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Impeach Trump! What are the benefits and costs?

By Rob Cover - posted Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Populist leadership rests often on a false claim of persecution (outsiderness from an establishment) and similarity (over-simplified suggests the disenfranchisement of an underclass are the same as his persecution). In that context, there may be more value in leaving Trump to prove his own downfall narrative, becoming an aged, boring figure in the background of USA politics that exacerbating his own claim to outsiderness and persecution.

2. Denigrating mental health issues

While the state of Donald Trump's mental health is unknown, the fact he has spent the past few weeks pursuing legal remedies, personal pressure on state officials, public persuasion of the Vice President to intervene in the senate, and other methods to overturn the election results in his favour indicate a highly delusional person. His belief in electoral fraud despite any evidence, and his statements that his administration has been one of the best in the union's history are likewise delusions. His denial of electoral facts indicates a severe inability to deal with or recognise empirical reality.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III and IV) defines delusions as "false beliefs due to incorrect inference about external reality", with the DSM's fifth edition noting that delusions experienced in some psychiatric conditions are beliefs that are "clearly implausible, not understandable to same-culture peers and not derived from ordinary life experiences." Although it is actually difficult to apply a psychiatric assessment to evidence drawn mainly from tweets, there have been a number of psychologists and psychiatrists who have given pre-emptive diagnoses that Trump suffers from a severe personality disorder, including delusional behaviour. Some opinion writers have called outhis inability to concede as delusional and pointed to the dangers of his remaining in office, even for a few days.

Picking fun at a politician's mental health is an easy target; it is also easy to put poor governance and bad policies down to a mental health disorder. In the extreme case of Trump, however, we may well be looking at a serious mental health issue that warrants treatment rather than punishment, and care rather than beratement and shaming.

One of the problems of being a public figure is, of course, that one may not have the luxury of care when mental health issues emerge, and may not be able to avoid the unfortunate consequences of statements derived from delusional thinking.

Nevertheless, the present is not the time to step away from the advances in putting mental health care on the agenda by denigrating the mental health of a clearly troubled man.

For impeachment to be both successful and ethical, it would be important to ensure that Trump's delusional behaviour and erratic personality disorder are kept separate from the charges that his claims to electoral fraud incited a violent insurrection-even if this means ignoring the role that his mental health played.

3. Avoiding pettiness


Finally, while the punishment factor may be important in restoring democracy's framework in the US, an impeachment will backfire if it looks like petty revenge. This is particularly important given the petty, childish and hurtful insults Trump has delivered against many of his opponents over the past few years, in many cases making himself the figure of nasty bullying.

Whatever happens, rising above any pettiness or insult-as President-elect Biden has clearly been careful to do-is vital to the project of restoring democracy. The valid reasons for an impeachment will therefore need to be clearly communicated to the public to avoid any perception that it is petty. This is particularly significant given the goal of removal with only a few days to go is not as easily understood as the impeachment of a president much earlier in their term.

History will not be written favourably about Donald Trump and not only will his presidency be remembered as a chaotic mess driven by an ego-maniac, but he will also be a footnote in a history that sees him not as an agent of change but the unfortunate effect of a cultural populism that came about due to social inequalities, massive discrepancies in wealth, huge problems in education, the role of fantasy entertainment in providing ways of making sense of the world (as always having hidden agendas) while other forms of guidance on current affairs (that point to just how mundane most everyday politics is) wane, and the role of sensation, feeling and outrage in place of rational and calm thinking. It will also draw similarities between Trump's base rhetoric and rallies and those of past reviled historical figures.

That long-term view of history is not, however, a reason to ignore the benefits of impeachment. What is important is the mid-term future of the 2020s in which doing everything possible to smash Trump's brand of exclusionary populism, the white supremacism he has promoted, the power of QAnon conspiracies, and the illogical, non-factual and wholly misinformed thinking of many of his supporters. Undoing these, even at the risk of appearing petty or mean, will be vital to maintaining the kind of democracy that promotes progressive, inclusive approaches to the real issues of the world: equality, health, welfare, climate and peace.

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About the Author

Rob Cover is Professor of Digital Communication at RMIT University, Melbourne where he researches contemporary media cultures. The author of six books, his most recent are Flirting in the era of #MeToo: Negotiating Intimacy (with Alison Bartlett and Kyra Clarke) and Population, Mobility and Belonging.

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