Friday, August 04, 2017

A New Presidential Fitness Test

When I was a kid in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a thing called the Presidential Physical Fitness Test for school children. My friends and I could reach the 100th percentile in situps, but had trouble with pullups. It was started in the 60s when with concerns that Americans were getting soft:
In the 1950s, research showed Americans were out of shape and in poor health compared with their counterparts in Europe. In response, President Eisenhower formed the President's Council on Youth Fitness — to investigate the findings and mount a national response.

When President Kennedy took office, he made improving the nation's fitness a top priority of his administration. In 1960, he wrote an op-ed in Sports Illustrated, declaring, "in a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security."

The remedy — or the attempt at a remedy — came in 1966, with the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. The original test was designed to encourage and prepare young Americans for the physical demands of military service. It included a softball throw — said to mimic throwing a grenade; a broad jump — later renamed the long jump; a shuttle run — to test agility; and pull-ups — designed to imitate a sailor climbing a ladder.

To receive the award, a student needed to place in the top 85th percentile based on national standards. In, say, 2008, that meant an 11-year-old girl had to run a mile in under 9 minutes, do three pull-ups and complete 42 curl-ups in 60 seconds.
Similar concerns are being raised now, with so many obese adults and children.

I propose a new President Fitness Test: not for kids, but for the president himself. For the last several years Trump has been acting, well, crazy. He seems incapable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. He lies constantly. He suffers from grandiosity. He blurts out inappropriate comments and lacks any apparent self control.

There's been a lot of discussion about psychiatric professionals evaluating Trump's mental state without a direct examination -- something the profession swore off after Barry Goldwater's run for president.

But recently the American Psychoanalytic Association said its members don't have to abide by the Goldwater rule any longer (though the American Psychoatric Association still recommends it): they are free to comment on Trump's mental state.

Several articles have appeared recently questioning Trump's mental and physical health. An article in STAT documents a marked decline in his ability to speak in coherent, grammatical sentences over the last 30 years. Trump seems easily confused and unstable on his feet, as shown in this video of him not knowing where he's going when getting off Air Force One, and this one showing him needing help walking from an old lady (Teresa May) walking down a slope.

Trump's not the first president to suffer mental disability in office. A study showed that Ronald Reagan was almost certainly suffering from Alzheimers in the last half on his presidency, while George H.W. Bush was not. Woodrow Wilson suffered strokes and 1919 and his wife basically assumed the presidency. FDR was ill with heart disease for years, and probably died from skin cancer that spread to his brain, killing him in 1945. John F. Kennedy had a number of health issues.

Most of those presidents' mental deterioration began after they assumed office. But based on Trump's behavior and speech patterns, it's clear something has been wrong with him for the last ten or fifteen years. No previous president has been so obviously and publicly unfit for office.

For this reason, Congress should pass a new Presidential Physical and Mental Fitness Test. One that requires presidents and vice presidents to be examined by a panel of doctors and psychiatrists to issue a report to congress on the health of the executive branch. This should include an MRI to look for atrophy in Trump's brain.

The FAA requires that pilots undergo physical and mental examinations before flying. The pilot is a single point of failure: if a pilot goes bonkers hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people can die.

The president's job is even more delicate: if he makes the wrong decision -- or worse, takes impetuous and spiteful action -- millions of people can die. We could go to war over a perceived insult.

A mandated presidential physical and mental examination is a common-sense precaution that could allow Republicans to save face. Once presented with the results of his such an examination, Trump might be talked into resigning instead of going through an embarrassing impeachment trial that would damage the country and the Republican Party.

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