August 12th, 2020


In Trump Derangement Syndrome, We Have Three Presidents All Rolled Into One

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Dec. 19, 2016

Donald Trump, meeting with Kanye West. Take the worst said about the last three presidents, add it up, and you have Trump Derangement Syndrome.

A group calling itself "Defend Democracy" descended on California's State Capitol yesterday, demanding that the Electoral College deep-six Donald Trump as the nation's 45th President when it casts its 538 votes next Monday.

The group issued a list of grievances - assertions that Trump has "defended torture, racial and religious discrimination," "boasted of sexual assaults" and "has chosen to appoint people who range from utterly unqualified to extremely dangerous."

Perhaps this is what the buildup to Rogue One begets -apoplectic Americans who consider themselves a post-election "rebel alliance".

Or maybe it's just one more straw-grasp after five-plus weeks of election-related conspiracy theories that are intriguing but not necessarily influential - alleged voter suppression in North Carolina, voting irregularities across the Rust Belt and Upper Midwest, FBI Director James Comey's pronouncements, "fake news" addling voters, and so forth.

(Note: I did not include Russian meddling in that string. It's a grave matter that, as my Hoover colleague Michael McFaul correctly suggests, warrants a serious investigation.)

I have a different Star Wars theory when it comes to those unglued by the election's verdict: in Trump, we have the Death Star of recent political derangement.

Allow me to explain . . .

The last three American presidents have two things in common. First, each was re-elected not so much on their first-term accomplishments but instead their challengers' advertised failings (Bob Dole would lay waste to Medicare, John Kerry was a Francophile flip-flopper, Mitt Romney was a heartless plutocrat).

Second, each president unhinged his most fervent opponents to the point that the media talked openly of "derangement syndromes".

Let's review the last three strains of this malady:

Clinton Derangement Syndrome (1993-Present)

Defining Symptoms: Unbecoming of the office given his exploitative treatment of women, avoidance of military service, his and her struggles with truth-telling; possibly beholden to foreign interests through business ventures and Clinton Foundation donations; two grifters over-selling America on promises certain never to materialize (middle-class tax cuts; free college tuition; Wall Street perp walks).

Media Disease Carriers: In the 1990's, emergent conservative talk radio, Fox News, The Drudge Report. In this election cycle, the alt-right and yet more web conspiracy sites.

Bush Derangement Syndrome (2001-2009)

Defining Symptoms: Unqualified for the job given (1) "selected, not elected" (prevailed in the Electoral College, lost the popular vote); (2) insufficient intellectual curiosity for a leader of the Free World; (3) owes what success he's had to the head start his father gave him; (4) a Manchurian candidate dancing to a strongman's tune.

Media Disease Carriers: The New York Times; the big-three noncable news networks (and their little cousin MSNBC); Bill Maher, Saturday Night Live; The Daily Show.

Obama Derangement Syndrome

Defining Symptoms: (1) arguably the least qualified man to the hold the office; (2) too much time with celebrities, too obsessed with pop culture, too many rounds of golf; (3) use of taxpayer dollars for family travel; (4) dangerous, extremist agenda that will undermine America's social and economic fabric and world standing.

Media Disease Carriers: Fox News, conservative talk radio, a merry band of right-leaning publications (National Review, The Weekly Standard, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, etc.)

And now, Trump Derangement Syndrome . . .

Defining Symptoms: Pretty much everything assigned to the Clintons, Bush 43 and Obama (just substitute Putin for Cheney as the "strongman", Trump Towers for "family travel" and wait and see how much golf Trump ends up playing).

Media Carriers: Pretty much the same cast of characters that saw us through the Bush years, plus journalists on the right who'll turn on Trump if he turns out to be more Carteresque than Reaganesque.

One last thought about Trump Derangement Syndrome: it's not a question of whether it can it be sustained. As the Trump discord seems one big gaseous ball of much of the same hate spewed at his predecessors, why would it die out?

The more salient question: at what point does the derangement become counterproductive to those who hate him most (the famous and non-famous)?

Over the past eight years, the most effective and politically damaging criticism of Barack Obama pertained to his struggling healthcare plan, his foreign policy choices and economic stewardship. The personal stuff - Obama's citizenship, cigarette, religious and golfing statuses - were but distractions.

Trump-loathers won't lack for such sideshows in the coming weeks and months: how does Trump choose to redecorate the Oval Office; what D-list celebrities make the cut for the first State Dinner?

But in the end, it's the bigger issues that matter. Does he jump-start the economy? Does he provoke an avalanche in spending? Can he wipe ISIS off the map?

That's not derangement. It's details. And that's what determines the rise and fall of presidencies.

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Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.