Is Trump Experiencing a Break With Reality?

by Bob Schwartz

“Trump suggested to a senator earlier this year that [the “Access Hollywood” tape] was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.”

The New York Times reports:

But something deeper has been consuming Mr. Trump. He sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently. (In the hours after it was revealed in October 2016, Mr. Trump acknowledged that the voice was his, and he apologized.)

The least controversial interpretation is that Trump is doing what he frequently does: saying something untrue in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary to escape an inconvenient situation. Or, as even Republicans admit, he lies.

But sometimes you wonder, as when candidate Trump said he saw people cheering the attacks on 9/11:

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump says he saw people cheering the Sept. 11 attacks across the river in New Jersey — a claim officials strongly deny.

Trump first told the story Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, as he pressed the need for greater surveillance, including monitoring certain mosques, in the wake of the Paris attacks.

“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering,” Trump said Saturday at a rally in Birmingham, Alabama.

Trump repeated the assertion Sunday in an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week,” as Stephanopoulos explained to Trump that police had refuted any such rumors at the time.

“It did happen. I saw it,” said Trump. “It was on television. I saw it.”

It was simple to dismiss this as political prevarication. But the sincerity with which he said it might indicate he really did see it, or thought he did. In the current revision of history, he says he no longer believes that he spoke the words that appear to be coming out of his mouth—even though he previously acknowledged it.

So maybe Trump really does now believe he never said the words he is shown saying and admits saying. If that is the case, it is evidence that somehow he is experiencing a break with reality. There is no clinical definition of the term “mental breakdown”, but the clinical conditions related to this sort of break can be exacerbated or triggered by extreme stress. However Trump got himself into his current situation, and whether or not he was predisposed to mental problems before he took office, he is now in a situation that offers little opportunity for a clean escape. It would not be surprising if anyone under that kind of pressure might no longer know the difference between the real and unreal, the true and untrue. If the person is president, the stakes are immeasurably high.

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