Phillip Henderson, associate professor, politics, published commentary in The American Conservative on presidents with personality flaws and short attention spans.


The reaction to Bob Woodward’s new book Fear has been almost completely devoid of historical context. The very folks who are trying to convince us, based on Woodward’s account, that Donald Trump is unhinged are ignoring the fact that Trump is hardly the first American president to have temperamental deficiencies. Many of Trump’s alleged personality-related problems are not new in presidential history. Presenting his eccentricities as evidence of a constitutional crisis reflects a clear bias of omission by those doing the reporting.

Former CIA director John Brennan was among the earliest to call Trump “paranoid.” He was echoed by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who recently worried that an op-ed by an anonymous Trump administration staffer will make Trump even “more paranoid.” That op-ed used the term “erratic” to describe Trump. “Paranoid” and “erratic”—those terms have been used before, by top White House aides to describe another president: Lyndon Baines Johnson. Bill Moyers, who served as one of Johnson’s top special assistants and as White House press secretary, told historian Robert Dallek that Johnson was “paranoid” and “depressed,” as well as “morose, self-pitying, angry.” “He was a tormented man,” Moyers said, particularly after his decision to escalate the war in Vietnam in 1965. Professor Dallek, in a 1998 essay in The Atlantic, also used the word “erratic” to describe LBJ. ...

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