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.