(This is an update of a post I wrote almost four years ago. The basic premise is more valid today than it was then.)
Supporters of Donald Trump are trying to portray Joe Biden as a fumblin’, bumblin’ senile old man unfit to serve as president of the United States.
It’s hard to believe his supporters would take this tact given Trump’s inability to string two coherent sentences together without a Teleprompter in front of him, and his increasingly wild flights into fantasy—his latest one being the use of bleach and light to kill the coronavirus.
But politicians don’t know the meaning of the word hypocrisy, and this is the same playbook the Republicans used against Hillary Clinton four years ago. The party’s arm-chair doctors—none of whom had medical degrees or had ever seen Clinton’s medical records—concluded then she had Parkinson’s disease.
The speculation ramped up when she almost fainted at a 9/11 memorial event in 2016—caused by walking pneumonia, according to her doctor—and her opponents started imaging the symptoms from every misstep or anomaly.
Now, the Republicans zero in on Biden whenever he fumbles a statement or misstates something, but apparently it was okay for Trump to say the following at a Fourth of July speech:
“Our army manned the air, rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it was nothing but victory.”
Of course, there were no airplanes to fly or airports to take over during the Revolutionary War, and the rockets’ red glare over Fort McHenry, which inspired the “Star-Spangled Banner,” occurred during the War of 1812.
Trump blamed the statement on a faulty Teleprompter, not his addled mind. Whatever you say, Mr. President.
Anybody who has paid attention to the president’s utterances during the three plus years he’s been in office knows there’s nothing unique about this incident, reinforcing the notion that he may indeed have mental health issues. Certainly, he has been less than forthcoming about the state of his health.
When Trump was a candidate for president, he promised to release a full medical report on his health. He tried to settle the issue in December 2015 with a hastily written letter from his long-time physician, Dr. Harold Bornstein, that was widely mocked and ridiculed. So Trump decided to try again with a more detailed letter based on a physical exam.
He used the syndicated television show of Dr. Mehmet Oz to reveal the information. Oz has been widely criticized over the years for his endorsement of questionable medical treatments, and members of the faculty at the New York University School of Medicine protested when administrators tried to hire Oz as an adjunct professor in 2016.
Oz is known to be a supporter of Republican candidates, and said before Trump’s appearance he wasn’t going to ask any embarrassing questions. That’s the kind of platform Trump needed to gloss over any medical problems he might have.
Trump’s medical report consisted of the standard lab and other tests people are given when they have a routine medical exam. The lab results reported by Bornstein put Trump in the acceptable range for men his age, and the doctor pronounced him to be in “excellent physical health.”
Bornstein said Trump is blessed with good genes because he father lived into his 90s and his mother lived into her 80s (he didn’t mention that Trump’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease in his late 80s), and reported The Donald had “extraordinary” strength and stamina, but provided no objective measurements to support the opinion.
The letter didn’t mention mental status or summarize any neurological exams, an area of concern given his erratic behavior since becoming president. He has a personal history that suggests we take a more careful look at his mental health.
Trump has a well documented history of philandering, both before and during his three marriages. He’s bragged about his playboy days and once told shock jock Howard Stern that avoiding venereal disease “was my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very proud soldier,” he said of the time he was deferred from military service because of a bone spur in one of his heels—he can’t remember which one.
But you never know—he may have never been as successful dodging VD as he’d like to believe. Syphilis, for example, can go undetected for long periods of time, slowing working its way into organs like the brain and the heart. When it gets into the brain, it can trigger unusual behavior: Inability to pay attention or concentrate, spur-of-the-moment outbursts or fits of anger, bizarre and reckless charges against other people.
Do those symptoms remind you of any president? Me too. I’ll remain skeptical of Trump’s mental health until I see the result of a rigorous neurological exam and evidence that he is free of venereal disease.