I am a strong believer in free speech, and I am not easily offended by words or ideas, especially from nationally syndicated pundits. But I spiked a syndicated column this week that I thought was an insult to, of all people, Donald Trump.
It’s not that the tone was rude. Quite the contrary, the writer went to great lengths not to seem derisive. What offended me was the subject matter. The writer carried on at length speculating about the mental health of the Republican presidential candidate.
Now, I know that around the water cooler, it’s common for any of us to throw around wild notions, bizarre theories and five-cent psychiatric evaluations, sometimes even seriously, for the enjoyment and engagement of our friends and colleagues. But as I read this column by an untrained lay person shaping Trump’s words and actions into serous contemplation about whether he is brain damaged, three words churned my gut.
Arrogant. Embarrassing. Irresponsible.
I later learned of an entire broadcast panel discussion among pundits ruminating gravely over whether Trump’s behaviors and words are suggestive of a mental disease. I couldn’t escape the question, “Who do we think we are that we would engage in such rank conjecture publicly?”
Assessing someone to be wildly irresponsible is one thing – and certainly something that can apply to Trump. But mental illness — do I need to point this out? — is a serious and complex disease. Its diagnosis requires careful, pointed examination by highly trained medical professionals. Yet, here we have political commentators — political commentators — willing, almost eager, to pontificate about the mental condition or brain health of a presidential candidate because of behaviors they have witnessed on TV and Twitter. As presumptuous as that is, it actually is less of an insult to Trump than to the mentally ill, reducing their serious medical condition to the status of a fashion faux pas. It reeks of an attitude that any person off the street, even one who may have experienced brain damage or mental illness personally, can diagnose the condition in someone else, simply on the basis of television sound-bites and social media posts.
Can someone who has had lung cancer legitimately speculate about the health of someone else’s lungs merely by the sound of the person’s breathing? Can someone who knows a diabetic speculate about another person’s physical health based solely on what the person eats? It’s one thing to chat idly about such things with a group of friends in private, but it takes on a whole different tenor when the chatter ascends to the public arena, and from supposedly erudite thinkers who ought to have more respect for the disease they are contemplating and the people who endure it.
Of course, as I rush to Trump’s defense on this point, the big news last weekend was his own assertion that Hillary Clinton is “unhinged … unbalanced … And all you have to do is watch her, see her, read about her.”
Jim Slusher, [email protected], is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jim.slusher1 and on Twitter at @JimSlusher.