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Right-wing media using accusations of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ to gaslight the left

Sure.. Trump looks crazy, but are you sure it's not you?
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You think Trump is crazy? Maybe it’s you that’s crazy?

Accusations of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ levelled at critics of the 45th President of the USA and his allies are becoming more common, especially from right-wing pundits and media outlets. Whilst versions of this syndrome, ‘President Derangement Syndrome’ (PDS) have also been associated with Trump’s previous two predecessors, it has never before been used in the manner that is increasingly today, to ‘gaslight’ an entire nation. 

In May 2018 Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States helped arrange the release of three political prisoners from North Korea. Welcoming home released prisoners Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang Duk, Trump spoke of their “excellent treatment” by North Korea’s chairman, Kim Jong Un. The comments were met with considerable criticism from the left, especially from Democrat Chuck Schumer, who pointed out that the North Korean dictator was the one who had wrongly imprisoned these three American citizens in the first place and their treatment whilst imprisoned has hardly “excellent”. Others on the left questioned whether the sitting president of the US, considered a bastion of freedom and democracy across the globe,  should ever praise a brutal dictator.

Right-wing news sources were critical of Schumer and the Democrats, they stated that Trump should be praised for his diplomatic approach and ensuring the men’s freedom. One particular response caught my eye more so than the rest. It brought a concept that has been discussed in sociological circles for some time to the media’s attention. But is this being done in order to attempt to disguise legitimate criticism of Trump as the crazy ranting of the left?

Marc Theissen, a Fox News correspondent accused Schumer and the Democrats of suffering from ‘Trump derangement syndrome.’ The affliction prevents them, Theissen believes, from seeing anything positive in the actions of Donald Trump.

Apparently, Trump Derangement Syndrome is so debilitating that Democrats can’t bring themselves to say “Good job, Mr. President,” even when he brings our hostages home.- MarcTheissen, May 16th, 2018, Fox News

Since the day that column was published, I’ve noticed that the use of the phrase ‘Trump Derangement syndrome’ is becoming much more widely used in the media. It seems as if it is becoming a way for right-leaning pundits to dismiss criticism of Trump with little more than a wave of the hand.

George W Bush Pioneer of ‘President Derangement Syndrome’?

Of course, this isn’t the first example of the use of the phrase ‘President Derangement syndrome’ or PDS. The first example I’m aware of, and that I could find of the term’s usage was ‘Bush Derangement syndrome’ used during the presidency of George W Bush.

to some on the left, myself included at the time, Bush was literally the worse thing that had ever happened to the free world

to some on the left, myself included at the time, Bush was literally the worse thing that had ever happened to the free world

Roughly speaking ‘Bush Derangement Syndrome’ was considered to be a pseudo-mental illness that prevented people who hated the younger Bush with such an intensity that they were pathologically unable to see any good in his actions.

There were some it seemed who believed that Bush may well be the literal anti-christ, every move he made was treated by some with suspicion and paranoia. This anti-Bush feeling is even believed by some to be a contributing factor to the rise in ‘9-11 Trutherism’. There were some people who hated Bush so vehemently that they couldn’t accept he wasn’t somehow either the true mastermind behind the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon on September 11th 2001. That, or he was a witless patsy who allowed the attacks to happen.

Bush’s actions after 9-11 hardly quashed the fires of such hatred. Leading the US and her allies into deeply unpopular and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Debacles such as Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and the Katrina fiasco turned the screws further on anti-Bush sentiment. Couple that with the fact that Dubya was, let’s be charitable here, not that bright and probably not cut out to be President. Bush hatred was too tempting. Jokes at the expense of his intelligence too rewarding in times of uncertainty and fear.

Little did we know that the joke would soon be on the left.

‘President derangement syndrome’ gets ugly

If Bush-derangement syndrome was an epidemic on the left during the Presidency of George W Bush, then ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome’ reached pandemic levels for the right during the two terms of his successor, Barrick Obama. This was to be expected of course. Sad but inevitable.

If Bush Derangement Syndrome had been a problem for the left, it was nothing compared to what was to come

If Bush Derangement Syndrome had been a problem for the left, it was nothing compared to what was to come

The US was, and still is, a country very much divided down racial and political lines. Much of the country welcomed the election of America’s first black president and believed it represented a time of positive change. Others simply weren’t ready for this change. And the idea of it being forced upon them made them afraid.

Afraid and angry.

When racism and PDS met it spawned a variety of baseless accusations against Obama. The 44th president was accused of being a communist, a socialist, and when right-leaning Americans discovered his middle name was ‘Hussein’, a Muslim infiltrating the American political system. To some, Obama was determined to overturn the US’ Christian values. He was accused of being a terrorist sympathiser, or to some, just a terrorist.

In response to the Birther movement, Obama eventually released his birth certificate. This only fuelled the fire and led Birthers to suggest that the document was 'faked'

In response to the Birther movement, Obama eventually released his birth certificate. This only fuelled the fire and led Birthers to suggest that the document was ‘faked’ (White House)

And just as ‘Bush Derangement syndrome’ spawned a movement, ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome’ would also create such a monster. Bush had the ‘Truthers’, Obama had the ‘Birthers’. A large group of people that insisted that the sitting President was not born in Hawaii, as he claimed, but in Kenya. They demanded that he show his birth certificate, yet when he did they insisted that it was a clear fraud.

Author John Avalon asserts in his book ‘Wingnuts; how the lunatic fringe is hijacking America’ that ‘Birtherism’ is the second of the two ‘Big Lies’ that American conspiracy enthusiasts have embraced in the 2000’s. The first being the idea that the upper echelons of American government orchestrated the 9-11 attacks. Both conspiracies, sit on different sides of the same coin. Both designed to attack a sitting President’s claims to legitimacy and to undermine their place in history. Both the offspring of PDS.

"I preferred it when everyone blamed this guy!"

“I preferred it when everyone blamed this guy!” (White House)

But history may well have a different perspective on ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome’ than Bush’s own version. It may with the aid of deep-seated racism, have a much more profound effect on shaping the future of America than anyone could have expected.

It may have played a crucial part in getting Trump elected.

‘President Derangement Syndrome’ gets dangerous

There is literally no part of me that believes that when Donald Trump first started to make claims that Barrack Obama was not born in Honolulu way back in 2011, he was planning to run for president in the future. In fact, I believe that him expressing this belief led some around Trump to suggest he becomes more involved in politics. And if they also told him what a fantastic president he would be, then he can all guess the effect that had on his ego.

“He doesn’t have a birth certificate, or if he does, there’s something on that certificate that is very bad for him. Now, somebody told me — and I have no idea if this is bad for him or not, but perhaps it would be — that where it says ‘religion,’ it might have ‘Muslim.’ And if you’re a Muslim, you don’t change your religion, by the way.”

– Donald Trump March 30, 2011, The Laura Ingraham Show

Even though he had flirted with the idea in the past, I don’t personally think Trump plans that far ahead. I do suspect however that when he finally did throw his hat in the political ring, his ‘Birther’ past was not a hindrance but a strength. At first, his advisors had gone to pains to deny that Trump believed Obama had been born outside the US. But that was early in the campaign and crucially when it was being run like a presidential campaign.

Trump himself had attempted to distance himself from the ‘Birthers’ but only after refusing to discuss the issue at all with The Washington Post. 

As we all now know, that the Trump campaign eventually morphed into something, unlike anything that had been seen up to that point in US history, perhaps in the history of the Western world. There had been heated campaigns before, certainly. But Trump’s extremely thin-skin and seeming inability to handle criticism made his campaign different.

As much as Trump's handlers may have tried, they couldn't persuade him to even pretend to be a decent person during the election campaign, as this instance of him mocking a disabled reporter shows

As much as Trump’s handlers may have tried, they couldn’t persuade him to even pretend to be a decent person during the election campaign, as this instance of him mocking a disabled reporter shows

His advisors soon realised that there was no point in trying to coral Trump’s behaviour and get him to attempt to act like a decent human being. If his own temperament wasn’t a large enough flaw in this plan, the steady stream of scandals dropping on the Republican nominee would surely derail attempts at decency.

In the end, his campaign managers just ‘let Trump be Trump’. This included playing on the racial fears and insecurities of his base. Including using ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome against the Democrats.

Trump’s not crazy… you’re crazy

Given that Trump’s election team had used ‘Obama Derangement Syndrome’ so effectively in 2016, it’s almost shocking that media organisations and pundits supporting Trump have taken so long to start using ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ to create a narrative to shield Trump. Now, this has started, it’s hardly likely to stop. I believe that accusations of ‘Trump Derangement Syndrome’ will now become the de rigueur for pundits on Fox News and other right-leaning media establishments.

Sean Hannity is another Fox News pundit pushing that the narrative that Trump's critics are the sufferers of a pseudo-mental illness

Sean Hannity is another Fox News pundit pushing that the narrative that Trump’s critics are the sufferers of a pseudo-mental illness (Fox News)

All this represents is an attempt to gaslight Trump’s critics. It’s no different than when the President began spouting ‘Fake news’ in response to critics in the media. Or when Kelly Anne Conway rebranded ‘lies’ as ‘alternative facts’. The journalists that opposed Trump were simply liars in the ‘fake news’ narrative. Those that criticise him now?  Well, they are clearly crazy. The irony is this new narrative is being served to the citizens of the US by the Media itself. Or the Trump loyal-media at least. This all serves to persuade the Republican base that it isn’t Trump who is acting unreasonably. It’s everyone around him. And if you happen to not approve of the Donald, maybe get yourself checked for TDS?

There’s a clear and present danger to this approach to criticism. All presidents have their detractors and for good reason. No president is perfect. And a position with such power should be held to scrutiny. No president or politician should ever be above criticism, yet that is exactly the position Trump is being put in by his followers. This is especially scary for a President who has openly flirted with fascism, as Trump did when he suggested that he would like the American people to “sit up and take notice of him” as Kim Jong Un’s people do for their tyrannical dictator.

It’s clear that the majority of critics who strongly opposed Obama’s use of 563 drone strikes in the middle-east during his two presidential terms could not be accused of Obama Derangement Syndrome. These were legitimate concerns and they were handled as such.

The danger comes from lumping all criticism together in an attempt to protect a deeply flawed President from criticism. To hide his seemingly deteriorating mental state and incapability to actually do the job of president. To disguise his blatant disregard for America’s allies, women, minorities, the vulnerable, NATO, science, human rights and a multitude of other issues. To hide from Trump’s supporters the fact that he pulled the US out of an extremely beneficial nuclear -deal with Iran which came with the benefit of scrutiny, yet entered into a deal with North Korea that had none of the benefits of the Iran deal.

What better way to protect a president who says one thing in an interview one day and then denies saying it the very next, as Trump did with the Sun upon his UK visit this week? The journalists who reported it are liars and the public who believed it are deranged, we are told by Trump fanatics.

Pointing this out isn’t the same as laughing at Trump’s hair, or his ramblings, or questionable marriage. These things matter. These things affect the citizens of the US and the World in general. They aren’t akin to flying a Trump balloon or creating a meme. It’s not done out of hatred for Trump. It’s done out of genuine concern for the direction he is taking the US and the world in general.

And if you disagree with anything I’ve written here? Well, you sir or madam clearly have a nasty dose of Rob Derangement Syndrome. You should get that checked out mate.



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