Connections: The Nanny State

Unchecked expressions of unfiltered emotion

Children are taught to control their impulses, to think before they do or say something adults might consider bad. In my case, I certainly have learned over the years not to act as impulsively as I did when I was 3 or 4 — though I have to admit that I never quite got down pat the bit about making sure you really want to say something before you actually say it.

Now let us consider President Trump.

Political commentators, talking heads, and a panoply of professionals in the psychiatric fields have chimed in about his impulse control, or lack thereof. If you and I say something without thinking, it can have any range of effects, from the comedic to the offensive. But when the president of the United States erupts with unchecked expressions of unfiltered emotion — explosions of anger or wounded pride — the results, obviously, are on a much more fearsome scale. 

Recently, President Trump retweeted three videos from an anti-Muslim hate group called Britain First without bothering to find out what the group stood for or what the British people might think of it. Following this, in the words of Jake Tapper, the CNN anchor, “concerns about the behavior and judgment” of the president “consumed a great deal of time in Parliament”; the United States Embassy in London was “bracing for violence because of the president’s impulse-control issues.” 

Steve Schmidt, an adviser to the administration of George W. Bush who was the manager of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, was even more scathing. “Clearly,” Mr. Schmidt was quoted as saying, “we have a 71-year-old president of the United States who has the impulse control of a little child, who feels aggrieved, who’s resentful, who’s a constant victim.” 

The “she said/he said” exchange that followed between President Trump and Prime Minister Theresa May made it clear that the president is content with whatever he blurts out, and that he cannot admit a mistake.

While we’re discussing toddler-stage emotional-development milestones, how about the related concept of delayed gratification? Depending on which source you consult, Mr. Trump has been accused of sexual harassment by 11 or 16 women. Last week, he started calling the “Access Hollywood” audio tape — in which he spoke unforgettably about his free pass, as celebrity, to grab women by the private parts — a fake, even though he had previously admitted it was indeed him on the recording. Children of 3 or 4 typically cannot stop themselves from reaching to grab candy when it comes into view, but what about a grown man who reaches out to grab women he’s never met before but considers attractive? 

Psychology Today says that you can help  youngsters learn to regulate their emotions by certain time-tested strategies, like being a good role model; getting children to talk about their thoughts and connecting them to their feelings; offering them limited but positive choices that allow them to develop a sense of self-confidence as independent decision-makers, and offering consistent discipline with a system of expressed expectations, rewards, and consequences.

President Trump isn’t going to appreciate any attempts at parental-style behavior mentoring from anyone on the Democratic side, but some senior figure in the G.O.P. might get results by taking on the role of stern father, strict mother, or super nanny. I wish Senator McCain were healthy enough to discipline Mr. Trump with the requisite pats on the head and raps on the knuckles. It might just have worked.