Why I’m Staying Quiet About Trump’s Mental State

Repeated photographs of Donald Trump, surrounded by text describing his actions (“impulsive, irrational, tense, volatile,” etc.)

Few people would like to see Donald Trump impeached more than I would. I am, after all, both a millennial and a Mexican woman. Unfortunately, with as much as I would genuinely enjoy seeing the Not-So-Great Pumpkin impeached, I’ve been growing concerned about the multiple articles and think pieces I’ve seen lately about one reason why this should happen.

List of headlines regarding Donald Trump’s debated mental health

I’m not going to publicly guess at Trump’s mental state. Why? To start with the obvious, I am in no way qualified to do so. The most I know about mental illness, other than my own personal experience with it, is that which I learned back in my high school psych class. (Not exactly concrete information to back up any hunches I might have.) Even if I was a trained professional, it would be highly unethical for me to be making such public claims for multiple reasons, only some of which involve the legality of that action.

Secondly, though, a much more important point I think we should talk about. We need to reevaluate how we think and talk about mental illness. I know, I know. You’ve heard this exact same sentence in everything from Netflix series to Buzzfeed articles. Still, though I am glad these conversations are definitely becoming more commonplace, I don’t think we’re really thinking about the way we talk about this topic in the right way. Let’s put it this way. If it was confirmed that Trump has some sort of mental illness, and people called for this to be the reason for his impeachment, what exactly does that say about those who had that same illness, or any other one, for that matter? Rather than viewing us as another minority that’s getting screwed over by the current American administration, we end up carrying the burden of its figurehead’s actions. It’s a very similar argument that POC are way too accustomed to. Somehow, the violent, oppressive actions that are openly taken against them are “caused” by their response to these actions. It’s all very snake-eating-its-own-tail, with debates emerging about who is actually at fault rather than results to help those that continue being hurt. Anyway, I digress.

I’m not saying a serious mental condition of some kind could make someone unable to properly fulfill their job, especially one that holds so much power over the lives of others. (Not that Trump’s actions so far have been exactly “fulfilling” to the general American public, at least not according to several polls, including this one from Gallup.)

Gallup’s daily tracking of Trump’s approval ratings, which are at just below 60% against him currently.

What I am saying is that the motivations behind his actions are most likely not fueled by any mental illness, but simply by a continued participation in (and support of) the various systems of oppression that both historically and currently define the United States, systems which greatly benefit both him and many of his supporters.

An incredibly helpful article by Care2 (the self-described “largest social network for good”) states this much more clearly than I could. The article, titled “Are Racism and Mental Illness Connected?,” states, quite clearly, that by believing the root of racism to be mental illness, we are not only completely ignoring the reality of institutionalized racism and its historic origins, but also we are also ignoring huge differences between the two subjects. Racism is, after all, “a learned behavior and a choice rooted in social attitudes,” while mental illness “isn’t a choice, but a complex condition that can be affected by environmental factors, genetics, and imbalances in brain chemistry.” The only evidence they found linking the two was that racism could actually work the other way around, by worsening the symptoms of the mentally ill not by their being racist, but by having lived through trauma caused by racism.

Listen, I’m not saying that Trump is a stable man (regardless of his mental health). I would also never say that he is anything close to somebody resembling a good president. Far, far from it. I just think we need to be careful about why we think the reasons behind this are. Why is it so much easier to call out mental illness rather than acknowledge the reality of the multiple systems of oppression that lead to his election in the first place? It could be because it’s just easier to use the mentally ill as a scapegoat rather than to actually try to change any of the deeply-rooted, structural problems the United States has. That just might be it.