An already tumultuous week of news for the White House was capped off by a New York Times report on Friday that said President Donald Trump discussed his abrupt firing of James B. Comey as FBI director during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials the day after the termination.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to an account reported by the Times that was not disputed by the White House. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The new report ignited afresh the possibility that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.
But it was also the reappearance of one of Trump’s preferred ways of insulting people: by suggesting that he is calling into question their mental stability. It’s unclear if Trump does this intentionally — is this an instance where we’re supposed to take him seriously, but not literally? — or if he uses such put-downs without giving a second thought to their association with mental health.
Nevertheless, Trump’s reported verbal attack on Comey sparked an immediate spike in lookups Friday for “nutjob” (defined as “a mentally unbalanced person; a crazy person”), according to Merriam Webster.
In the world of Trumpian taunts, it’s safe to say “nut job” falls somewhere on the second tier. A search of his Twitter account reveals the president lobs it with far less frequency than, say, “loser” (which has appeared 72 times in his tweets), “crazy” (65 times) or “dumb” (95 times).
In fact, Trump has only once called someone a “nut job” on Twitter: Glenn Beck.
(Beck refused to engage. “It is beneath me to respond to this,” he told The Blaze.)
In person, Trump has labelled someone a “nut job” more often, from conservatives to liberals to dictators.
Last February, Trump called Sen. Lindsey O. Graham the “dumbest human being” at an event in the senator’s home state after the one-time Republican nomination rival had described Trump as “crazy” and “unfit for office.”
“He went crazy,” Trump declared, according to ABC News. “The guy is a nut job.”
Graham returned the insults about a week later, going on “a seven-minute diatribe in the Capitol basement” before stating that he was “literally running out of adjectives” with which to blast Trump, The Washington Post’s Paul Kane reported.
“I think he’s going to lose, and he’s going to lose badly,” Graham said of Trump. “So don’t look at me to be the guy who stops [him] from being president of the United States. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t nominate a nut job and lose, and expect it doesn’t have consequences.”
A few months later, in June, Trump turned his ire on Bernie Sanders, whom he deemed “crazy Bernie” and “a total nut job.”
At the time, the Democratic presidential hopeful opted for the “I know you are but what am I” defence, laughing the insult off and telling a television reporter that Trump ought to look in the mirror.
Compared with his definitive assessments of Graham, Beck and Sanders, Trump was slightly more reserved when calling into question the mental state of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last January.
“I think it’s a serious problem because he is probably on the wacky side,” Trump said of Kim on Fox News then. “I mean, you’ve got this mad man playing around with the nukes and it has got to end. He’s certainly — he could be a total nut job, frankly.”
Kim has not yet responded to Trump’s comments.
On Friday, Merriam-Webster reported that lookups for “nutjob” spiked 173,750 per cent after the New York Times report published Trump’s alleged remarks about Comey. By Saturday, “nutjob” was the top trending word on the dictionary’s website.
“’Nutjob’ is derived from the word ‘nut’ (“a crazy person”) combined with the word ‘job,’ “ Merriam Webster stated in a blog post. “Yes, that’s really it.”
Though relatively rare, the insult emerges frequently enough from Trump that the quirk made its way to a “Saturday Night Live” cold open last April, in which a Trump surrogate — played by Cecily Strong — refers to herself as a “nut job.”
It’s no secret that Trump loves to demean his critics with an array of put-downs. (In 2015 The Washington Post found that Trump had publicly insulted at least 68 people or groups that year.)
But Trump seems to have a proclivity for insults that cast others as mentally unstable or mentally ill. In a few cases, he has said it outright.
Usually, Trump uses other words that are connected with mental health but have a negative connotation. He’s called people “wacko” (sometimes spelling it “whacko,” especially when referring to disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner).
In a handful of instances, Trump has deemed someone — or something — to be a “basket case.” Then-Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush? “A basket case!” Former “Art of the Deal” ghostwriter Tony Schwartz? “ … now a hostile basket case who feels jilted!” The United States of America? An “economic basket case.”
As The Post’s Colby Itkowitz reported last February, Trump’s flippant usage of such insults reflected a broader, often dismissive attitude about mental health in society. People are so inured to such disparaging insults that they often don’t immediately associate them with mental health at all — and even if they do, they don’t think twice about it.
Trump’s words only add to the “shame” and negative stigma surrounding people who are suffering from mental illness, experts told Itkowitz.
“Stigmatizing words, stereotypes and portrayals end up helping to shape society’s attitudes,” Bob Carolla, spokesman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said then. “You can’t say it’s harmless, because it isn’t.”
Trump has also been on the receiving end of these types of insults — most recently when Comey’s father, 86-year-old J. Brien Comey, came to his son’s defence.
“I never was crazy about Trump,” J. Brien Comey told the Bergen County Record. “I’m convinced that he’s nuts. I thought he belonged in an institution. He was crazy before he became president. Now he’s really crazy.”