OPINION | The next pandemic: Trump Derangement Syndrome

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IT’S been going around for some time and now appears to be in danger of spreading widely.

I refer not to Covid-19, but to Donald-20, or, to use its pseudoscientific name, Trump Derangement Syndrome. Research has shown that TDS appears in five stages, each of advanced intensity. Perhaps there will be some value, if not promise of diminishment, in setting these parameters out for public awareness.


The cause of TDS is clear enough — Donald Trump, his looks, his manner, his nearly every utterance. So far there is no known cure. Ventilators are unnecessary in TDS, for people who progress beyond the first stage tend to vent quite vigorously on their own.


In Stage One, the afflicted has decided before 2016 that Donald Trump has serious, even strenuous, character flaws that disqualified him for the presidency or any other public office. Voting for him was never possible. For Stage One sufferers, a second Trump term could have effects that are frightening to contemplate. Stage One patients view the Trump presidency as a blotch in American political history.


In Stage Two, one dwells upon Donald Trump’s looks. One has put a fair amount of thought into the architecture of his hairdo, wondering how much time each morning he must devote to its re-creation and whether he employs a stylist to help. One notices that the length of his neckties covers up his ample alderman as does the way he sits, leaning forward in his chair. Photographs of him in golf apparel are studied for what they reveal of the impressive breadth of his backside. The smugness of his smile is registered, the smallness of his hands always noted.


In Stage Three, one is ready to believe anything — anything pernicious or salacious, that is — about Mr. Trump and to reject anything he has done that might be good for the country, if only because he is the man who did it. One is ready to believe that he diets exclusively on the meat of endangered species, that there is something weirdly illicit about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, that he secretly admires Kim Jong Un’s wardrobe. For Stage Three sufferers, nothing about President Trump can be totally disbelieved.


As for those of Donald Trump’s policies that, coming from another president, one might be pleased about, these are rejected in Stage Three derangement syndrome. Israel shouldn’t count on the allegiance of Mr. Trump. The revival of the American economy, before Covid-19 sent it cratering, was owing not to Mr. Trump but to President Obama. The lowering of black and Hispanic unemployment figures under the Trump administration is scarcely to be believed. Nor is the utility of his legislation reforming prisons or of his creating opportunity areas in black neighborhoods, if only because it happened under Donald Trump, who is, patients say, clearly a racist. In Stage Three derangement syndrome, if Donald Trump is for any specific policy, one is automatically against it; if he is against it, one is for it. Case not so much closed as never really opened.


In Stage Four, one imputes evil to Mr. Trump. One believes he became president of the United States to boost his hotel business. One is certain he has it in mind to create a dynasty, with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner waiting to succeed him as president-emperor. Even should Mr. Trump lose the forthcoming presidential election, Stage Four derangement syndrome sufferers believe he is unlikely to depart the White House willingly and is not beyond using military force to keep himself in power. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao — for people with Stage Four derangement syndrome, Donald Trump is clearly a figure in their line.


In Stage Five TDS, one is weighted down with all the symptoms of the first four stages, but brings to them an added choleric intensity of anger. At the mere mention of the name Donald Trump, unprintable expletives issue out of one’s foam-flecked lips. One’s skin flushes, veins appear on one’s forehead, one’s hands tremble, one loses all powers of speech.


Still, the nice thing about Trump Derangement Syndrome is that to prevent catching or spreading it, you don’t have to wear a mask or always be washing your hands or practice social distancing. All you have to do is turn off your television set.


Mr. Epstein is author, most recently, of “Charm: The Elusive Enchantment.”


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