WASHINGTON – Examining the White House physician’s briefing on President Donald Trump’s physical, I was alarmed – not about the president’s health, but the doctor’s.
Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson was so effusive in extolling the totally amazing, surpassingly marvelous, superbly stupendous and extremely awesome health of the president that the doctor sounded almost Trumpian. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” he said, repeating “excellent” eight times: “Hands down, there’s no question that he is in the excellent range. . I put out in the statement that the president’s health is excellent, because his overall health is excellent. . Overall, he has very, very good health. Excellent health.”
And just how excellent is His Excellency’s excellent health, doctor? “Incredible cardiac fitness,” was Dr. Jackson’s professional opinion. “He has incredible genes. . He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”
Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, making a rare house call to the White House briefing room, offered a second opinion. “He is taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, he has evidence of heart disease, and he’s borderline obese,” Gupta pointed out, citing Jackson’s own findings. “Can you characterize that as excellent health?”
Jackson replied that Trump’s heart is “in the excellent category.”
And not just his heart! The doctor rhapsodized about Trump’s vision, his stamina (“more energy than just about anybody”) and above all his mental acuity, which, Jackson made sure to note, he examined only “because the president asked me to.” Trump is “very sharp, and he’s very articulate. . Very, very sharp, very intact. . Absolutely no cognitive or mental issues whatsoever. . The president did exceedingly well.”
Sure, the guy could exercise and lose a few pounds. But “if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old,” the White House physician proclaimed. Jackson even blessed Trump’s habit of sleeping only four or five hours a night – “probably one of the reasons why he’s been successful” – and his couch-potato tendencies: “He can watch as much TV as he wants.”
And that time when Trump slurred his speech? Jackson blamed himself, for prescribing Sudafed. It was dry throat – exactly the diagnosis offered by the White House spokeswoman!
Jackson, nearly equaling the prediction of Trump’s personal doctor that he would be the healthiest president ever, predicted Trump would remain healthy “for the remainder of another term, if he’s elected.”
Jackson has been a well-regarded doctor. But since finding himself in Trump’s orbit, he has adopted the hyperbolic style and excessive flattery of the boss that we see in other, previously respectable members of Trump’s court.
We see it in the once-dignified Sen. Orrin Hatch suggesting Trump is on his way to being a better president than Lincoln or Washington, in Rep. Kevin McCarthy collecting pink and red Starburst candy for Trump, in the lies told by Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to cover for Trump’s racist outburst, and in the fawning public performances by White House officials Stephen Miller and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. What makes them trash their dignity?
I put the question to Bandy X. Lee, the Yale Medical School psychiatrist who compiled the controversial book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” raising doubts about Trump’s mental fitness.
Lee said the screening test Jackson gave Trump “gives the public a false sense of reassurance.” Indeed, Donald Trump Jr. used the results of the test in a tweet: “More #winning. 30 out of 30.”
She said the test, though useful for detecting Alzheimer’s and the like, indicates little about “his high functioning, his frontal-lobe functioning, that we’re questioning.” To figure out what causes the worrisome traits President Trump exhibits – disordered decision-making, an insatiable need for affirmation, little impulse control, confusion about facts, difficulty foreseeing consequences – you’d need more extensive tests, a psychological exam and an MRI.
But, in a sense, you don’t need a doctor’s diagnosis to see that there’s a lot of chaos and volatility in the presidential brain.
That, Lee speculates, could explain powerful sycophancy that overcomes those who get close to Trump. “Those close to him are sensing this level of appeasement is necessary,” Lee speculated. They “feel they need to step in as a way to diminish his volatility and rage.”
The danger, Lee said, is that Trump’s courtiers do this for too long and succumb to “shared psychosis,” in which they come to “share his view of the world and lose touch with reality.”
They might even come to believe that a sedentary 71-year-old with significant plaque in his coronary arteries, high cholesterol and borderline obesity is the very picture of health.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.