The Mental Detonation of Donald Trump

I had a realization while writing a response to an interesting contradiction that arose in a discussion elsewhere on Medium. One correspondent had observed that Mr. Trump appears to be, well, an imbecile. He says and does so many obviously imbecilic things. He contradicts himself. He tells lies that a child can see through. Clearly, the man is an idiot.

The other correspondent pointed out that the man has been quite successful. After all, he’s the President of the United States! How can we reconcile the fact that he has been so successful with the fact that he is so obviously mentally deficient?

Let’s think in terms of biological evolution. Consider, for example, the tree cinnamomum cassia. It fabricates a poison that it suffuses through its bark; that poison kills insects that attempt to feed on the tree. We humans can ingest small amounts of the poison without suffering harm, and we find its distinctive taste appealling.

Is cinnamomum cassia intelligent in developing cinnamon as a defense? Did it figure out the chemical reactions necessary to fabricate cinnamon? Of course not. It merely happened upon cinnamon by the random chance of genetic mutations. Billions of plants over millions of years try all sorts of random experiments and some of those random trials produce useful results.

In like fashion, Mr. Trump is the product of a competitive process similar to the competitive processes in ecosystems. Millions of people try all manner of schemes to get rich. The vast majority fail. By random chance, Mr. Trump just happened upon a system of procedures that worked. He won the lottery of scam schemes. He understands his techniques no better than the cinnamomum cassia understands chemistry. He applies them as mindlessly as a lizard catches bugs. There’s no cognition there; it’s an almost instinctive process.

Of course, what worked in business and in conning millions of Americans has utterly failed in the task of governing; every one of Mr. Trump’s policies has failed badly, although in many cases the failure won’t be obvious for a while.

The genetic responses that creatures evolve to deal with their environments can lead to crazy behavior in circumstances that deviate too far from the usual environment. Birds crash into glass windows. Moths navigating by sunlight circle around candle flames. Monkeys subjected to cruel experiments in which they were randomly shocked went crazy and thrashed wildly (such experiments have long since been banned.)

It will be fascinating to watch this creature try to respond as the walls close in on him. It’s not that Mr. Trump disdains the law; he simply doesn’t realize that the law punishes criminals. He’s been able to exploit legal trickery to evade the legal consequences of his actions until now, but he has broken so many laws that the accumulating evidence dooms him. Like so many shady businessmen, his schemes worked well for a while, but usually the law catches up and he’ll likely spend the rest of his life in jail.

Mr. Trump’s tried-and-true methods aren’t working any more. His feckless bluster doesn’t intimidate people. Childish name-calling no longer amuses people. Politicians have caught onto his tricks and no longer fall for them. Mr. Kim of North Korea, Mr. Putin, Mr. Abe, Mr. Macron, and countless other statesmen know how to manipulate him using his vanity. Ms. Pelosi stares him down without blinking. Nobody takes his threats seriously any more. His army of lawyers are reduced to desperate stalling tactics because they are losing every court case. The walls are closing in on Donald Trump, and the pressure is crushing his mind.

You can see the mental disintegration in the man’s language. His already-poor English is showing more and more intellectual discontinuity; the contradictions and non-sequiturs in his speech are increasing in frequency. His recent interview with Mr. Stephanopoulos was peppered with incomprehensible statements. He declared that he would take political dirt on an opponent from a foreign government; when publicly warned that this would be a felony, he backpedaled. Mr. Trump is losing his mind

He simply cannot comprehend anything beyond the standard techniques he has used all his life, and now that they are failing him, he is reduced to wild cognitive thrashing. He may completely lose his already weak grip on reality; if so, he will likely lash out at his enemies in increasingly dangerous ways. There’s a real possibility that the President of the United States will end up frog-marched out of the White House, screaming invective as he goes.



Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling.

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Chris Crawford

Master of Science, Physics, 1975. Computer Game Designer. Interactive Storytelling.