WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump and his supporters have a new buzz phrase to diagnose his critics: “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”
The term is supposed to describe voters who are so angry and opposed to the U.S. president that they are incapable of seeing any good in what he does. “TDS” has popped up on Fox News in recent weeks and was cited by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., in interviews this week before being used by the president himself on Twitter on Wednesday.
His tweet: “Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!”
It’s the latest linguistics salvo by a president who fundamentally altered the definition of “fake news” and tries to discredit opponents of his administration by pointing to the most extreme critiques.
In the case of Russia, Trump’s fiercest detractors, including former CIA Director John Brennan, this week went so far as to call Trump’s actions “treasonous” after he doubted U.S. intelligence findings that Russia tried to sway the 2016 presidential election.
Trump didn’t come up with the latest catchphrase. In 2003, conservative opinion writer Charles Krauthammer described liberals’ reaction to President George W. Bush as “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” defined as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.”
By end of President Barack Obama’s tenure, some liberal pundits co-opted the phrase to describe conservatives’ visceral reaction to the Democrat’s policies. UrbanDictionary.com, a popular crowdsourced online dictionary for slang terms, now has definitions for all three presidential “syndromes” — each written with plenty of bias.
“Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is a mental condition in which a person has been driven effectively insane due to their dislike of Donald Trump, to the point at which they will abandon all logic and reason,” the site states.
In other words, it’s not enough for Trump to disagree with his critics. “Derangement syndrome” suggests a political opponent is incapable of accurately perceiving the world.
It’s precisely the same criticism many Democrats have lobbed at Trump.
“It’s reframing, and reframing works,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “It’s the stock-in-trade of political arguments.”
Although, this particular phrase could backfire, Jamieson said. She notes that stringing together Trump’s name with “Derangement” and “Syndrome” carries the obvious risk that people will interpret Trump as the one who is “deranged,” instead of his critics.
But Trump has been successful before in taking a criticism and flipping it against his opponents.
For example, “fake news” was used before the 2016 election to describe fabricated online postings such as “Pizzagate” or the false allegation that Obama was born in Africa and therefore an illegitimate president.
After losing the election to Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton decried “fake news” as an “epidemic” in the U.S. The next day, Trump tweeted the term to criticize a CNN report — the first of many tweets he would fire off using the phrase to discredit even credible reporting. Now, the term “fake news” is seen as synonymous with Trump’s criticisms of mainstream media outlets.
Trump sent his tweet Wednesday about half an hour after “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade uttered the phrase on air. Fox News’ Tomi Lahren and Sen. Paul also used the phrase following the Putin summit, although conservative pundit Bernie Goldberg used the term as far back as January 2017 before Trump’s inauguration, declaring on The O’Reilly Factor show that “it’s even worse than cancer.”
The use of the term appears to be in line with a broader GOP strategy to discredit Trump’s critics by pointing out the most extreme examples of protest — a tactic common in U.S. politics.
Earlier this summer, the Republican National Committee released an online ad suggesting the Democratic party was “unhinged.” Examples included Kathy Griffin’s photo of the comedian holding a fake dismembered Trump head and actor Johnny Depp asking a crowd when was the “last time an actor assassinated a president?”