Thursday, June 15, 2017

Our Unpredictable President

Two stories that underscore the confusion generated in Washington by the Trump administration's inability to maintain a coherent policy on anything. First Trump held a meeting yesterday in which he told 15 Senators that the House health care bill stinks:
One source said Trump called the House bill “mean, mean, mean” and said, “We need to be more generous, more kind.” The other source said Trump used a vulgarity to describe the House bill and told the senators, “We need to be more generous.”
Of course that's the same bill that he celebrated in a Rose Garden ceremony when it passed the House. "A great plan," he called it. I'm very happy that Trump now finds the bill mean, which I think is a good description, but I think if I were a Republican Senator I might be a tad frustrated right now.

And then back to news from Qatar. You may recall that a few days ago Trump was calling Qatar a major supporter of terrorism and supporting the Saudi-led blockade of the country.
Qatar will sign a deal to buy as many as 36 F-15 jets from the U.S. as the two countries navigate tensions over President Donald Trump’s backing for a Saudi-led coalition’s move to isolate the country for supporting terrorism.

Qatari Defense Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah and his U.S. counterpart, Jim Mattis, completed the $12 billion agreement on Wednesday in Washington, according to the Pentagon.

The sale “will give Qatar a state of the art capability and increase security cooperation and interoperability between the United States and Qatar,” the Defense Department said in a statement.
This seems like a case of the Defense Department just ignoring the president and carrying on as if Obama or Bush were still in charge. Will Trump notice? If so, what will he do?


G. Verloren said...

So under what circumstances are we allowed to force Number 45 to submit to psychological evaluation? Because at this point I'm really struggling to entertain the possibility that the man is somehow not suffering from dementia. The signs are all there, and all chillingly familiar to those who have seen them in clinically diagnosed individuals.

Heck, while I'm asking questions that probably don't have good answers, why don't we require all our presidents to undergo psychological screening regardless of their age or outwardly visible evidence of sickness?

We have our astronauts get psychologically evaluated on the basis that their job is highly important, stressful, and an expensive use of taxpayer money. So why don't we care at all about testing the mental state of our foremost international representative, the Commander In Chief of our entire military, and the person in charge of the nuclear button? The worst an unhinged astronaut can do is get themselves killed and destroy expensive government property. A mentally unstable president can do so much, much worse.

Shadow Flutter said...

And what supra-constitutional authority will make the decision that this candidate can't run for office because he or she is too disturbed? Requiring an astronaut to undergo a psychological evaluation works because its apolitical and a relatively simple thing to implement. Requiring a presidential candidate to undergo a psychological evaluation isn't, even if you could solve the supra-constitutional authority problem. It's political by its very nature. All it would do is cause more division. Everyone knew what Trump was like; it's not like he started exhibiting this behavior after he was elected. For different reasons enough people voted for him, despite his behavioral quirks, to elect him.

I think it highly likely other presidents have expressed privately their own displeasure with a bill they've publicly lauded, so I don't see anything different or unusual here, except that it was leaked by either another republican or the president himself. The amount of leaking, in my opinion, shows the level of anger and disrespect his own people and his own party have for him, unless, of course, he's leaking himself, and I sometimes wonder about that. Trump loves media attention even bad media attention. For him fame and infamy equate. He hates it when everyone is talking about someone other than himself. Perhaps he's brought John Miller out of mothballs, and many of the leaks are being leaked by his alter ego. Disturbed? Certainly. Disqualifying? I doubt it.

G. Verloren said...

@Shadow Fluttter

How is denying the dangerously mentally ill from taking office political?

If one party or the other put a candidate up for election who gets psychologically evaluated and disqualified on the grounds that they suffer from, say, paranoid delusions, then the party in question would just pick a different candidate.

We already impose other restrictions and requirements on candidates. Why isn't the required age of 35 years considered political? It clearly discriminates against the politics of young people. Why isn't the requirement for having been a resident in the country for at least 14 years political? It clearly discriminates against the cosmopolitan politics of people with dual citizenships who split their time living between different countries.

How would introducing a requirement for psychological evaluation be "supra-constitutional"? We can simply change the constitution legally.

We've done it before! The twenty-second amendment introduced the two term limit. And just a few years ago during Obama's presidency, the Birther movement inspired Republicans to propose both state and federal legislation which sought to require presidential candidates to release their birth certificates and provide proof of citizenship.

There's really nothing stopping us from introducing a new requirement for presidential candidates to undergo psychological evaluation, in addition to meeting the other requirements already in place. We absolutely can make that change, if only we decide we want to.

Or we can just continue to allow any psychopath at all to be eligible to be the person who ends up runing our country - so long as they're not only 34 years old or younger, or have only been a resident in this country for 13 or fewer years!

I mean, could you even imagine the damage that might be caused by a 29 year old candidate who spent the first 20 years of their life living abroad in England? Heaven forbid!

Shadow Flutter said...

Well, yes, you could change the constitution legally, and that would solve that problem, and good luck with that. Why isn't 35 considered political? Probably because age is a counting exercise. Two terms? Another counting exercise. You are either under 35 or not. You've either served two terms or you haven't. You either have a birth certificate or you don't. Binary decisions one and all.

Now let's look at what you propose -- anything but simple or binary.

First, there are the gradations. Some bi-polar people are more bi-polar than others. Where's the dividing line? How do you codify that in law? Second, there are those with pathologies who function very well, some wildly succeeding in society, in business, in science, and in politics. Why rule them out? Not to mention it begs the question: Are you really ill if you succeed? Third, the science of psychology is not the science of physics. Psychologists are not exploring nature's laws but the complexities of the human mind. It's a science that seems as dependent upon opinion as it is upon research. You mention the psychopath, yet it is the psychopath who is best equipped to go unnoticed until he or she strikes.

This is a very slippery slope you want to go down. Like I said, anyone could see how Trump would act as president based on his behavior as candidate. They elected him anyway. Perhaps it is the voter who should have to pass a psychological test? How do you feel about that?

G. Verloren said...

@Shadow Flutter

Require people to be psychologically screened to be eligible to vote? Sounds great in principle! Why would we allow people who are demonstrably mentally unstable to influence how the country is run?

Now, maybe you're terrified of the possible potential for abuse. That I could understand. Which is why the system would need to be tuned in such a way that it requires you to meet reasonably high thresholds to render you ineligible. Innocent until proven guilty, and all that. The dividing line you speak of simply needs to be set at a high bar, not a low one.

It boggles my mind the way our society seems to view rules and laws. What's the point of requiring candidates to be 35 years old? Why does that rule exist? What meaningful good is achieved by enforcing that restriction? It seems pretty arbitrary and pointless.

In contrast, there's a perfectly good and obvious reason to propose psychological evaluation of presidents: it's unbelieveably dangerous to allow a mentally ill person to take the single most important and powerful office in our entire country, and we ought to take at least some measures seeking to prevent that from coming to pass. But because it's not already an accepted rule, people reject it?

Why? For what logical reason? It's clearly a vastly better rule than the one about having to be 35 years old - and yet no one complains about the age restriction! Why is the senseless rule unopposed, but the sensible one gets rejected out of hand?

We require people who want to own automobiles to register their vehicles, obtain a license, and to submit proof of insurance. But we then turn around and let people who want to own firearms do so without registering the weapons, without obtaining a license, and without having to have insurance of any kind.

Why? It makes no sense! Why do we more heavily restrict the owning of machines that are designed to safely move people and objects from Point A to Point B, than we do the owning of machines that are designed solely to kill?

There are places in this country where you need one form of ID to buy a gun, but you need two forms of ID to pay for that gun with a check. Why?!? How is it remotely sane that, as a society, we care more about the possibility of people writing bad checks than we do about the possibility of guns falling into dangerous hands?

If you want to own a device whose entire raison d'être is destruction, I'm gonna need some pretty firm assurances that it won't end up being used to destroy human life. Our current system is absurdly permissive, and directly contributes to our nation's absurdly high firearm mortality rates. Why are we so very accepting of gun violence destroying human lives, and so very against precuationary regulations and restrictions would which help to prevent such violence? Why do we care more about a person's ability to easily obtain a gun than we do about preventing people from being shot to death? What lunacy is this?

In the same vein, if you want to be the person who is in charge of the nuclear button, I'm gonna need some pretty firm assurances that you're mentally fit and your judgement is sound and uncompromised. Submitting to an independent, bi-partisan, transparent, carefully overseer psychological evaluation process should be the bare minimum we accept for anyone who wants to be in a position to decide if we start World War III or not.

But no - people in this country literally care more about insisting on seeing your long form birth certificate than they do about ensuring you're not mentally disturbed, before they'll let you be president. Talk about insane priorities.

Shadow Flutter said...

Evaluate presidential candidates and disqualify them if the evaluators suspect a pathology? Sounds great in principle.

Ah, G, now we've come to that place where we don't disagree on content so much as we do on outlook. You're the perpetual optimist while I'm the perpetual skeptic. Where you see only good, I see unintended consequences, those pesky side effects we sometimes ignore when we're eager to implement a solution we hope will solve a pesky problem. Problem is the damage caused by side-effects sometimes dwarfs the good intentions. Psychiatry is involved in the politics of the now, and I see those who distrust it distrusting any Board of Approval populated by psychiatrists who can deny them their candidate.

As to the 35-year-old question. I have no idea. But thinking out loud, how's a 10-year-old sound? Not so good. 18? Not really. 25? Oh, that still sounds a little young to me. Not enough experience. 30. Well, maybe. Still a little light on experience, though. 35? Yeah, I can settle on that. Why does no one complain? Probably because its been around for ever, and it just IS!

Gun and firearm regulations? Things would be quite different now if not for the 2nd amendment. I suspect your idea of good firearms' regulations and mine differ. I would like a gun owner to demonstrate proficiency before being granted a firearm -- ability to shoot straight, understand impact zones, be able to take a gun apart and put it back together without shooting himself, and, of course, knowing how to keep a gun from children, even 35-year-old children. But requiring such a thing is probably unconstitutional.

G. Verloren said...

@Shadow Flutter

I can understand your concerns that introducing psychological evaluation would be highly contentious and controversial, and it would be hard to devise a system that works, is fair, and which pleases people regardless of their politics. That's a very difficult balance to strike, and there would indeed be a lot of potential pitfalls to be wary of.

But what's the alternative? Do nothing? Trust that the "wisdom of the masses" will prevail? Trust that crazy candidates will never manage to get meaningful numbers of votes? That the average person is educated enough to be able to recognize dangerous mental illness, and rational enough to not vote for someone anyway because of emotional reasons? We just witnessed half of America vote for a man who is at best a transparently immoral conman, and at worst a full blown lunatic. We're the laughingstock of the free world, our allies are deeply embarassed of us, and our enemies are toasting to our confusion. Clearly the "do nothing" option isn't working.

You argue against psychiatric evaluation on the basis that people can be high-functioning, and that people voting for them anyway is evidence of their being successful and fit for office. But that naively assumes people are rational actors, and not the emotional animals that they are.

Apply your argument to the other regulations. Why do we feel the need to codify a minimum age? Why not do what we currently do for the potentially mentally ill, and just leave it to voters to decide for themselves whether someone is too young to have in office?

Defending something on the basis of tradition alone is madness. I don't care if a rule has been on the books since the 18th century, what I care about is does the rule make sense. And so far as I can see, there's not really much logic behind allowing a 35 year old to become president, but disqualifying a 33 year old.

That's the sort of arbitrary nonsense that doesn't really solve anything. Presumably the idea behind the age limit is to ensure that only truly capable people ever achieve the office - but there's logically nothing stopping a 20 year old from being every bit as capable a president as a 50 year old. If ever there was an area to leave the decision up to the voters, the age of the candidate is probably it.

But mental illness is a different beast entirely. I absolutely do not want a president who suffers from dementia, or paranoid delusions, or egomania. These are qualities that, in and of themselves, make a person unfit for office. And yet we just elected a man who may very well possess all three of them.

It'd be another thing entirely if I was arguing for introducing a maximum age restriction. Requiring all candidates to be younger than, say, 60 years old, on the grounds that this will help us avoid electing someone with age-related mental illness, would be equally as a flawed way of approaching the problem. Just as the fact that someone is only 20 years old doesn't automatically mean they must be incapable because of inexperience, so too does the fact that someone is 80 years old not automatically mean they must be incapable becuase of mental sickness.

But a confirmed diagnosis of something like dementia does, in fact, automatically mean that a person is incapable, and therefor unfit for office. There's no dispute to be had, unless you want to argue that the diagnosis itself is wrong. But if people agree that "Yes, this candidate undeniably suffers from this or that mental illness", then clearly that candidate should not be allowed in office.