Don’t be fooled by the happy lull of the Winter Olympics.
“We are not in a static situation,” Dr. John Gartner said, at a presentation on presidential mental health and nuclear weapons in Washington on Monday. “We are in a deteriorating situation. And every day that goes by we are at greater risk of total nuclear annihilation.”
The sporting competition in South Korea has governments and leaders spouting bromides of peace and friendship, at least for a couple of weeks. There is talk of reconciliation between North and South Korea, independent of White House wishes. South Koreans are fascinated by the "Ivanka Trump of North Korea."
All the while, the danger posed by Trump’s control of nuclear weapons continues to grow, says Gartner, founder of Duty to Warn, a group that argues President Trump is not mentally fit for office. He spoke at a National Press Club forum sponsored by Need to Impeach, the campaign bankrolled by billionaire investor Tom Steyer.
The unanimous conclusion: Trump is not qualified to make decisions about nuclear weapons.
Psychiatrist Steven Buser explained how he evaluated nuclear personnel for the U.S. Air Force’s Nuclear Personal Reliability Program. According to PRP standards, “only those military personnel with the highest degree of reliability, trustworthiness, conduct and behavior will be allowed to work in the vicinity of nuclear weapons.”
“What if those same standards were applied to our president?” Dr. Buser asked. “What if President Trump instead was Airman Trump?...Would I feel comfortable in certifying Airman Trump as being safe to be around nuclear weapons?”
“What if I had reliable information that Airman Trump had cyberbullied others regularly on Twitter?” Buser went on. “That he had sexually abusive behavior toward women; that he was prone to erratic personal states; that he showed paranoia about being surveilled by others or unjustly persecuted; and that he had a history of highly distorted, if not untruthful statements.”
“Would I certify Airman Trump as being safe around nuclear weapons? My answer was, absolutely not.”
Dr. Gartner said Trump’s mental health “is deteriorating and is going to continue to get worse.”
“If you watch interviews that Trump did in the 1980s and '90s, he not only spoke in complete sentences, he spoke in polished paragraphs. Compare that to interviews and public speech today: his vocabulary is thin, reasoning is loose. He repeats himself. He is actually impaired in his ability to complete a sentence or form a thought without derailing into some kind of irrelevancy.”
“When someone begins to deteriorate cognitively, anything that was bad about their personality gets worse,” Dr. Gartner said. “When people are in a state of pre-dementia they become more impulsive, more paranoid, less conscientious, more aggressive, more irritable.”
And eventually, “they begin to become psychotic.”
The implications for presidential decision-making on North Korea policy are frightening, said Jim Doyle, former systems analyst at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who specializes in nuclear weapons systems.
The most desirable characteristics in a nuclear decision-maker are “rationality, the ability to weigh actions and consequences,” Doyle said.
“Characteristics that would be undesirable,” he continued, “would be somebody who is impulsive, easily angered and frustrated. Somebody who seeks confrontation, has a high sense of bravado or is vindictive. In addition, it probably would be undesirable to have somebody who didn’t have the ability to empathize or see the situation through the eyes of their potential adversary.”
But a complete lack of empathy characterizes Trump’s malignant narcissism, said Jacqueline West, a psychoanalyst in New Mexico.
“When we say ‘Trump is being narcissistic again,’ we get it that he is egotistical. We get it that he is dominating. What we don’t get is that he’s dangerous.”
The malignant narcissist, she said, “grows up with a tremendous determination to dominate, to win at all costs, and they sacrifice the integration of conscience and the capacity for empathy. He is involved in a ‘kill or be killed’ reality.”
Dr. Gartner worries that the investigation being conducted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller “is pushing [Trump] toward pushing the nuclear button.”
“It would solve all of his problems,” Gartner said. “He will not care about the destruction it causes other people. It will be irresistible to transform him from feeling like a victim of a witch hunt to being an omnipotently destructive victor.”
That may sound paranoid to some, but who could deny that fear of Trump’s irrationality has a rational basis, especially in recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, where the president has promised to bring “fire and fury” to “Little Rocket Man" if he threatens the United States.
The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, released earlier this month, articulates a more aggressive interpretation of past U.S. policies with a lower threshold for the use of nuclear weapons.
Despite the Pentagon’s reluctance, Trump has demanded options for a "bloody nose" strike on North Korea.
And most ominously, when Victor Cha, Trump’s hawkish choice to serve as ambassador to South Korea, published an article stressing the United States has no viable military options in North Korea, Trump withdrew his nomination.
“A new Korean war is now perhaps more likely than not in 2018,” tweeted Stephen Saideman, a scholar of U.S. foreign policy at Canada’s Carleton University.
And Airman Trump has his finger on the button.