What it is, what it isn’t, and if and how America can move forward. Photo credit: The Washington Post/Jabin Botsford
Inside the Trump orbit, those who react to Donald Trump in an unpleasant manner are said to have Trump Derangement Syndrome, or TDS. The Trumplicans believe this diagnosis to describe anyone who suffers from any type of negative reaction to their hero, Donald Trump. Whether or not Trump deserves hero status eludes my pay grade. I am intent, however, on further exploring exactly what constitutes TDS, its signs and symptoms, the remedy, and the reality.
TDS (TRUMP DERANGEMENT SYNDROME) DEFINED
Defining this syndrome specifically evades most medical terms. Most believe, however, that the late Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a rock-ribbed conservative news commentator on Fox, coined the term in reference to George W. Bush back in 2003. Krauthammer is said to have explained BDS as, “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.”
Reflecting on that period I both recall with amusement and fondness many liberals thinking “W” was an existential threat to the well-being of people worldwide. The transferal of these feelings to Donald Trump became very easy, but Krauthammer understood the problem much more intricately. Writing in The Oregonian in 2017, Krauthammer explained, “What distinguishes Trump Derangement Syndrome is not just general hysteria about the subject, but additionally the inability to distinguish between legitimate policy differences on the one hand and signs of psychic pathology on the other.”
In other words, some people react to Trump irrationally because of simple policy differences, others, however, see Trump’s behaviour on display and recognize the mania it represents and the danger it could cause. Before Twitter threw the former president off its platform, his tweets provided proof of his hysteria.
Krauthammer comments further, “Trump sees them (his tweets) as a direct, ‘unfiltered’ conduit to the public. What he doesn’t quite understand is that for him – indeed, for anyone – they are a direct conduit from the unfiltered id. They erase whatever membrane normally exists between one’s internal disturbances and their external manifestations. For most people, who cares? For the president of the United States, there are consequences. When the president’s id speaks, the world listens.” The good doctor sees the problem in clear terms.
Disagreeing with Trump’s policies simply because you don’t like Trump, even though the policy may have merit, probably qualifies as somewhat unhinged. Reacting with disgust to his insulting behaviour, crude language, and ugly descriptions of people, groups, or nations does not. Most Trumplicans do not discern between the two and call any criticism of their champion TDS.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
A confirmed case of TDS can be narrowly identified as an automatic disagreement with a Trump policy or pronouncement regardless of its merits. If Trump announces a policy that bears some level of value but is instantly dismissed, hyper-criticized or receives an extreme measure of emotional response, the likelihood of the person suffering from TDS seems certain.
On the other hand, someone who reacts to Trump’s behaviour does not necessarily qualify as an unhinged respondent. Rather, an often-agitated devotee of Trump explains any criticism of his/her leader as evidence of betrayal or TDS, in reality, displaying a cult-like fealty to the former president. This allegiance probably indicates an unquestioned loyalty to Trump, his policies, and his practices. Hurling TDS at any criticism, worthy or not, seems to be a natural inclination of those allied with Trump so assiduously.
The steps needed to manage this problem demand both sides to lay down their arms, a very challenging goal for many and for some, close to impossible. In my own interactions with those highly opposed to Trump, they usually are unable to acknowledge any positive he has done, nor do they recognize, with some judiciousness, that Mr. Trump, while often skirting the law, is neither above nor beneath the law. Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House has even confused American jurisprudence, suggesting Mr. Trump deserves his day in court to prove his innocence (as opposed to the reality that the one bringing the charges must prove his guilt).
This seems to be the prevailing understanding of what should happen to the Donald, a special case in their minds because his former office demands a better standard. One, of course, they have often overlooked in the case of their own favoured political leaders.
As for the Trumplicans, they resort to accusations of disloyalty or TDS, or better yet, if a long-time Republican criticizes the 45th president, these traitors are told they are RINOS (Republican in name only), a designation meant to marginalize them as mere Democrats in sheep’s clothing.
The ugliness of these political divisions causes great harm to the body politic, splitting apart people who would normally be on the same side of great issues. These hostile attacks on fellow members of the party include ones against luminaries like the late John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Mitch McConnell, but include a much longer list. Trump’s takeover looks like nothing else in American political party history.
Reconciling these divergent views within the Republican Party would demand great discipline on the part of Donald Trump, something he has recklessly avoided throughout his political and personal life. Unfortunately, this unfiltered approach to communication justifies the screaming back and forth that occurs not only between Democrats and Republicans but between old-stock Republicans and the Trump-energized base.
Toning down the rhetoric does not serve Trump or his cause, so he ratchets it up and turns policy differences into personal conflicts. His narcissistic tendencies manifest themselves during any debate and have dragged along many who are new to the political scene and have little appreciation for the comity of compromise that must attend all legislation.
Sadly, the country has splintered into what I have referred to in a previous article as the brokenists and the statusquoists. Unwittingly, those in the Trump camp, also called “National Conservatives” adhere to the same outlook as those on the far Left. They see the nation and its institutions as beyond repair and needing replacement, hence the moniker brokenists. Meanwhile, a great swath of Americans understands the institutions are in trouble but believe in the nation, its history, hopes, vision, and possibilities. These folks, the statusquoists, insist that the institutional framework, while sick, can be nursed back to health.
The divisions began in the last 40 years of undetermined origin (1987 Bork hearings? Clinton impeachment 1998-99? Bush War with Iraq? Obama’s polarizing executive orders?). Regardless, what ails the country has manifested itself in two presidencies that have further eroded any sense of common destiny.
More baffling, both parties embrace extreme policies that disregard the notion of a middle. The Democratic Left seems to be in perpetual revolution wanting to push societal norms to places unimagined in recent iterations of social policy. Who could have predicted a time when there would be multiple genders, while the importance of following science is regularly used as a statement of faith?
At the same time, Mr. Trump, a very fallen individual, having lived more on the edge of the law for most of his career, enjoys the support of millions of evangelicals and their pastors who justify his corruption because he stands against the Left like no one else, including the sainted Ronald Reagan.
How these cleavages can ever be brought together remains anyone’s guess. As long as they exist, the country is a house divided, populated with angry citizens who fall into camps outside their parties. If national healing can take place, it will take both parties standing down from extreme positions, a spiritual renewal, the recognition that families are the bedrock of society, and the overhaul of major institutions that are, at present, profoundly failing to meet their mission.
I remain optimistic about the American experiment as did de Tocqueville when he visited two centuries ago and declared the American Dream the “charm of anticipated success.” Or as Teddy Kennedy said in his 1980 campaign ending Stemwinder, “The dream lives on.” Finally, as Reagan said, “At the root of everything that we’re trying to accomplish is the belief that America has a mission. We are a nation of freedom, living under God, believing all citizens must have the opportunity to grow, create wealth, and build a better life for those who follow. If we live up to those moral values, we can keep the American dream alive for our children and our grandchildren, and America will remain mankind’s best hope.”
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.