Many of my friends are appalled by the bizarre behavior of President Trump. His press conferences seem like a class with a rambling, free-verse Beat poet who downed a few shots of tequila before teaching a graduate seminar on the American Constitution. His stream-of-consciousness Twittersburg Addresses rival a high school boy in their level of juvenile banality. Just recently a cantankerous older veteran of the New Left I was talking with said “Look, the other ones were awful but this one is crazy!”
Or is he? Sure, you could point to his current trip to the Middle East, with its mysterious orb-gripping ceremony, as definitive evidence that the president is off his rocker.
But without spilling too many personal details, I recognize Donald Trump’s behavior as something different: a textbook case of the attention deficit disorder that various family members, peers, and myself have been grappling with all my life. Psychologist George Sachs seconded this in an August 2016 column when he noted that Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter behind Donald Trump’s signature book, said that Trump “has the attention span of a 9 year-old with ADHD!”
“Now that got my attention,” Sachs wrote. “As a psychologist who specializes in working with children and adults with ADHD, I could not help but wonder if this assessment of Donald Trump — spoken almost off the cuff by a man who knows him well — actually helps explain the mystery behind much of Mr. Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail and beyond. The Merck Manual describes ADHD as “a syndrome of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. The 3 types of ADHD are predominantly inattentive, predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, and combined.”
“Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. Neurodevelopmental disorders are neurologically based conditions that appear early in childhood…and impair development of personal, social, academic, and/or occupational functioning… Neurodevelopmental disorders may involve dysfunction in attention, memory, perception, language, problem-solving, or social interaction… Behavioral history can reveal low frustration tolerance, opposition, temper tantrums, aggressiveness, poor social skills and peer relationships, sleep disturbances, anxiety, dysphoria, depression, and mood swings.”
Only in the past several years have we begun to understand just how strongly the disorder can impact a person’s life. For example, since the late-1990s medical literature has shown a causal link exists between ADHD and substance abuse, meaning that a child whose self-esteem is lowered because, say, his low attention span contributed to poor grades, could quickly turn to drugs and alcohol. This is because, among other things, the jolt that the brain takes from a hard night of boozing can temporarily mellow out the over-active brain and create a sense of normalcy.
In the case of the Cheeto Chief Executive, his addictive fix seems to be McDonald’s Big Macs. This can be attributed to the serotonin released when he eats one. Trump is on the record for having given up drinking — his brother Fred was an alcoholic and drank himself into an early grave — but he seriously looked high on something during several of the debates with Hillary Clinton, so he might self-medicate when the going got tough.
The medical literature points out these criteria for diagnosis of ADD:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty completing tasks
- Mood swings
- Difficulty in maintaining relationships [i.e. marriages]
- Does not pay attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork or with other activities
- Has difficulty sustaining attention on tasks at school or during play
- Does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Does not follow through on instructions or finish tasks
- Has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort over a long period of time
- Often loses things necessary for school tasks or activities
- Is easily distracted
- Is forgetful in daily activities
Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms:
- Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms [Tweet! Tweet!]
- Often leaves seat in classroom or elsewhere
- Often runs about or climbs excessively where such activity is inappropriate
- Has difficulty playing quietly
- Often on the go, acting as if driven by a motor
- Often talks excessively
- Often blurts out answers before questions are completed
- Often has difficulty awaiting turn
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others
The Merck Manual says treatment for ADHD usually includes “drug therapy with stimulant drugs, behavioral therapy, and educational interventions.” Given that Trump’s bizarre behavior may be the best chance we have to prevent his administration from implementing its loopiest policy goals, perhaps it’s best, if he does suffer from it, that he isn’t treated.