Some 43 years ago I arrived at the Homewood Campus of the Johns Hopkins University, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in African history under the tutelage of the then-dean of African historians, Philip Curtin. From an academic perspective, the program was brilliantly conceived. Hopkins had recruited top professors from the Yale University anthropology program with idea of creating an interdisciplinary historical-anthropological approach to studying nations and cultures bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Faculty and grad students gathered in weekly sessions to share insights into the interaction between civilizations as Europe established its primacy over Africans and native Americans. (Bernard Moitt, now a history professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, studied with me under Curtin.)
As intellectually stimulating as the program was in some ways, it was stifling in another. Ideological diversity of the faculty ranged from Marxist to far Left. Virtually all research and inquiry shared the common assumptions that (a) European colonialism was an unequivocal evil and (b) all the problems of the Third World in the early 1970s could be attributed to the legacies of colonialism and neo-imperialism. As the lone political conservative in the program, I stood out like a Christian missionary in the court of Shaka Zulu. When, as a junior-ranking graduate student, I dared express myself, I often inspired astonished disbelief. Colonialism wasn’t all bad, I suggested one time. Sure, it was exploitative in ways, but Great Britain ended the slave trade, quelled predatory African kingdoms, repressed tribal conflict, built roads and railroads, created export industries, and established a rule of law. I might as well have proclaimed that I ate my boogers for lunch.
The end result wasn’t pretty. While I wasn’t kicked out of the program, Curtin yanked my stipend, making it impossible for me to support myself while putting in a minimum of 60 hours of weekly study. In breaking the bad news, he made two suggestions. First, that I wasn’t really cut out for academia; perhaps I should consider a career as a stock broker. Second, that I should see a psychiatrist. Getting psychiatric help wasn’t anything to be ashamed of, he said. It might do me some good.
While Curtin was aloof and indifferent to my travails as a graduate student, he wasn’t deliberately cruel. He was quite sincere about my need for psychiatric help. He never did say exactly what I should seek help for, but I suspect that he thought I had something akin to Tourette’s syndrome — blurting out wildly inappropriate statements. To his mind, the gap in his frame of reference for looking at the world and my frame of reference was so vast that it could not be explained by a simple difference of opinion. There was something wrong with me. Although he never put it this way, I was emotionally or mentally defective.
That’s the baggage I carry with me when I hear politicians and mainstream organizations decry President Donald Trump as clinically insane.
Now, while I support many of his policies, I dislike Trump personally. I did not vote for him. I regard him as a Narcissist — an insecure Narcissist — who takes wildly disproportionate umbrage to insults. He picks needless fights. He is coarse, uncouth, and a misogynist. He is shockingly inarticulate and ignorant at times. He tweets before he thinks, causing needless chaos. And while I doubt that he is a racist, he is indubitably indifferent to the sensibilities of ethnic and racial minorities. In word and deed, he has degraded the dignity of the office of the presidency.
But is he insane? Is he certifiably wacko, as we have been hearing in a growing crescendo of commentary in the news media? Is he a maniac with his finger on the nuclear button? No. Trump is very sane. His cognitive functioning is fine. He doesn’t have split personalities. He doesn’t hear voices in his head. His real sin is that he entertains a different version of reality than those who detest him the most.
As I learned from personal experience four decades ago, the Left in this country does not simply think that those who do not share their views of the world are simply uninformed, have different values, or have reached illogical conclusions. They are not merely wrong, they are defective as human beings. Either they are motivated by base self-interest and greed, or they are incredibly stupid, or they are clinically insane. Thus, in the formulation of the Left, Ronald Reagan was an amiable dunce; George W. Bush was lampooned as incurious and a non-reader, and caricatured a chimpanzee; and Trump is a certifiable basket case — a greedy basket case out to enrich himself and overthrow democracy. The Left loves to psycho-analyze those it hates and to find them defective.
The Left scares me. While I disagree with cultural conservatives on many issues, at least they’re not trying to impose their views on me. At least they don’t brand their enemies as psychos — although, given the displays I’ve witnessed of Trump Derangement Syndrome, perhaps they should.
This column was published originally in The Republican Standard.