Donald Trump has passed his mental test. This may come as either a relief or a shock.
The results of the president’s physical exam came out this week. This is normally not a big deal — when Obama and Bush got their reports, it was barely a yawn. But on Tuesday White House physician Ronny Jackson had to answer questions from the media for almost an hour.
There was a little curiosity about how anybody who eats so many cheeseburgers could be in good health. (“Genes.”) Skeptics pointed out that the report’s enthusiastic descriptions of the president’s tiptop condition seemed inconsistent with some of the statistics on his weight, cholesterol and plaque buildup in the arteries. If the doctor had simply said “good for an overweight 71-year-old guy,” everybody probably could have nodded and moved forward.
But the big news was the mental test. Trump took something called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment and got a perfect score. Not perhaps the highest bar possible, unless you were concerned about whether he can identify pictures of animals and draw hands on a clock. But the test can be useful if there is, for some reason, concern that the subject is suffering from … um, dementia.
Jackson told reporters that he has talked with Trump many times over the past year and found him “very sharp.” This is hardly surprising. When the doctor has a conversation with the president, the subject is probably always Donald Trump, a topic upon which our current chief executive is always able to focus like a laser.
“Amazing report, cognitive & otherwise,” cheered Donald Trump Jr. Have we ever before had a First Child rallying the troops around the president passing a mental test? We will refrain from saying anything mean about Junior because, after all, he was the one who grew up in a home where he broke his leg due to an inattentive babysitter and found his nanny dying in the basement.
The next time you feel inclined to say anything catty about Donald Jr., remember that this is a guy who went to high school while his father was litigating an adultery crisis on the front pages of the New York City tabloids and that he was thwarted by family pressure from pursuing his chosen career as a bartender in Colorado.
But about the president’s mental report. It didn’t measure judgment, and there was no score to indicate whether the test-taker would, if faced with a question of what to do about immigration policy, change his position 12 times in 24 hours. Whether he would confide to several million Twitter followers that the country “needs a good shutdown”? Whether he thinks of himself as a “very stable genius.”
Maybe Jackson could have given him a passing grade without going so far over the deep end. Something like: “Identified the camel picture, and no problems you could lock him up for.”
When we think about presidents losing their mental grip, we generally go back to Woodrow Wilson, who had a stroke in 1919 that left him bedridden and pretty much off the playing field. “Wilson was the worst case of presidential disability,” said John Cooper, a Wilson expert at the University of Wisconsin. The stroke was followed by other physical ailments and a long period of isolation under the protection of his wife, who some claimed was taking over the presidency. It left Wilson’s cognitive function unimpaired, Cooper said, “but it warped his judgment horribly.”
O.K., cognitive function unimpaired … horrible judgment. Hmm.
By the way, Wilson’s vice president, who never got to see Wilson and had to get information on the president’s condition from a reporter, was formerly the governor of Indiana. Just like — well, never mind. This has no relation to our current situation, and it’s hard to see Melania trying to take control of the government. Although Ivanka. …
One of the good things about our current era is that we the people do have a better ability to keep track of how the president is doing, mentally and physically. Back in the day — I’m thinking here of when the day was 1893 — Grover Cleveland covered up the fact that he had cancer of the mouth by going on a “four-day-fishing trip” during which six surgeons operated on him while the boat was bobbing up and down in the water. And then Cleveland just went back to work. I think today someone on social media would have noticed he was missing five teeth and a large part of his jawbone.
And there were certainly presidents who seemed to deteriorate mentally while in office. Ronald Reagan, who later succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, was extremely forgetful in his second term. Reagan, however, did not Twitter.
So here we are. Our current president is in O.K. physical condition and has “absolutely no cognitive or mental issues whatsoever.” The doctor says so. And really, he’s doing better than Woodrow Wilson, his jaw is intact and everything’s fine, unless you count a terrible attention deficit disorder and rampaging narcissism as mental issues. If so, they don’t come up on that test with the camel.