Category Archives: John F. Kennedy

Profile in Courage?

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It is not surprising that Barack Obama won the annual Profiles in Courage award. Supposedly, the recipient is chosen by “a bi-partisan committee named by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which includes members of the Kennedy family and other prominent Americans.” Call me cynical, but I suspect that the “bi-partisan committee” is merely a facade meant to conceal the reality that the Kennedy family alone chooses the winner. Even though there now seems to be a consensus among Kennedy scholars and journalists that Ted Sorenson really wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Profiles in Courage, the Kennedys, nevertheless, own the phrase.

Could the Kennedys really believe that Obama is worthy of an award for exceptional courage, or is it merely politics as usual? To be sure, it does seem to take some courage to even think about running for president, but it also takes an abnormal level of ambition. Such a person must experience grandiose fantasies and/or be a masochist. Who else but a masochist with overweening ambition would submit to the endless travel, the rubber chicken dinners, the constant ass-kissing, the obsessive fund raising and all the other tedious and humiliating things that one must do to run for president. An obvious example of the humiliation is that candidates must undergo having every detail of their past revealed, examined, and judged. Since most of the media is Democratic, Republicans have to be especially masochistic, although Democrats do fear Fox News and a few of the popular conservative talk radio stars. And think of the humiliation one must suffer at the hands of the late night comedians and Saturday Night Live. In other words, you must be more than a little crazy (and not necessarily courageous) to run for president.

I don’t think the Kennedys were thinking of Obama as a candidate when they decided to award him for courage, so it must have been President Obama who, they believed, was extraordinarily courageous. Here are the examples of Obama’s courage according to the Kennedys: “It’s about understanding the challenges we face as a country and as a planet and mustering the political will to do what is right even if what is right at that moment isn’t necessarily popular,” said Joseph Kennedy III. That sounds awfully vague, but his mentioning of the “planet” is clearly about the environment and global warming. But where’s the evidence that concern about global warming is not popular? According to a very recent poll by Gallup, 62% of Americans believe global warming is taking place now, and the number of citizens who are concerned about it is at an all time high. Not only that, but global warming is a very big concern for most of those in the coalition of voters who twice elected Obama president .

Another example, cited by Caroline Kennedy, of Obama’s courage (as is usual with the Kennedys) has more to do with the Kennedys than Obama. I am talking about the endless self-serving rhetoric about carrying on the torch: “President Kennedy called on a new generation of Americans to give their talents to the service of the country. With exceptional dignity and courage, President Obama has carried that torch into our time, providing young people of all backgrounds with an example they can emulate in their own lives.”  Finally, the Affordable Care Act is thrown in to support Obama’s grace under pressure.

To me political courage means taking risks that may be unpopular but also could disastrously fail. It took some courage to order the attack on bin Laden’s compound, for it could have resulted in the deaths of American soldiers, and have failed to achieve the objective of capturing or killing bin Laden. Now that would have been unpopular. Think of Jimmy Carter’s attempt to rescue the hostages held by the Iranians. Although the failure badly damaged Carter’s chances of re-election (such as they were), it still took political courage. Jack Kennedy was courageous in ordering the Bay of Pigs invasion, but he then lost his nerve when the operation went wrong. That catastrophic lack of political courage allowed the Soviets to believe they could get away with installing missiles in Cuba. But Kennedy was courageous in standing up to the Soviet challenge, even though he surrendered much in order to end the crisis. So the bin Laden operation is the only example of Obama’s courage that I can think of, and that went unmentioned by the Kennedys, probably because it involved military action.

In reality, Obama was the most  politically risk averse president in my lifetime. Everything he did both at home and abroad was carefully tailored to please his constituency. That constituency is avidly opposed to any sort of military action that lasts more than a few hours. Thus, Obama did not follow through on any of the “red lines” he drew on the war in Syria. And whenever he was forced by circumstances to commit a few soldiers to battle, he did it as quietly and unobtrusively as possible. I suspect that many, if not most, Americans are unaware of the presence today of American soldiers in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. That is because Obama wanted it that way:  He spoke loudly whenever he withdrew soldiers from war zones but said nothing when soldiers were going the other way. So while I give Obama credit for courage in ordering the bin Laden raid, I see absolutely no evidence of courage in anything else he did; in fact, I see much evidence of his aversion to risk, which is the opposite of courage. Obama’s award is all about politics, not courage. The Kennedys supported Obama when he was a candidate; the award means that they continue to support him.

Speaking of courage, I have noticed over the years that many Democrats believe it an act of courage merely to be openly supportive of their party. Such people also usually believe that fascism is about to descend on the United States. But what can Democrats possibly be afraid of when almost all of the media, the entertainment industry, and most importantly, the education system (from elementary to graduate school)  are owned and operated by Democrats? Still such fantasies are impossible to dispel. As Tom Wolfe once wrote: The dark night of fascism is always descending on America and yet lands only in Europe.

 

 

Trump Nervous Disorder

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With apologies to the late Art Linkletter (Who remembers him?), people say and write the funniest things. The funniest are those that are unintentionally funny. A couple of articles, one in the magazine of The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the other an op-ed piece in the New York Times assert that the election of Donald Trump to the presidency is causing major, clinical depression with anxiety among at least half of the U.S. population. If that isn’t unintentionally funny, I don’t know what is. The Times’s weighing in on the idea of mass depression and anxiety over Trump guarantees that the rest of the media will follow up with front page pieces of their own; tv news, talk tv and radio will follow. Thus a “crisis” is born.

The source for the idea of what might be called Trump Nervous Disorder is the mental health community. The members of that profession at least can’t say that Trump didn’t do anything for them; business must be booming, which usually makes for a sense of well being, not depression. So I doubt that they are suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. They must sleep very well at night with Mr. Trump in the White House.

The JTA article begins with “The text messages started pouring in at 6:30 a.m., as Tracey Rubenstein was getting her kids ready for school. By the end of the day, the Boca Raton, Florida-based social worker had spoken to most of her clients…They were shocked, disappointed, sad and scared.” The reason:  It was the morning after the election. Rubenstein claimed that “This is anxiety on a national level, on a level of existential crisis [My emphasis] for some people of national identity.” It’s an apocalypse!

Seriously, isn’t that a bit much? After all, Ms. Rubenstein practices social work in one of the richest neighborhoods in the country, where most of the residents are retired. They thus have a great deal of time on their hands, after their daily round of golf, to think about such things. In addition, research on retirees has found that retirement greatly increases one’s risk of clinical depression and anxiety, by as much as forty percent. Now that’s a crisis, at least for those who suffer from depression as well as the medical system that must treat the ever- growing number of elderly people.

The article goes on citing the opinions of various “mental health workers” and victims of Trump disorder, as well as well as a novelist. It ends where it began, with the Boca-Raton social worker who says, “I think there’s something very extraordinary going on with this president, and I don’t want to normalize erratic behavior, or behavior that’s not grounded in reality, or policies that are openly discriminatory or harmful [My emphasis].” Ms Rubenstein’s last phrase is partisan, not scientific. Rather than taking these complaints seriously, Rubenstein should advise her patients to join the club: Those who are politically engaged are always unhappy when their candidate loses; they may even experience some very mild depression for a while. Besides anyone being treated by a “mental health professional” has “issues” that pre-date an election.

The New York Times op-ed says pretty much the same as the one cited above: “‘So much is coming at us,’ said Sue Elias, a psychotherapist in New York City. ‘There’s a chronic sense of anxiety among my patients that I have never seen before.'” One psychiatrist cited, “A couple of patients…[who] were incredibly stressed and embarrassed to tell friends they had voted for Trump, as they felt they would lose their friendship…”  So this is a bi-partisan crisis, although the mental illness, unsurprisingly, afflicts more Democrats than Republicans, 26 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats.

Personally, I am concerned about Trump for many of the same reasons that trouble the people suffering from Trump Nervous Disorder. But I have never been depressed and anxious over who is president. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama and consider him to be devious, nasty, untruthful, and intellectually overrated; but he never made me feel depressed because I believe that whoever is president usually doesn’t matter that much. The President of the United States is often called “the most powerful man in the world,” but all that really means is that the United States is the most militarily powerful nation in the world. In reality, the president’s powers are relatively weak when it comes to domestic policy because both Congress and the courts have the power to thwart the president’s policies. The only time a president has domestic power is when his or her party controls Congress with a veto-proof majority, and even then he can be stymied by factions within his party, as we have recently seen when the so-called Freedom Caucus of Republicans killed the Republican health care bill. The real power of the Presidency is in foreign affairs, but even that is limited, as we have seen, when an unelected judge halted Trump’s immigration policy despite the fact that immigration policy has always been considered an executive branch responsibility. Although Congress has the constitutional power to declare war, that power has not been used for a long time. Still there is always tremendous pressure on the President to get a vote of approval from the Senate when he commits troops to battle.

To be sure, there have been times when the occupant of the White House had a powerful emotional impact on people, and it is always during or immediately after catastrophic events. The country was lucky to have Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II.  His sunny disposition and self-confidence made people feel that better times were on the way, even during the war. We were also lucky to have Eisenhower in office after the Depression, World War II, and Korea. His even temperament and low-keyed manner made it possible for the country to return to normality after the terrible events that preceded his administration.

Most historians revere Abraham Lincoln, but I have always felt ambivalent about him. Undoubtedly he was a brilliant speech writer and politician, but I find it hard to accept the idea that the Civil War was necessary. I find it hard to believe that slavery in America would have continued into the 20th century. All of the civilized Western nations had pretty much banned slavery and the slave trade before the Civil War. The South must have realized that slavery’s days were numbered because of anti-slavery public opinion among the Western nations as well as the advent of new technology. The South’s stubbornness was based on their strong aversion to being dictated to by Washington. Given that, I often wonder whether the deaths of more than 600,000 young men was worth it (6 million in today’s population). Regardless of whom one voted for in that election, I think it would have been completely normal to have been very anxious about the Lincoln presidency.

Finally, there were other popular presidents about whom we should have been anxious and worried, but weren’t. John F. Kennedy’s  recklessness and indecisiveness in the Bay of Pigs invasion set off a series of events that eventually led to both the brink of nuclear war over Cuba and the Vietnam War. And we now know that he was a very sick man, and a philanderer. However, the only time Kennedy made me anxious was during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that had more to do with the fear of nuclear war, not Kennedy himself.

You can certainly make a case against Nixon, Bill Clinton, George W, Bush, and Barack Obama. We knew that Nixon was an angry, perhaps unstable man, that Bill Clinton was a womanizer (making him a prime target for blackmail), that Bush was perhaps not that smart, and that Obama was inexperienced. Still, there were no reports of mass depression over their elections and during the controversies of their administrations.

Many have strongly criticized Trump’s reference to what he calls “fake news.” The media characterized that as a major part of what they portentously called Trump’s effort to undermine the news media. That may be so, but the media’s attention paid to claims of a wave of mass clinical depression sweeping the country is a good example of either media gullibility or, yes, fake news. Still, it’s pretty amusing.

Is Trump Crazy?

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According to one survey, nearly half of American households has someone who has had psychotherapy, and more would do so if it weren’t for the cost or lack of insurance coverage. People who have experienced psychotherapy often become familiar with the various diagnoses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Perhaps that is why so many people–from the ordinary man or woman, to journalists, to talk radio and television personalities–have engaged in amateur psychoanalysis of Donald Trump. I always thought that it was considered unethical for psychotherapists to diagnose people without having personally examined them, but I read somewhere that analysis of one’s mental health via television is now acceptable. My view is that almost all public personalities carefully cultivate a public image that may or may not be what they are really like. I have to ask, are all these real and amateur psychoanalysts diagnosing the public image of Trump or the real Trump?

The persona Trump presents to the public is that of a flamboyant New York billionaire who lives in a flashy apartment, has constructed lots of fancy buildings and resorts, and has acquired beautiful, sexy wives. He wants to be known not only as a fabulously wealthy entrepreneur, but also as a talented television personality, and a generous philanthropist.  He has been for years a celebrity with a capital c. He is The Donald.

During the campaign and since taking office when his profile has been at its highest, Trump often has been profane, untruthful, insulting, vulgar, obsessively combative, inconsistent and more. Yet, ninety percent of Trump voters are optimistic about the next four years with Trump as president, found an Economist/YouGov survey of American voters, conducted on the eve of his inauguration. Is Trump really that person described above or is his persona since he began campaigning for the presidency merely a facade? Some journalists and psychiatrists claim to know, the journalists from having covered him over the years and the psychiatrists and psychologists, as I said, from observing him on television. However, I think any fair person (if there are any left in today’s environment) would conclude that it is actually impossible, except for those close to him, to know the real Trump.

One example that Trump’s image may be fabricated has to do with his refusal to release his tax returns. Some believe that the tax returns would reveal illegal activity that might then be grounds for impeachment. Although I am sure the returns would reveal that he took advantage of every deduction and loophole the law allows (as most people do), I think it highly unlikely that he did anything illegal. Trump is just the sort of public figure the IRS  loves to go after, and Trump and his accountants certainly know it. I would guess (yes, it’s only a guess) that Trump refuses to release his tax returns because they would reveal that he is not really a billionaire, only a multi-millionaire. Being one of the relatively few billionaires in the country is perhaps, in Trump’s mind, an integral part of his image. However, (if it’s true) that doesn’t mean he’s crazy.

If Trump’s image has been a carefully constructed facade, he would certainly not be a unique figure among most other famous people, even among former presidents. When Harry Truman was in office, he had a public image as a profane former haberdasher. His supporters called it “plain speaking.” Much was made of his lack of a college education, which meant to many of the educated middle class that he was ignorant. I doubt that Truman’s image was one that he created; I think he was a president who didn’t care about such things. Years later we learned that Truman was an avid reader of serious books, despite his lack of a college degree. Author and professor Thomas Sowell speculated that, despite Democratic presidential candidate and former Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson’s (perhaps contrived) image as an intellectual, Truman probably read more widely than Stevenson.

As I wrote in a former post, President Eisenhower, wishing to return the country to normalcy after the cataclysmic events of the first half of the 20th Century, appeared to be a relaxed executive. In truth, he was deeply concerned about the Cold War and avoiding another hot war, a war that would probably result in a nuclear exchange.

John F. Kennedy has often been called the first president to skillfully use television to project an image that was painstakingly fabricated. Kennedy was supposedly the embodiment of good health, youth, and vigor, whereas in fact, in historian Robert Dallek’s words, he “suffered from colitis, prostatitis, and a disorder called Addison’s disease, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and sodium. He also had osteoporosis of the lower back, causing pain so severe that he was unable to perform simple tasks such as reaching across his desk to pull papers forward, or pulling the shoe and sock onto his left foot.”

Dallek also reveals the drugs Kennedy took:

The medical records reveal that Kennedy variously took codeine, Demerol and methadone for pain; Ritalin, a stimulant; meprobamate and librium for anxiety; barbiturates for sleep; thyroid hormone; and injections of a blood derivative, gamma globulin, a medicine that combats infections.

During the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, Kennedy was taking steroids for his Addison’s disease, painkillers for his back, anti-spasmodics for his colitis, antibiotics for urinary tract infections, antihistamines for his allergies, and on at least one occasion, an anti-psychotic drug to treat a severe mood change that Jackie Kennedy believed was brought on by the antihistamines.

This deluge of drugs often had side effects, including grogginess or even depression. To treat this Kennedy took more still anti-anxiety medications.

Kennedy also cultivated the idea that he was a brilliant intellectual, but his Harvard grades were mediocre and his favorite author was Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

I believe the public images of Johnson, Nixon, and Ford pretty much corresponded to who they really were. Jimmy Carter cultivated the image of the common man by carrying his own luggage and wearing a sweater when addressing the public on television. Reagan played the cowboy who rode horses and cleared brush from his ranch.  Some historians consider Reagan’s real personality to be a puzzle, that it was impossible to know what he was really like. The public persona of the first Bush was genuine as, I think, was his son’s. I suspect Clinton’s image corresponds closely to the real man. He was known as a philanderer before he took office and being president didn’t change him. On the other hand, Obama, it has been said, is a brilliant thinker, writer, and speaker who is so intelligent and learned that, according to one presidential historian, he is the most intelligent president ever to have held the office. To me, that is utter nonsense.

And so we come to President Trump. As I have said in previous posts, Trump, I believe, created an image of a brash, plain-speaking, confrontational candidate who was nothing like the carefully coached politicians who never utter a word that hasn’t been vetted by focus groups and professional political advisers. Trump’s voters supported his proposals, his willingness to say what he really thinks, and his aggressive approach to the news media, which they consider biased as well.

I ask again, are the real and amateur psychoanalysts diagnosing the genuine Donald Trump or the fabricated, public Donald Trump?  The father of a relative of mine, an electrical engineer, actually worked for Trump on many of Trump’s buildings in New York. The other day, when I asked her what her father thought of Trump as an employer, she replied:

He liked him because he always paid him on time. He was very straightforward and could talk to anyone from the construction worker to the architect. He was the one who told my father he needed a hearing aid because my dad would ask him to repeat things in meetings all the time. The people who work in his office were very kind. A few of them came to the shivah for my Dad. They all had nice things to say about my Dad.

That doesn’t sound anything like the public Trump we have come to know. He comes across in my relative’s description as a responsible, personable, knowledgeable, and caring employer. He appears to be just the kind of employer one would like to work for.

Which Trump is the real Trump? My guess is that it’s not the Trump you see and hear on television.