"Hastening his deterioration": Dr. John Gartner on impact of court trials on "Trump’s fragile brain"

Donald Trump brain scans Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Donald Trump brain scans Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
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Donald Trump’s already abominable behavior has been getting much worse in these last few weeks – and there may be a physiological component to it. In a series of conversations here at Salon, Dr. John Gartner, who is a prominent psychologist and contributor to the bestselling book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President", has been warning that Trump appears to be suffering from serious cognitive challenges as manifest by his speech, memory, and other behavior. In an attempt to raise public awareness about Donald Trump’s apparent cognitive challenges and the extreme danger they represent to the nation if he were to take back the White House, and in essence be a type of mad king dictator, Gartner has started a petition at Change.org called “We diagnose Trump with probable dementia: A petition for licensed professionals only.”

Unfortunately, the American mainstream media – especially the elite agenda-setting news media – has largely continued to ignore Donald Trump’s apparent cognitive and other mental and emotional health challenges. The Washington Post appears to be slowly creeping towards a more direct engagement with Trump’s apparent cognitive challenges. Last week, the Post featured a story about Donald Trump’s father who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s:

Trump’s long fixation on mental fitness followed years of watching his father’s worsening dementia — a formative period that some associates said has been a defining and little-mentioned factor in his life, and which left him with an abiding concern that he might someday inherit the condition. While much remains unknown about Alzheimer’s, experts say there is an increased risk of inheriting a gene associated with the disease from a parent.“Donald is no doubt fearful of Alzheimer’s,” said a former senior executive at the Trump Organization, who worked for years with Trump and saw him interact with Fred Trump Sr., and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a confidential relationship. “He’s not going to talk about and not going to admit to it. But it’s relevant because every day he is hitting Biden with whether or not he is capable mentally of doing the job.”Trump’s father’s condition also drove a wedge into his family, which fell into years of lawsuits that alleged in part that Donald Trump sought to take advantage of his father’s dementia to wrest control of the family estate — litigation that introduced reams of medical records detailing Fred Trump Sr.’s condition.

This failure to consistently and boldly speak truth to power about Donald Trump's apparent cognitive challenges contributes to the larger crisis in credibility that the American news media as an institution is experiencing. Any reasonable person can see that something is wrong with Donald Trump’s behavior. Many Americans have direct experience with relatives, friends, and other people they care about who have been or are afflicted with some type of brain disease related to aging. For the American news media and other gatekeepers and agenda-setters to deny the obvious about Donald Trump is a willful decision to ignore the facts and reality.

Continuing with our ongoing conversation about Trump’s apparent cognitive challenges, I spoke with Dr. Gartner several days ago via email about the failures of the American news media, the MAGA people and their devotion to their Dear Leader, and what will likely happen next if Trump’s behavior continues to trend in the same direction.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length:

At a rally in Ohio, Donald Trump again exhibited symptoms of something apparently being wrong neurologically. Trump ties to turn it all into a joke by claiming he is being intentional and it is part of his performance. But at this point such deflections have no credibility, even given the ex-president’s “challenging” relationship with the truth and reality. You and your colleagues’ warnings and predictions appear to be proven correct almost every week.

Our Trump dementia-watch weekly round-up is becoming a regular ritual for one simple reason: Trump can’t go a full week without displaying gross signs of what appears to be dementia. This week he said “Joe Biden beat Barack Hussein Obama. Ever heard of him?” Donald Trump is disoriented. He doesn’t know who the president is, who he’s running against in the primary, or whether E. Jean Carrol is his wife. (I’m not trying to be funny, but it reminds me of the Oliver Sacks book, “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat.”) In my opinion, this is brain damage. There is no medically credible explanation for these occurrences that doesn’t not involve brain damage, most probably dementia. These telltale signs used to be more intermittent, but his apparent dementia is progressing at an accelerating rate, as is normal for the illness. But at some point, these patients fall off a cognitive cliff and become suddenly incapable of independent living. Given the accelerating rate of Trump’s apparent decline, it’s almost certain he would become incapacitated while in office. The man with the nuclear codes would be wandering around the White House in an angry agitated fog of confusion.

We’d like to believe his vice president and Cabinet would step in and invoke the 25th Amendment for the good of the country should this occur. But would they? The kind of corrupt officials Trump attracts, including those representing foreign interests, would benefit from a demented president they could wheel around in public and manipulate in private.

I thought electing a malignant narcissist who idolizes dictators and appears to be loyal to Vladimir Putin was the worst conceivable outcome for our country, but I was wrong. A demented malignant narcissist who basically works for Russia is a hundred times worse. In the Middle Ages they had a saying: “A bad king is better than no king. And no king is better than a child king.” We would have a child king, or at least one with the brain and character of a child.

Your petition at Change.org is gaining momentum. What is happening?

This subject was once forbidden in the press. If you searched online for Trump and dementia, as I began to do ten times a day, you wouldn’t find one article asking, Does Trump have dementia? The words dementia and Trump never appeared in the same sentence, anywhere. Instead, there were articles about President Biden’s memory and whether he was “too old.” Or pieces that quoted doctors saying we can’t know anything about either candidate’s cognitive health from what we see on TV.

But thanks to the petition, we’re breaking through. Newsweek has reported on it. And for the second week in a row, Jennifer Rubin praised Salon in her Washington Post column for breaking this story: “Salon, one of the few outlets to take Trump’s cognitive decline seriously, displayed this headline: “‘Experts are desperate to warn the public’: Hundreds sign Dr. John Gartner’s Trump dementia petition.” The article’s description reads, “They see the signs of Trump’s cognitive decline through the eyes of years of training and experience.” That succinctly spelled out the basic facts surrounding a petition signed by hundreds of mental health professionals, pointing to obvious signs of Trump’s mental dysfunction.”

The petition has filled a desperate unmet public need to hear from experts about Trump’s cognitive health. We’re up to 500 validated licensed professional signers: But far more persuasive than the numbers are their voices. I put together a tweet thread of their comments, that I add to daily, because I want America to hear in their own words, they offer their credentials and experience, explain the diagnostic criteria for dementia, give examples from Trump’s behavior, and explain why they felt compelled to sign. The petition, despite the risk to their careers or personal lives, to say in public: “our diagnostic impression of Donald Trump is probable dementia.”

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The public is desperate to hear the truth from real experts about the state of Trump’s cognitive health. Don’t they deserve that? Especially when all of our lives may depend on it. As people of conscience, we are defying this absurd professional gag order, to speak the truth about Trump’s probable dementia before it’s too late.

Given what we know about Trump’s personality, how will he respond if and when he is confronted by the obvious facts about the apparent problems with his brain and thinking?

It is important that people understand that dementia worsens all personality disorders, including malignant narcissism, which is one of the worst personality disorders a human being can have. It’s difficult for us to even imagine a Trump ten times more paranoid, agitated, and impulsive than he already is. His judgment was always terrible, but Trump is heading towards a cognitive cliff where he will lose the capacity to form a coherent judgment of any kind. The White House may become a kind of nursing home where they need to medicate him at sundown.

If Donald Trump’s behavior continues to decline in an obvious way to the point where it can no longer be denied, will his MAGA followers leave him? Will seeing their personal superhero and god made mortal break the psychological adhesion?

I don’t think it will separate him from his followers. Their cultish idealization of him is an addictive drug. As long as Trump can spew hate, and do a funny little dance on stage, his followers will be satisfied, even if he’s so disoriented that he doesn’t actually know where he is. The people who can be influenced are independents and Republicans who voted for Nikki Haley. The election may come down to their gut feeling about which candidate is “stronger.” Trump gives the appearance of strength with his hypomanic bluster and braggadocio, but he is cognitively weak and closer than you might think to being completely disabled.

What do you think happens next with Donald Trump given all the pressure he is under, and specifically with his property potentially being seized in New York and elsewhere?

Every bit of stress is going to deepen the cracks in Trump’s fragile brain, hastening his deterioration. If the press deigns to show them to us, we’ll see evermore flagrant displays of cognitive decline, and more often. He can’t get through a single rally without displaying a tell that looks a lot like a symptom of dementia. I’m sure this time next week, they’ll be more fodder for discussion. But will you read about it in the New York Times or see it on CBS News? Likely not.