Donald Trump has failed his cognitive test. Not the one that involved correctly identifying a group of animals that were the supporting cast of Dumbo, or even in being able to count backward. It’s entirely possible Trump was capable of these tasks, just as he says … although the insistence with which he makes these claims is concerning. With Trump, the more often and more forcefully he says anything, the greater the odds it’s an absolute lie.
But where Trump really failed the test wasn’t in being able to repeat five words in order, or distinguish mammals with trunks from those with humps. Trump has failed his test, because he can’t identify the purpose of the test. Again and again, Trump has indicated he thinks this was a test is meant to measure some positive aspect of his brainpower, when that is absolutely not the case. And in his repeated failures to correctly identify the purpose of the test, Trump displays a fundamental failure—one that may be related to why he was given the test in the first place.
Of course, the superstar moment from Trump’s Wednesday appearance was this …
I am speechless pic.twitter.com/LAhcvnFwFj
— Jennifer Hayden (@Scout_Finch) July 23, 2020
It’s not just that Trump insists on demonstrating his ability to repeat the list “person, woman, man, camera, TV”; it’s that he explicitly describes this as one of the “difficult” questions from the end of the test. It would be interesting to know what other questions Trump found difficult. Was it drawing a cube? Being able to arrange the numbers on a clock?
The whole point of a cognitive impairment test is that there should be no difficult questions. Yes, the average person may have to think a bit In counting backward by seven or nine, but repeating five words in order is not a challenge. If it seems like one, then that’s already a concern. There is no upside to this test. It either shows nothing, or it shows an issue. It cannot be “aced” because it doesn’t measure skill. It measures loss.
As The Washington Post makes clear, just the fact that Trump has been administered this test—more than once, if he is to be believed—is extremely concerning. The test, “is normally administered only if someone is concerned that they or their loved ones may be experiencing dementia or other cognitive decline.”
The timing of Trump’s claims about taking the exam suggest a connection to his mysterious Saturday night visit to Walter Reed Hospital. it seems altogether likely that some symptoms occurred—a momentary loss of consciousness, a period of aphasia, something—which made White House officials concerned that Trump had suffered some serious event. He was likely given the test to determine any lasting effects of … whatever happened.
But even if Trump is really the Bob Ross of drawing hands on a clock, the way he talks about the test itself shows a fundamental impairment; and one that is not limited to this test. Trump cannot process information that does not square with his initial impression of any circumstance. Whether it’s how Kim Jong Un is a great guy or hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness against COVID-19, once Trump has an idea fixed in his mind he cannot change it. This seems to be the case even when acknowledging new information would benefit Trump. That’s an aspect of cognitive flexibility, an executive function that is not well tested by the type of exam Trump was given.
There are ways to test this function … but they not really necessary. The plodding inflexibility of Trump’s mind is on display every day, and perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the way he cannot stop bragging about this test. By now, surely many people have tried to explain to Trump that the mere fact that he was administered the test is not a good thing. He can’t see past the idea that he got “extra points” for getting his five words in order.
Now, someone please change the nuclear codes. Because “person, woman, man, camera, TV” is going to be too obvious.
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