I never thought I’d say this, and certainly not publicly, but I have some things in common with Donald Trump.
We are both baby boomers, born in 1946. Post war, the rise of rock n roll, Mo Town, Aretha belting out, R E S P E C T, Elvis crooning, Now or never, and Sam Cook promising, A change is gonna come. I wonder if he had his own turn table to play a stack 45’s? Does he remember the day JFK or MLK died? Mario Savio, extoling, “Don’t trust anyone over 30?”, and Woodstsock, singing for our lives? Those events changed my young life. Those were the years.
Where’s my Roy Cohn?
Trump wondered aloud, to his then lawyer Michael Cohen, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Seems like Roy played a significant role in each of our lives. I learned Roy Cohn’s name as a child, listening to my parents talk about the McCarthy hearings and the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. It was a scary time. People were afraid of being arrested and jailed, simply because of their political beliefs. I was far too young to understand Roy Cohn’s Machiavellian tactics when denouncing people as Communist, getting mobsters out of legal jams, or ensuring that the Rosenberg’s were executed. I do remember, vividly, seeing the 10-year-old Michael Rosenberg and 6-year-old Robert, walk up the stairs of Sing Sing Penitentiary to say a final good bye to their parents. My 6-year-old self was afraid that that my parents, too, might be killed, leaving me and my 10-year-old brother orphaned.
A little fear goes a long way. The execution of these two very ordinary people and the narrative cast around them, fueled the flames of the Red Scare for decades. Even as the head of Russia is embraced by our current US president, the fear of Communism pervades a generation, that knows nothing about Communism, other than to fear it.
Like all of our age peers, the Vietnam war played a big role in our lives, mine and Donald’s. We had to make decisions, take sides, become politically active or remain steadfastly passive as the evening news announced the numbers of American’s who had died in Vietnam that day. My fiancé decided to join the Navy and enter Officer’s Candidate School so that I would have more money to live on after we married, and could complete college, while he did two tours of duty in Vietnam.
Poor Donald had to file for draft deferments, over and over again, so that he could finish college and avoid any tour of duty. The first 4 deferments took him through his undergraduate education. Then, sadly, he had bone spurs, resulting in what became a 4F, unfit for duty, classification. We all knew, in those years, what 1A and 4F meant.
Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test
Our greatest commonality is our relationship to the Montreal Cognitive Assessment Test, the instrument used to test cognitive capacity. President Trump has introduced the American public to this test and some of its features. Let me share my experience.
I suffered a severe Traumatic Brain Injury as the result of a violent attack by a stranger. (Oh. Maybe that’s another thing we have in common. We try to stay away from violence)
Because of the TBI, I am frequently tested to check my current level of cognitive acuity.
The first time I took the test, about 8 years ago, it lasted for 5 hours. At that time, there was no baseline about the extent of brain damage I had suffered, so the test was very thorough. I was anxious and embarrassed to be sitting at a table with blocks, paper, and pencils. I was asked to arrange the blocks in certain configurations, a rectangle or octagon; identify pictures of animals, and reproduce a drawing that contained angles and squares. There was a vocabulary test, one minute to name as many words as possible that began with the letter “C” (or another letter), count backward by 7, starting at 100, and recall a set of words told to me at the beginning of the test and then asked again at different time interval, like Person, Man, Woman, TV, Picture. When I realized that I couldn’t put the blocks in the shape of an octagon or draw a picture of the hands of a clock showing 11:10, I started to cry. I, like President Trump, considered myself smart. I was the valedictorian of my high school, class of ‘64, held a doctorate in education and, at the time, was a college professor. I could tell time, but not draw it.
Over the years, I’ve taken the test many times. Now I take the 30-40 minutes to version. I still can’t draw the hands on a clock showing time. In the course of 8 years, I’ve actually improved on other parts of the test. I’m not as frightened and I understand that what seem like silly questions, identifying a picture of an elephant, repeating the months of the year backwards, or remembering the pieces of a story, 15 minutes after hearing the story, really do assess my cognitive functioning. While I am accustomed to the test, it continues to be a reminder of a significant, painful and traumatic injury.
The test is, in fact, very serious. For people, like me, with brain damage, it is used design treatment goals and measure change, whether positive or troublesome. For people who may be exhibiting signs of dementia or other brain maladies, it can provide information that to help make decisions about their safety, such as, will she get lost, forget that the stove is turned on, forgot his address.
For individuals and their families, these are not SAT tests, with results that offer bragging rights. These are tests that show fragility, vulnerability, decline, decay. The test can also illuminate positive change, often related to the development of new neural pathways.
I laughed when I first saw the clip of the president recounting his test experience and results. My reaction came in large part from my own discomfort, with a raw, vulnerable part of me being caricatured in full view. For those us who cannot recognize the elephant or get a “perfect” score on the word list memory part, there is nothing funny and nothing to boast about publicly. The taking of the test and the outcome, is a painful reminder of what has been lost and perhaps, what lies ahead. For anyone who has seen a loved one suffer significant cognitive decline, President Trumps recitation of person man woman TV camera, resurfaces emotional memories of watching a slow, unstoppable, decline.
His intention is only to speak to his experience and demonstrate to the public his acuity. However, as President, he has a greater responsibility. He must demonstrate what Paula Gunn Allen calls, Linguistic Honor. It is a quality salient to everyone, but his reach and sway are formidable
She tells us that, “Tribal people say the words are sacred…you should in your being recognize that when you speak, your utterance has consequences inwardly and outwardly and that you are accountable for those consequences.”
From the perspective of linguistic honor, person man woman TV camera, are sacred and must be uttered with full awareness of the impact on the listener. In respect to thinking about how my language and actions impact others, Donald and I have no common ground.