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ADHD & Behavior: Non Sequiturs

A.B.O.U.T. Behavior #16 : Non Sequiturs

Nobody was surprised last week that Mr. Trump stuffed his speech, to a group of young conservatives, with non sequiturs, rather than having all of his verbal ducks in a row. Narcissism can’t account for this pattern because such language doesn’t project an image of power or proficiency. And these speech patterns aren’t a strategy to keep his enemies off-kilter, since he displays them most prominently with friendly, receptive audiences, like the recent Turning Point crowd, in West Palm Beach. Mr. Trump’s non sequiturs exemplify his ADHD in action.

To assure you that this is not “fake news”, and that I am not taking words out of context, this paragraph of the transcript comes from WhiteHouse.gov itself:

We’ll have an economy based on wind. I never understood wind. You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody I know. It’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none. But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air. Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything — right?

We have become accustomed to Mr. Trump’s tendency to insert inappropriate words into phrases, to start sentences and suddenly pivot in other directions, and to follow comments with unconnected topics. This disorganization of thought extends, in a fractal fashion, from his word choices, to his sentence structures, to his splintered paragraphs, to his political positions changing from hour to hour, and week to week, and to his whole career careening from real estate to luxury goods to beauty pageants to reality television to the presidency. The disorganization wrought by his ADHD permeates his whole existence.

To those who believe he has been staunch and stalwart in his views, I offer a few examples: He was the only candidate in the Republican debates (February 2016) to defend Planned Parenthood, and yet once in office he has worked vigorously to rescind all government support for the program. He switched his official party registration from Republican to Independence Party to Democrat to Republican to no affiliation to Republican over the space of twenty-five years. He proclaimed support for gun control measures after meeting with victims of school shootings and then switches back to NRA positions after meeting with their representatives. This is not a single-minded leader.

How does ADHD impose this disorganization of thoughts? ADHD impairs one’s ability to maintain attention and to redirect attention. Rather than following a linear, logical path, one deviates off the trail, and bushwhacks their own way through the wilderness of words. Adding to the problems with controlling attention, ADHD also bestows difficulties with inhibiting impulses. Rather than just silently thinking through some of these tangential tangles (very few of us exclusively channel our thoughts along a single track), individuals with ADHD are more likely to vocalize their ideas and inform the world about their meandering mental routes.

Many people have observed that the “word salad” of politicians, or of other public speakers with ADHD, sounds more coherent than it appears when written down. In part, listeners have a tendency to fill in gaps, make connections, and correct for changes in the subject of a sentence, or in the conjugation of verbs. Perhaps, more importantly, the appreciative listeners to the president’s Florida speech, and to his other comments, relish the spewing of sentiments, rather than preferring a search for rational arguments, or a coherent explanations of positions.

The non-linearity of thought promulgated by ADHD does offer some advantages. The non sequiturs promote a serendipitous, thinking-outside-the-box nonconformity. Although it has yet to happen, this thinking style may still lead to breakthroughs in nuclear disarmament with North Korea, or our trade relationship with China. We should continue to evaluate ideas based on what they reveal or achieve, rather than on whether they fit with conventional wisdom.

Philologic research indicates that the ‘ancient Chinese’ curse, “May you live in interesting times.” was actually probably manufactured by the British less than a hundred years ago. Mr. Trump’s ADHD contributes mightily to making this era an interesting time. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere. Whether or not we make America great again, much of this gas was made in America, by the president himself.

For one year, my weekly blog (ADHD Blog On Understanding Trump’s Behavior or A.B.O.U.T. Behavior) will address recent utterances or actions of Mr. Trump that highlight his severe, under-treated, hyperactive, adult ADHD. I do not intend to comment on his politics or policies, except as directly shaped by ADHD. My observations and analyses do not imply that all people with ADHD behave like Mr. Trump, nor that ADHD is Mr. Trump’s only mental health issue.

My book, Recognizing Adult ADHD: What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Attention Deficit Disorder ( bit.ly/TrumpADHDBook) describes ADHD in more detail, explains why we can be certain that Mr. Trump meets the full official criteria for ADHD, addresses the ethical basis for making this diagnosis, and explores ways to reduce stigma, work with those who have ADHD, and thrive in a world becoming more ADHD-like.

John Kruse MD, PhD, San Francisco psychiatrist, father of twins, marathon runner. Author of Recognizing Adult ADHD: What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About ADHD

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