Many Donald Trump supporters believe that their political and cultural opponents suffer from a condition called Trump Derangement Syndrome. This supposed psychosis allegedly renders many Trump critics incapable of rational thoughts and prudent judgments. It is ostensibly so distorting that sufferers take downright dangerous positions.
“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin,” Trump himself once tweeted. “They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”
Even during a catastrophic pandemic, vehement Trump supporters truly seem to believe that most criticism of the president is explained by widespread TDS.
While I disagree, I don’t want to convince them that they’re wrong. I want to proceed as if they are right, setting forth their claims and asking them to reflect more carefully on what they really imply.
Consider the controversy over the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. During a March 20 press briefing, Trump touted it as a hugely promising treatment for COVID-19. The next day, he tweeted that, taken with an antibiotic, it had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine.” Fox News hosts started talking up the drug too.
Critics insisted that this was irresponsible. My colleague James Hamblin, a medical doctor, published an April 6 article on what is known about the drug, echoing some widely held objections to the way Trump talked about it. In Hamblin’s estimation, “hydroxychloroquine could end up as part of the treatment approach that one day saves lives,” but “outside of a proper testing process and clear messaging, it could cost lives.”
While some very early evidence has shown that hydroxychloroquine may influence the course of COVID-19, Trump is overriding his top medical adviser and minimizing serious risks by encouraging Americans to try the drug right now. This brazen dispensation of medical advice from the president is dangerous in ways beyond the potential harm of the drug itself. A time of strict directives for personal behavior and hygiene requires tremendous trust in those giving the directives—and understanding the reality that this is a disease without a miracle cure. But instead of inspiring trust, Trump has pivoted from downplaying the number of cases in the United States to the extremely effective trick of quack medical providers: hyping an unproven treatment that entices desperate people with false confidence and confusing messaging.
I thought Hamblin raised good points. But journalists belong to a faction that would prefer to see Trump fail “even if the failure brings the nation to its knees,” Libby Emmons claims at The Post Millennial. “This rhetorical battle over hydroxychloroquine is not about drug efficacy, but about ongoing Trump Derangement Syndrome that has plagued so many in our mainstream media.”
In Townhall, Wayne Allyn Root asserted that the way rank-and-file Democrats writ large have responded to Trump’s statements on hydroxychloroquine is “suicidal,” while the reaction of at least two governors is “reckless, dangerous, ignorant and delusional.” Why would they respond that way? TDS is the only answer, he declared, adding that “Democrats would rather let Americans die than give Trump a chance to take credit. Some might call that murder, or, certainly, manslaughter.”
At The Hill, Liz Peek shared the judgment that “all” Democrats suffer from TDS. “It’s almost as though Trump’s critics don’t want hydroxychloroquine to work,” she wrote. “It is almost as though they hope this pandemic rolls endlessly forward, depressing the economy and undermining President Trump’s chances of being reelected.”
Representative Ted Budd, a North Carolina Repubican, published an op-ed titled “Trump Derangement Syndrome Becomes a Threat to Public Health,” which cited skepticism of hydroxychloroquine as a prime example.
“Has Trump derangement syndrome killed more people than COVID-19?” a blogger asked, adding, “Many hospitals are denying [hydroxychloroquine] and instead maintaining the standard protocol for acute respiratory distress syndrome, which seems to be a death sentence for COVID patients.”
As these critics see it, something about watching Trump try to fight the coronavirus pandemic induces psychosis in roughly half of the country. This deranged reaction makes rank-and-file Democratic voters “suicidal.” It makes Democrats akin to perpetrators of manslaughter, and governors “reckless, dangerous, ignorant and delusional.” It causes hospitals to deny lifesaving treatments to patients. This “syndrome” may even be killing more people than the coronavirus.
If all that’s true, wouldn’t America be better off being governed by someone who doesn’t induce such deranged reactions in so many of its citizens? No Trump, no TDS.
Of course, I don’t actually believe that Democrats want to see COVID-19 succeed so that Trump fails, or that anti-Trump psychosis is causing hospitals to withhold a lifesaving drug from patients.
But there is a stronger version of the TDS theory. Every president has critics who let their political and emotional biases color their judgments. And Trump may elicit this reaction marginally more than previous presidents did. At the very least, there are instances when journalists primed to expect the worst misrepresent what Trump says, and when Democrats criticize Trump hyperbolically. Somewhere in America, there is probably even a doctor or two who is a bit more skeptical of hydroxychloroquine than they should be because they don’t like Trump. Everyone succumbing to this distorting phenomenon should try harder to be scrupulously accurate and rational. I am not letting them off the hook. But notice that this more modest theory still carries the same implication.
Insofar as Trump inspires more hatred than other presidents did, insofar as the reaction to him inflames more passions and distorts more thinking, Trump is that much worse for the United States.
People who invoke TDS tend to be gleefully disparaging the other coalition. But if they are right to any degree, they are implicitly conceding a damning indictment of Trump.
And it doesn’t even matter whether he is right or wrong. Good leaders inspire mutually beneficial cooperation, not derangement! Americans who value leadership, comity, and collaboration during a crisis should elect someone less polarizing––and practically any other choice would be less polarizing––because Trump cannot unite.