Jeffrey D. Sachs, Bandy X. Lee, and Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Project Syndicate | March 25, 2019
President Donald Trump’s growing rages may partly be the result of
cognitive decline, suggested, for example, by his deteriorating ability
to form complete sentences, use complex words, and maintain a
coherent train of thought. What is certain is that Trump is putting the
world at risk.
NEW YORK – Mental health professionals and others have been trying to
warn the public about the dangers of US President Donald Trump since
his election. Trump’s extreme narcissism, sadism, lack of empathy, and admiration for despots are on
daily display. Some may wish to see him as a self-absorbed
clown, but he is a clear and present danger to the world who must be
prevented from leading (or misleading) it to disaster.
With the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the dangers
have greatly multiplied. While we have not seen the actual text – only a
version of it rendered by the president’s political ally, US Attorney
General William Barr – Mueller’s purported
conclusion that Trump did not collude with Russian President Vladimir
Putin will likely embolden Trump to attack. What makes the Mueller claim
especially disastrous is the reality of tacit collusion staring us in
the face. Trump ran his 2016 campaign while
secretly trying to score a real-estate mega-deal in Moscow (and, as
usual, lying about it to the public). He publicly
opined on canceling sanctions against Russia while pursuing this deal.
Trump will feel enabled in his vindictiveness and delusions of grandeur. In recent weeks, Trump repeatedly taunted
a dead US senator and uttered not a word of regret for the 50 Muslim worshipers
slaughtered in New Zealand by a white supremacist who referred specifically to him in a
manifesto justifying the massacre. When criticized, Trump spends days raging against his foes on Twitter.
He uses rallies and other public occasions to model a politics that
regards humanitarianism and compassion as weaknesses rather than
fundamental human values.
Trump’s growing rages may partly be the result of cognitive decline. Over time, for example,
his ability to form complete sentences, use complex words, and maintain a coherent train of thought appears to have
eroded. There is documented history of his father’s dementia.
What is certain is that Trump is putting the world at risk. He has now withdrawn from two nuclear treaties, one
with Iran that was agreed to by the entire UN Security
Council, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia,
in place since 1988. His absurdly incompetent diplomacy with North Korea
lies in tatters, with that country now
warning of a new round of nuclear tests.
Under Trump, the US government, alone among all 193 United Nations member countries, has repudiated
the global effort to combat climate change, leaving Americans without sane leadership as climate
crises grow in intensity. His response to Hurricane Maria, which left more than 3,000 dead in Puerto Rico, was one of contempt
for and neglect of the victims, as was his response to the mega-fires that ravaged
California last year, claiming dozens of lives, and to the mega-floods now causing catastrophic
losses throughout the Midwest.
Trump’s worldview is echoed by white extremists around the world. Data show a surge in hate crimes in
the US since the day after his election, including a doubling in the number of killings
by white supremacists, as well as widespread schoolyard bullying in his name and a record
number of mass shootings and gun
murders. The mass murderer in the Pittsburgh synagogue, the “pipe
bomber” who sought to assassinate major Democrats, and the recent mosque shooter in
Christchurch, New Zealand, are all examples of the influence of Trump’s
echo chamber of violence. During his campaign, he famously boasted that
he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and
not “lose any voters.” Since then, he has repeatedly endorsed violent
behavior through taunts, incitement, and, most recently, a warning that
his armed followers could spring into action upon his command.
This type of sadistic leader-follower relationship has cost millions of
lives in the past and plunged countries into war and ruin. But it has
never before played out in a country with thousands of nuclear weapons
and troops in more than 100 countries around
the world. Yet, even now, many continue to mistake Trump’s attraction
to violence as mere political
tactics, rather than the product of a deranged mind.
Since the start of his administration, Trump has followed the
authoritarian playbook by attempting to rule by decree, most recently
through his reckless
declaration of emergency powers to build a wall on the US border with Mexico. He must be stopped before he launches a war, perhaps with Venezuelaor
with Iran, or before his armed
backers step up violence against his political opponents.
The 2020 campaign could easily devolve into street violence at Trump’s
This assessment – and Trump’s own behavior – implies five steps that should be taken without delay.
First, the House of Representatives should start impeachment hearings. Trump is responsible for the same campaign
finance illegalities that are sending his erstwhile lawyer,
Michael Cohen, to prison. He has repeatedly and recklessly broken
finance and tax laws through money
laundering, the false valuations of assets, and chronic underpayment
of taxes. The public release of the full Mueller report may add further grounds for impeachment.
Second, Congress should urgently reclaim the clear and unambiguous
constitutional right to declare war. Sadly, Congress has effectively ceded
this authority to the executive branch. Yet the authority to
launch a war, especially in the case of a nuclear-armed power, must
never be entrusted to only one person. That would be true even if the US
had a sane president.
Third, mental health experts must fulfill their responsibility to protect society’s health and safety by
explaining publicly, where necessary, that Trump is not just a conniving politician, or a forceful leader, but a mentally
unstable individual capable of creating widespread harm. It is both their right and their professional
obligation to bring critical information that enables lawmakers to protect the country.
Fourth, the media need to go beyond covering Trump’s mood of the day to
covering his mental instability. The real story is not just that Trump
lies relentlessly, or that he is cruel and bigoted, but that he is a threat
Lastly, Americans need to organize politically to prevent another
election debacle in 2020, perhaps one that Trump will try to stoke
of fraud and calls to his followers to violate the rules of democracy.
is not impeached (as he should be), every effort must be made to
preserve democracy and protect society from his destructiveness.