad-libbed “on many sides, on many sides” that stoked the initial controversy (starting at 1:20 in the video):

That’s intellectually dishonest, but this is a rally, not a Congressional hearing. It’s certainly not crazy, nor does that make him mentally unfit for office. Politically, it’s all fair game for 2020, but that’s not what Lemon or Clapper were discussing; they were hinting at a 25th Amendment solution to the “nightmare” they helped create. It’s rallies like these that convinced Americans that he was fit for this office — and cable nets like CNN who promoted the rallies and provided him the media attention to amplify his rhetoric. Opposing him is certainly an option, but don’t try to pretend that anything’s changed since Day One of the Trump campaign. For better or worse.

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