Can a Child Be President?

Richard Nixon in 1964

Richard Nixon meeting 10-year-old Jim Longworth in 1964

My dad was active in the Republican Party for most of his life, and counted Richard Nixon among his friends. When I was born in 1954, then-Vice President Nixon sent Dad a hand-written note, congratulating him on, “bringing another Republican into the world.” Ten years later Dad took me to meet Mr. Nixon. I told the famed politician that I had been his 1960 campaign manager at Moore elementary school, and that, thanks to me, he defeated JFK in our straw vote.

Nixon grinned, then placed his finger on my chin and said, “One day YOU’LL be president.” I never did become president. Nixon had lied. No big shock there.

Twenty-three years later in 1987, though, he made a similar promise to a young entrepreneur named Donald Trump. In that instance, Nixon’s prediction came true. I’m not bitter that Trump made it to the White House instead of me, but I am a bit confused about why.

As a politically astute ten-year-old, I knew that I was not qualified to be president because I was just a child. I was also pretty sure that you had to be an adult to get elected president. Yet Trump ended up in the White House by acting like a child, and now he’s governing in the same way. His behavior must send a confusing message to today’s children, many of whom get punished for name-calling, acting out, or for being rude, petulant and nasty. But it’s not just kids. A lot of adults are also confused by how a grown man can act and speak childishly, yet still be rewarded with the most powerful job in the world.

Last month Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times suggested that, based on his behavior, President Trump could be removed from office under the 25th Amendment, which elevates the vice president if the president is “incapacitated.” The columnist bases his opinion on a broad interpretation of the Amendment, by including mental or emotional incapacitation as a justification for removal. The fact is, talk of Trump’s instability has been escalating lately, and with good reason.

Throughout the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump displayed narcissistic and childish behavior that was unprecedented in American presidential politics. He mocked a disabled reporter. He suggested that a female debate moderator was mean to him because she was on her menstrual cycle. He called United States senators childish names like “Lyin’ Ted” and “Little Marco”, and referred to his opponent, a former secretary of State, as “Crooked Hillary.” And when Senator Elizabeth Warren was critical of his policies, he called her “Pocahontas”, and still does. Since taking office his Twitter storms have also been childish. He accused former President Brack Obama of wiretapping him. He questioned the ability of a judge just for having an Hispanic last name. And he declared that the news media is the enemy of the people, giving political cover to men like Congressman Greg Gianforte who recently body-slammed a reporter for asking a question about the healthcare bill.

In addition to displaying childish anger, Trump also has a child’s level of understanding for nearly every facet of government. And, just like the little boy bursting to tell a secret, Trump has, on at least two occasions, spilled classified information to our adversaries, first by revealing Middle East intel to the Russians, and more recently telling Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte where our nuclear subs were located.

President Trump also has trouble telling the truth. Last month he told a reporter that Trump University had an “A” rating from the Better Business Bureau, when in fact it had a “D” rating. Those kinds of statements go hand-in-hand with another childish trait. Little boys love to brag, and Trump is no exception. He talks about having the smartest Cabinet ever, the best people on staff, and the biggest crowd in the history of inaugurations. He also once said, “I know more about ISIS than the Generals.”

Beyond bragging, his unscripted remarks in general demonstrate definable immaturity. A recent report from the healthcare website STAT revealed that Trump’s language and cognitive abilities are at 3rd and 4th grade levels. The report also looked at data from the Flesch-Kincaid grade level test which documented Trump’s frequent use of derogatory words, like “idiots” and “losers”. His ability to read scripted texts aloud is also child-like. Just watch when he tries to read from notes or a TelePrompTer, as he struggles to properly speak or emphasize even the simplest words. Trump also lacks an ability to memorize and assimilate basic facts. For example, every time he emerges from a private meeting into a photo op session, he has to rely on note cards when summarizing what he just heard only moments before.

It is important to note that the STAT study observed a sharp decline in Trump’s cognition over the years, saying that in the 1980s and ’90s, he “demonstrated a more polished style of speech and extensive vocabulary.” Back then he also didn’t lash out with cruel insults at people he didn’t like, nor did he seem paranoid about everyone and everything. And that brings us back to whether our president is mentally, clinically, or emotionally incapacitated.

Last year I wrote a column about Narcissistic Personality Disorder as defined by the Mayo Clinic. According to that definition, Donald Trump displays every major symptom of NPD. Former FOX News chief Roger Ailes, a Trump supporter, told the National Review that Trump just needs to “grow up.” But that’s easier said than done, and may not be possible, especially if Trump’s capacities keep declining. Meanwhile, congressman Ted Lieu has proposed legislation which would require a psychiatrist to be attached to the White House, and free to monitor the mental health of the president. It’s probably a good idea.

Clearly Donald Trump has a problem, and so do we. The man who currently occupies the Oval Office and who has control of our nuclear arsenal:

  • angers easily,
  • is petulant and cruel,
  • is insensitive,
  • is detached from facts and reality,
  • is paranoid, narcissistic, and
  • has diminishing cognitive skills.

In other words, he is a man-child whose only qualifications for being president are that he’s over the age of 35, and he’s an American citizen.

Richard Nixon could not have known back in 1987 that Donald Trump would turn out this way, but in 2016, 63 million voters knew and didn’t seem to care. Nixon can be forgiven for his oversight. The 63 million voters cannot.


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