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The mental competence standard, or lack thereof, of US presidents

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
President Joe Biden shakes hand of hallucination.

How insane can you be and still become President of the United States?

Many thought, and still believe, that Donald Trump is crazy. Clinton was labeled a narcissist, Nixon paranoid, Theodore Roosevelt bipolar, John F. Kennedy was said to have psychopathic traits and Abraham Lincoln experienced suicidal depression.

Now with Joe Biden trying to shake hands with an invisible being, calling his Vice President, the President and First Lady, the White House had to send the Easter Bunny to save Biden from saying something crazy.

Anything can happen in America these days, while questioning the sanity of Biden; one wonders whether any President has actually been sane going into the White House in the first place.

What are the conditions for a president to be deemed unfit to carry out his duties? What do the American public think about the President's mental stability? And what will happen if the President is unfit for the job and who decides if he is or is not?

In 2006, a study conducted by the Journal of Nervous and Mental disease concluded that half of the US presidents between 1776 and 1974 were mentally ill, half of whom were depressed, including James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, and notably Abraham Lincoln, who was also believed to suffer from psychosis.

20% were alcoholics, which includes Richard Nixon, whose staff struggled so he wouldn't make important decisions in the evenings. Another study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from 2012 concluded that JFK was a psychopath, but added that certain features of psychopathy are tied to successful interpersonal behavior.

Now as American mental health concerns are on the rise, and according to a survey by CBS health, nearly 60% of Americans experience concerns about their own mental health, or that of relatives and friends, the mental state of the person running the country is also a subject of discussion.

According to a November poll, 50% of voters surveyed disagreed that Joe Biden is in good health.

Could you explain the question of mental stability of US presidents in America?

It was actually very interesting, I did some research into the topic and it seems that many presidents over the years have had their mental stability called into question, but never to the extent we're seeing now over the past two administrations.

It's literally night and day.

Even George Washington, himself, the founder of our country, had his mental stability called into question, but that's something you don't learn about or something that isn't widely talked about. But these things are much more overblown than they have been in the past. And I think that it really has to do with the extreme polarization that we've been seeing in America today.

No longer can you have a general conversation with somebody without it becoming so extremely politically charged in one direction or the other that name calling and slurs of any sort are the obvious outcome whenever all rational debate goes out the window. So you're going to have these little spits and Spats and I think that's what caused the recent uptake in the question of mental stability.

David Cedillo, Director of Education, Center for Political Innovation, Texas

President Joe Biden, when elected, was asked about potential fundamental disagreement with his vice president and said that he will come up with some disease and resign, although he did not specify if you meant that he'll have to resign or Kamala Harris, but it doesn't seem to be difficult for him to come up with a disease.

In the November poll about 40% of voters surveyed believe that Joe Biden is not mentally fit and that, even before Donald Trump, there were other cases of presidents believed to be unfit to serve in the capacity of US President.

Yes, there have been a couple of cases at least. Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke and the evidence shows that his wife was probably in charge of the White House at that time.

And then there was Franklin Delano Roosevelt; didn't die immediately after his stroke and there's some question of who was running the White House for a while before he died. There was not a transfer of power at that time that I guess normally think about it. I couldn't swear that last one. Sorry.

But yeah, this is the first time since then, first, for sure. There was some speculation, of course, during the Reagan years and he actually did turn out to be in the early stages of dementia. But nothing like this where there was official questioning (of the president’s mental fitness for office).

Dr Rick Staggenborg, Retired Psychiatrist, Oregon

Even though the United States has never been short of crazy presidents, and US politicians call each other crazy all the time, the situation seems to be getting worse.

I walked into the cabinet room. You had the group, Cryin' Chuck, Crazy Nancy, I tell you what I've been watching her and I have I have been watching her for a long period of time.

She's not the same person. She's lost it. It was sad when I watched Nancy all moving the movement in the hands and craziness. And I watch it.

That's by the way, a person that's got some problems; I'm an extremely stable genius.

Former US President, Donald J Trump

The US President is old

Donald Trump was the oldest president at 70 years of age when he took office. And just four years later, Joe Biden broke his record being seventy eight years old when he was inaugurated.

Well, when we talk about the age of presidents, we have to look back at what past presidents have done in regards to the issues of ageing presidents and their questions of their mental stability.

During the Carter administration in 1974 they actually attempted to create a mental health monitoring agency for the president United States, which would do routine evaluations to see if the President's mental stability was still in a fit state.

But as we know now, that commission never got its legs and has not become an official part of the US government's system of checking a president, making sure that everything is ... what the people desire.

Now, the only check in that regard is the campaign trail and the performance in office.

David Cedillo, Director of Education, Center for Political Innovation, Texas

Joe Biden has been caught on camera trying to shake hands with an invisible being. The State Department and the White House were on occasion forced to clarify Biden's words and statements, calling them his own personal views and not the policy of the administration.

Biden has also referred to Vice President Kamala Harris as The President, and on another occasion, the First Lady. He also called Michelle Obama, the Vice President. Just recently, the Easter Bunny had to rescue Biden and take him away when he was asked the question by a reporter at the White House Easter Egg Roll.

A good question is who makes those decisions in the first place? Is he just reading off somebody else's script or not? I'm being a little tongue in cheek of course, because the President does speak off, sometimes not off a teleprompter, he is famous for making gaffs, even when his mental faculties were not in question. But the kind of things he is saying now are very dangerous and really, you wouldn't expect a person with his background to say; they're not gaffes.

They're incredibly hard to explain after the fact. And this is a perfect example. I mean, calling for, essentially calling for the overthrow of another government when he pretends that the United States is not into regime change, is a crazy misstatement for somebody with all his faculties.

Dr Rick Staggenborg, Retired Psychiatrist, Oregon

The divide in the US is becoming larger and the political establishment weaker and less fit to govern, with two consecutive presidents being constantly called crazy amid increasing pressure from the public, and other politicians, for them to step down or have the 25th amendment invoked.

These calls were especially commonplace during the time of Donald Trump when many felt that he was dangerous and should not have the power to launch nuclear weapons.

The 21st amendment clearly states that if the President is physically incapacitated, mentally incapacitated, or deceased, that it would go into a line of succession starting with the Vice President, and then going on to the Senate Majority Leader and yada, yada, yada, down the line. And I think those are things that seriously need to be used.

There's a reason that these mechanisms were put inside of the Constitution. It is to weed out these sort of mentally unstable applicants, no matter how that be, and I know especially when, nowadays when talking about the field of mental health and mental stability, it's so politically charged that you can't touch it with a 10 foot stick without somebody calling you some sort of hater of disabled people or some things but these are very serious issues.

 And as somebody who knows many people who have struggled with mental health issues, I I think it's very serious that we take these topics and not brush them aside because we need to be, really seriously asking, are these people mentally fit?

Are they stable enough to be able to go and lead this country, the second largest economy in the world? It's not taking over to drive my car or something it is taking over the keys to a huge, massive military, economic, superpower.

David Cedillo, Director of Education, Center for Political Innovation, Texas

The 25th amendment has been put in place so when the President is removed and dies or resigns, he would be replaced by the Vice President. Also when the Vice President and majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress declare that the President is unable to carry out the duties of the office, the president may be removed from power through a process and replaced by the Vice President.

A really hypothetical situation; I think it's incredibly unlikely that that's going to happen. If it did, it would probably be a political reason such as if Biden suddenly got so demented that he started talking peace in Ukraine, then they might do something like that.

 And it's hard to telling what the deep state would be willing to do at that point and proving that they'll do whatever it takes to keep themselves in power.  We saw that during the Kennedy administration, and saw that when they got rid of Carter with the October surprise. There's many, many, examples that they will do what it takes.

Dr Rick Staggenborg, Retired Psychiatrist, Oregon

Some conservatives like TV host and political commentator, Tucker Carlson, have demanded that the 25th amendment be invoked because of Biden's cognitive decline. He has said that Biden, who is 79, cannot control his emotions due to his age, and that his behavior is more dangerous than trump's.

Below are some examples of his statements and reactions:

Focus on this man, what he's doing, that no president has ever done. No President.

No, I haven't taken the test. Why the hell would I take a test?

Come on, Man, that's like saying you before you got in this programme, you're taking a test whether you're taking cocaine or not, what do you think?

I'm not out of time, he (Bernie Sanders) spoke over time and I'm gonna talk, here's the deal. What's happening here?

Well, that's not true. You're saying things you do not know what you're talking about. No one said that, who said that?

You said I set up my son to work at an oil company, isn’t that what you said, Jack?

US President Joe Biden during various interviews and press meetings

When asked whether he thought inflation was a political liability ahead of the midterms, this is how he responded: “That's a great asset; more inflation. What a stupid son of a b**ch”.

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who was instrumental in revealing the Watergate cover up and the removal from office of Richard Nixon, has said that a crazy president could, on his very own, trigger a nuclear war.

He says that the country needs to perform the operation of the 25th Amendment, because in 2020, the military feared that an unstable Donald Trump was about to order a nuclear strike on China.

Are key decisions being made by unstable and unfit presidents?

You know, I think when we talk about who's making the key decisions through the State Department, through the presidency, we can clearly see a pattern drawing throughout most US presidents in our modern era, especially, it's that they service imperialism, and they service the forces of the State Department, that a lot of us would call the deep state, and saying this phrase the deep state, its people say, Oh, it's just some some conspiratorial nonsense that's going on.

But when you really think about it, it's just the positions inside of the US State Department, which do not require elected officials to hand out those positions, (they) are people who move up through the ladder, over and over, year after year, the revolving doors through different ABC Alphabet, government agencies, through high paid Raytheon, New York Times you name it.

These places are just revolving doors for imperialism, and the powers that be will be pushing through their agenda, whether it be a red person in the White House or a blue person in the White House.

David Cedillo, Director of Education, Center for Political Innovation, Texas

In 2017, forensic psychiatrist and president of the World Mental Health Coalition, Bandy X. Lee, published a book called "The dangerous case of Donald Trump". 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assess the president, warning about the dangers of Trump's mental instability, and that his psychological problems make him dangerous.

Dr. Lee's teaching position at Yale University was terminated in 2020. Since according to the university, Lee broke the Goldwater rule.

What are the implications of an unstable president?

The implications, I'm sure I don't have to tell anyone listening to this programme, would be absolutely disastrous, potentially. The nuclear codes can be activated by the president at a few minutes’ notice ... I heard this growing up a lot in schools.

One minute a president could be sitting in his Oval Office, White House office, and then three minutes later he could walk outside and launch nuclear weapons at any place in the entire world. And that is real power that the President of United States holds.

And if we're not making sure that that power is kept under the correct hands, we're essentially playing with a lighter inside of a match factory.

We're playing with something we know has extremely deadly power. And yet, we're just not having the proper precautions to be able to dole out and make sure there are restraints on this power.

David Cedillo, Director of Education, Center for Political Innovation, Texas

Republican pollster, Neil Newhouse, has noted that an impacting factor in Biden's low approval ratings is his painfully evident difficulties in communicating.

Newhouse reiterated that the President is losing the support of black voters who are his most loyal democratic segment of the electorate.

When asked if she would support Biden in 2024, one respondent joked that if Biden were still alive she would vote for him.

It’s a little hard to tell, you have to really examine people see how much difference there is.

With Trump its, from what I've seen, It's a little harder to tell whether he had any deterioration; he wasn't terribly swift in the first place.

And Biden, while he's no intellectual giant, he certainly was better organized in the way he presented himself when we spoke a decade ago than he is now, but he's also doing much better than he did during the campaign.

But people have to realize that during the campaign, it’s an exhausting schedule, and for most people of that age, they would show some cognitive deficits, I would, and I'm younger than him. I know when I get fatigued, I have some problems with memory and articulation... word finding, for somebody of his age, it’s a bigger problem. Not for everybody. I mean, we all know people in their 90s are as sharp as a tack.

Dr Rick Staggenborg, Retired Psychiatrist, Oregon

Now it is unclear how mentally challenged or deficient you have to be before you're considered unfit for the Office of the President of the United States.

However, given the mental state of various US presidents and the fact that many believe that the President is more of an actor than an actual decision maker; it seems that the question should not be about a president being unfit to carry out his duties because of his mental ineptitude, but quite the opposite, it should be address how crazy one must be in order to be able to, or actually allowed to, become President of the United States of America?


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