Trump Derangement Syndrome

Trump Derangement Syndrome, n.
Pronunciation: (NAmE) /trʌmp/ /dɪˈreɪndʒmənt//ˈsɪndroʊm/
Etymology: Conservatives with severe lapses in memory and logic

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

A common assertion among conservatives is that Trump is treated more unfairly by the media, political pundits, and opposition lawmakers/voters than any other president. They say that those who reprehend Trump are afflicted with “Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS).” TDS is the Harvard of diseases- it’s selectively reserved for the out-of-touch liberal elite. Conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro can criticize Trump’s North Korea summit in basically the same language as Rachel Maddow, but Shapiro gets a pass because he’s an “intellectual conservative” while Maddow is just another liberal impaired by TDS, rooting for Trump to fail on the international stage to send us all into nuclear war with North Korea (fingers crossed, right Rach?).

The strategy of labeling all Trump dissenters as suffering from TDS is probably a decent one; it allows all criticism of Trump, no matter how legitimate, to be dismissed as nothing more than sore loserism, and sows seeds of doubt in all coverage of Trump that seems negative.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, TDS originated as BDS- Bush Derangement Syndrome, coined by the late conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. Apparently, invading the wrong country, ignoring poor people of color during a natural disaster, engaging in casual torture, and bringing the world economy to the brink of collapse, doesn’t merit the kind of liberal disdain and disgust that gets the Dixie Chicks blacklisted from country music.

The substance of TDS relies on the dual premises of historic novelty and unfairness: Trump is criticized worse than his predecessors and said criticism is unwarranted.

Is Trump treated “worse”?

This is a tough question to answer since there are no real standards for measurement. The best comparison we can make is with Barack Obama, who presided over a similar media and cultural landscape as Donald Trump, and conveniently is the most recent.

Republicans will complain that everyone hates Trump, as if Trump hasn’t provided any reason for such antipathy. Anti-Trump protests, largely peaceful and constitutionally protected though they may be, are seen as unpatriotic, compared to noble causes like the anti-Obama Tea Party sit-ins, and hundreds of thousands of signatories on petitions to secede from the union following Obama’s 2012 reelection.

Many of the complaints lodged by Trump supporters- comparing Trump to a Nazi or dictator, commenting on his looks, complaining about executive orders, accusations of treason, counting his golf vacations, questioning his legitimacy, making fun of his family, joking about assassination — were rampant during the Obama presidency (especially by Trump himself), and exacerbated by deep-seated racism. The adult Trump children get a lot of flack for the things they do and say, especially those who work in the White House, but Barron will likely never catch shit for rolling his eyes, wearing clothing that’s too short or too expensive, or dancing at a concert. Unlike Sasha Obama, Fox will never have to turn off the comments section of an article about Barron due to excessive vitriol, or have his acceptance into an Ivy League school questioned. And don’t even get me started on the double standard with Melania; there are people to this day who believe Michelle Obama is really a man.

Then there are the many things for which Obama was skewered by right-wing media and politicos that in hindsight seem just plain cute in today’s world of borderline presidential treason: wearing a tan suit, playing basketball, using Dijon mustard, smoking, making a special Olympics joke, saluting with a coffee cup. The same Republicans who complained about Democrats not clapping enough during Trump’s state of the union had no problem with a GOP congressman literally yelling “You lie!” in the middle of Obama’s joint address to congress. It’s a wonderful mix of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy.

Notably absent during the Obama administration, however, was the usage of ODS- Obama Derangement Syndrome- in our political discourse, for when conservatives overreacted to even the slightest of Obama gaffes. Similarly, no one ever diagnoses a crowd yelling “Lock her up!” two years after Hillary Clinton ran for president as suffering from CDS. Conservatives seem to have found an immunity loophole against this tricky malady.

Is treatment of Trump unwarranted?

Many Republicans have pointed to a Harvard study that shows that Trump’s media coverage during his first 100 days in office was generally more “negative” than previous presidents, as proof of inherent unfairness in Trump coverage. There is no question that the media are drawn to sensationalism, making Trump’s erratic behavior and bombastic statements perfect fodder in the age of 24/7 cable news. Conveniently, though, there are two parts of the study in particular that always get left out of the conservative recap:

Think of the things for which Trump has been most heavily criticized: unprecedented corruption and conflicts of interest, separating families at the border, Muslim ban, cheering and causing government shutdowns, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, racist comments and policies, attacking our allies, undermining his own intelligence agencies/FBI/DOJ, capitulating to dictators, way too many shady ties to Russia, going after private citizens and companies, an obvious lack of policy knowledge, tweeting like an illiterate madman, and all the lies, lies, lies.

Decide for yourself if the criticism is justified. One thing that history can corroborate though, is that if even a subset of the above occurred under President Obama or a Clinton, conservative backlash would have been resounding and swift. Indeed, it usually was for much lesser transgressions.

Re-branding TDS

There is definitely a Trump-related syndrome out there corrupting the body politic, but I’d argue that it’s the one affecting Trump supporters and a complicit political party blindly following this categorically unfit buffoon no matter what he says or does, or how far he strays from traditional conservative orthodoxy. This theory is regularly supported by Republican polling and primary results, not to mention, a few disturbing campaign ads (looking at you, Rick DeSantis). Take our relationship with Russia, for example. We are more aware than ever of Russia’s criminal activity in our electoral system, and yet the number of Republicans who consider Russia an ally today has nearly doubled since 2014. The good folks of Iowa voted +10 for Trump in 2016, after he publicly asked a crowd full of Iowans, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?

Trump Derangement Syndrome is best summed up by Trump himself: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” It doesn’t get more deranged than that.

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