In 1905, Sigmund Freud wrote a book called “Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious” in which he made the case that humor was often a vehicle to express untellable truths. I thought of that when Senator Bob Corker tweeted that the White House is like an adult day care center with no one on duty. While Corker’s analogy may sound to some like a darkly comical sarcastic comeback to an attack by our uncorked President, the Freudian essence of the comment should give us all pause. Adult Day care centers are, of course, facilities that provide support and services to adults with severe mental impairments like Alzheimers Disease, and this is no laughing matter.
Since Mr. Trump took office, mental health professionals like myself have agonized over how to address the impairment that is so evident in the behavior of our President. We have wrapped ourselves up in debates about whether one can diagnose from afar, whether mental illness in itself disqualifies a President from fulfilling the duties of the office, whether we are compelled to speak up because of a duty to warn, whether we are prohibited from speaking up by our own ethics (the Goldwater Rule). All along the way, the wish was that someone in a position of authority would pay attention.
Enter Senator Corker, who has now placed himself centerstage in the moment of truth. He has spoken what everybody knows regarding the fact that the most powerful man in the world behaves like a man who has significant mental impairment, and he has stated that this man is steering us on a path to World War III. If he acknowledges the truth of his remarks, how can he not take action? Whether this is in the form of supporting impeachment proceedings or a 25th Amendment intervention due to presidential incapacity, inaction by one who is in a position to do something does not seem to me to be an option that such a person could live with.
Of course our human tendency to avoid, to ignore, to become complacent, and through our complacency to become complicit is one of humanity’s tragic flaws. There are so many reasons to pretend not to see what you see in front of you. Freud drew from Sophocles Oedipus to illustrate the way we learn to close our eyes to realities that disturb us. In fact, we probably couldn’t get by from day to day if we didn’t have this faculty, because life is full of disturbances that we can’t do anything about. So we read the newspaper, we sigh, and we turn the page.
At least, we try to do so until things get to the point that they compel our attention, disrupt our inertia, and force us to open our eyes. By that time, things are usually pretty out of hand. In our shrinking world, out of hand becomes a global existential threat.
I’ve been told by some that any legislative remedy requires more definitive proof of executive incompetence than we have been presented with so far, or more conclusive evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. Maybe. But it seems to me that such a position can also serve as a rationale to do nothing when doing something is , while uncertain in outcome, the better choice.
So I am hoping that Mr. Corker will take himself and his own tweets very seriously, and demonstrate the bravery that goes along with being a public servant in a position of power who has opened his eyes to something that requires the display of moral courage that has, sadly, been such a rare commodity for so many of our leaders who have been in a position to do something about the catastrophe that is the Trump Presidency.
This is an occasion to rise to, not to shrink from. Better to follow the example of Dunkirk than that of Munich, 1938. Our President is not capable of leading, and we need some real leadership if we are to successfully rescue ourselves.