There’s nothing wrong with the 25th Amendment. It’s a tool intended to handle the orderly transition of power when it’s universally acknowledged that the chief executive of the United States is unable to fulfill his or her duties. There might be all kinds of things wrong with Donald Trump’s mental faculties, but, with apparently unwavering Republican support for the president, the 25th Amendment will not help us respond to the White House’s current occupant. It won’t stave off nuclear hellfire. It won’t even stop Trump from tweeting.
Over the past two years, pundits, politicians, mental health professionals, and countless folks on social media have weighed in with their thoughts about Donald Trump’s brain. While it’s possible that he is experiencing age-related cognitive change (humans, after all, do that as they age), he’s also the same racist, sexist, abusive liar that he’s been throughout his life. When people casually speculate about a pathological basis for his disgusting behaviors, they have zero impact on him or his presidency. They do, however, spread the stigmatizing idea that mental illness causes objectionable behavior. It’s a stigma that people who identify as mentally ill know all too well. It leads to closeting, shame, lack of care, and self-harm.
Perhaps in response to the pushback to the casual use of mental-health stigma against Trump, even people eager to call Trump crazy are moving away from armchair diagnoses. Most recently, 13 mental-health professionals, all extraordinarily qualified, have joined with Brave New Films to assert the need in a new short film for a formal assessment of Trump’s mental function. The experts calmly state that in the face of the presidential power to start a nuclear war, we need a board of experts to assess whether Trump is fit to perform the duties of the presidency. They do not, of course, explore whether the very existence of a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying all life on Earth is a post-rational fact that no human could competently handle.
The new film picks up on a general shift in our conversations around the president’s brain. In early 2018, Trump reportedly “aced” the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, as reported by his doctor. It’s a fairly simple test that establishes a useful baseline for certain kinds of overt cognitive change—I have close members of my family who can no longer pass it, I’m sad to say. I like to think that a president who couldn’t pass would eventually generate sufficient press coverage and concern among his or her staff to invoke the 25th Amendment as an appropriate intervention. But merely erratic and detestable conduct, even with diminishing vocabulary and incoherent phrasing, won’t shake Trump’s grip on power. The GOP, as evidenced by their support at the State of the Union, has made that clear.