Send Trump to Bedlam, Not Rikers

Photo by Caleb Wright

Unless on July 11 Judge Juan Merchan sends Donald Trump up the river for four years of hard labor (poetic justice for having purloined a presidential term), it’s not worth playing the MAGA mug’s game of sentencing the former president to community service (he’d just steal from the youth basketball cash box) or probation (good luck trying to find a paying job for an adjudicated sex offender).

Nor will anything good come from allowing Trump’s release on his own recognizance pending an appeal, as that convoluted process might well take two years, in which time Trump can strut his stuff and withhold repaying his debt to society for the 34 felonies—in the same way he has yet to pay E. Jean Carroll her owed amount of $91.6 million or the state of New York its due $450 million.

Trump may be a master criminal, but he’s also a master of spending other people’s campaign contributions to slow walk every court case in his life, so that in the meantime he can run for president and extract billions from his latest Wall Street swindle (Trump Media).

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Instead Judge Merchan should do the American community a real service and at the July 11 hearing remand Trump for 30 days to a New York state hospital for a full mental evaluation.

Just about anything else Judge Merchan could do on July 11 will play into the hands of Trump and his Doomsday Gang, with this one exception.

Now Judge Merchan has the chance to send Trump off for a “psych eval” and there’s nothing all the president’s horses and all the president’s men can do to keep Humpty Dumpy propped up on the wall at Mar-a-Lago (along with his DJ headset).

If Trump wore old clothes and rode around on the New York subway mumbling the things he says at his press conferences, he long ago would have been dragged off to a state hospital.

If he was a member of your family, you would be waiting at the clinic early on a Monday morning, wondering about your options (and one of them would not be to run him for the presidency or hand him the nuclear codes).

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It is well within the remit of a presiding judge in a New York criminal trial to question whether the defendant has understood the charges that have been brought against him—and then, if there are doubts, to ask state medical examiners to conduct a thorough evaluation of the convict’s mental fitness (before any sentence is rendered).

Here are summaries of the New York codes under which Judge Merchan could order Trump to undergo a full mental work-up in a state facility. According to a paper outlining the rights of patients:

—A person who is confined in jail awaiting trial or sentencing may be admitted to a psychiatric center under Section 508 of the Rights of Inpatients in New York State Psychiatric Centers Correction Law. This admission is equivalent to an involuntary admission under the Mental Hygiene Law, except that the patient remains under guard and in custody of jail officials.

—A person who is a defendant in a criminal proceeding, who is or may be incapable of understanding the proceedings or helping in his or her own defense, may be committed under one of several court orders under Article 730 of the Criminal Procedure Law. An order of examination requires that the person be confined in a hospital for up to 30 days while a psychiatric examination is conducted. If necessary to complete the examination, the judge may authorize confinement for an additional period of up to 30 days.

On what basis should Trump be remanded to a state hospital? To me, two things are obvious from his various civil and criminal procedures: the first is that he shows no awareness or remorse for any of his actions, even when a jury has found him guilty; second, and more telling, in matters of sexual abuse, he denies overwhelming evidence against him, again showing no contrition.

Given that—similar to Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and Jeffrey Epstein—Trump is a serial abuser of women, the judge would be well within his obligations to order what is called a work-up on his mind.

Whether the doctors would find anything is another question.

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Trump’s lawyers or his family could challenge the court order for a mental evaluation, but at any hearing Judge Merchan could present into evidence the transcript of Trump’s recent press conference held at Trump Tower shortly after his conviction on 34 felony counts.

Trump spoke incoherently for 33 minutes about the trial, never once getting close to the nature of the charges brought against him. Here, for example, is how Trump opened the press conference:

Thank you very much everybody. This is a case where if they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone. These are bad people. These are, in many cases, I believe, sick people. When you look at our country, whats happening where millions and millions of people are flowing in from all parts of the world, not just South America, from Africa, from Asia, from the Middle East, and theyre coming in from jails and prisons and theyre coming in from mental institutions and insane asylums. Theyre coming in from all over the world into our country, and we have a president and a group of fascists that dont want to do anything about it because they could right now today, he could stop it, but hes not. Theyre destroying our country. Our countrys in very bad shape, and theyre very much against me saying these things.

How Trump made the mental leap from a trial over election interference to U.S. immigration laws is anyone’s guess. Later on in the press conference, he got no closer to an understanding of his own case, when he said:

So we have an NDA, non-disclosure agreement. Its a big deal, a non-disclosure agreement. Totally honorable, totally good, totally accepted. Everybody has them. Every company has non-disclosure agreements. But the press called it a slush fund and all sorts of other things. Hush money. Hush money. Its not hush money. Its called a non-disclosure agreement. And most of the people in this room have a non-disclosure agreement with their company. Its a disgrace. So its not hush money. Its a non-disclosure agreement. Totally legal, totally common. Everyone has it. And what happened is he signed a non-disclosure agreement with this person, I guess other people, but its totally honest. Youre allowed to make the payment. You dont have to make it… You can make it any way you want. Its a non-disclosure agreement. And he signed that. And there was nothing wrong with signing it. And this should have been a non-case, and everybody said it was a non-case, including Bragg, Bragg said. Until I ran for office, and then they saw the polls. I was leading the Republicans, I was leading the Democrats, I was leading everybody, and all of a sudden they brought it back.

Just to be clear, Trump wasn’t found guilty of agreeing to a non-disclosure agreement or having sex with a porn star, although to hear Stephanie Cliffords (aka Stormy Daniels) tell of the encounter it was close to being non-consensual.

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Trump was tried and convicted on charges that alleged that he falsified business records to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. But in Trump’s mind he was railroaded (34 times) for sloppy accounting, as he said at his press conference:

So the whole thing is legal expense was marked down as legal expense. Think of it. This is the crime that I committed that Im supposed to go to jail for 187 years for when you have violent crime all over this city at levels that nobodys ever seen before, where you have businesses leaving and businesses are leaving because of this. Because heads of businesses say, Man, we dont want to get involved with that.” I could go through the books of any business person in this city, and I could find things that, in theory, I guess lets indict him, lets destroy his life. But Im out there and I dont mind being out there because Im doing something for this country and Im doing something for our constitution.

At any procedural hearing, Judge Merchan might also point out to Trump’s legal representatives that their client claims to have no memory of numerous sexual encounters that many women, under oath, have testified in court took place (unwillingly) between themselves and the defendant.

Of E. Jean Carroll, Trump said: “I’ll say it with great respect: Number one, shes not my type. Number two, it never happened.” He also said: “I don’t know who this woman is. I never met this woman.” But in two separate court cases on the matter, a jury of his peers said he had, and that he had sexually abused her.

Possible question to Trump during his evaluation: “If a woman is ‘your type,’ does that justify rape?”

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I am not a psychiatrist nor do I play one on YouTube, but the great scandal of the 2024 election is that Trump’s mental impairment is not more of an issue. (In a separate article, I will address President Biden’s fitness for office.)

That Trump slurs his words, speaks in the free associations of a Eugène Ionesco character, lies endlessly, talks to himself, has no memory of sexual assaults, and feels no contrition for anything in his life (including violations for which he has been convicted by juries and courts) speaks to various psychological impairments that could well range from dementia to psychosis.

Just that he slept through most of his recent trial indicates a certain detachment from reality. So too do his spoken sentences show a mind that is adrift along a spectrum that confuses free association with political discourse. (Question for the doctors: if he can sleep through a criminal trial, would he also sleep through cabinet meetings or a foreign policy crisis?)

Here’s how Trump ended his post-conviction press conference:

Crooked Joe Biden, the worst president in the history of our country. Hes the worst president in the history of our country. The most incompetent, hes the dumbest president weve ever had. Hes the dumbest president, most incompetent president, and hes the most dishonest president weve ever had. And hes a Manchurian candidate. You take a look at the way he treats China, Russia, so many others. I ended the Russian pipeline. It was dead. He comes in and he approves it, and he gets three and half million. Meaning three and a half million is paid to the family, his family, from the mayor of Moscows wife. And I said, where did that come from? Nobody wants to talk about it, but hes a very big danger to our country. And the only way they think they can win this election is by doing exactly what theyre doing right now. Win it in the courts because they cant win it at the ballot box.

I am not saying that Judge Merchan should lock Trump away in some KGB mental hospital, as happened to the political opposition in Stalin’s Soviet Union. But I am pointing out that while New York State court has jurisdiction over convicted felon Trump, the judge has both the right and the obligation—before issuing a sentence—to find out if the defendant has understood the charges that were brought against him. (From his endless press conferences during his trials, Trump sounds clueless about the facts in his own cases.)

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At the heart of any mental evaluation should be Trump’s sociopathic lack of remorse for transgressions done in his life—including inciting the deadly riot on January 6 and hiding state secrets in those Mar-a-Lago pool rooms.

By sentencing Trump to community service or even making him a martyr to the MAGA right by putting him in jail for two months, Judge Merchan would just be playing into the Trump game of politics as a reality show, followed by more weepy press conferences and whinging claims of injustice.

To confine Trump to a state mental hospital for thirty days and to review the contents of the evaluation in court, Merchan would be serving both justice and the electorate (which was cheated by the 34 felonies), and even showing compassion for someone who clearly is not well.

Once the results of the mental evaluation are known, Judge Merchan can better decide how to proceed with Trump’s sentencing. And then if the Republican Party wants to nominate Trump as its candidate for the presidency or if, come November, a majority of Americans want him back in the White House, at least it will be clear to all whether it is Trump or the voters who are hearing voices.

Matthew Stevenson is the author of many books, including Reading the Rails, Appalachia Spring, andThe Revolution as a Dinner Party, about China throughout its turbulent twentieth century. His most recent books are Biking with Bismarck and Our Man in Iran. Out now: Donald Trump’s Circus Maximus and Joe Biden’s Excellent Adventure, about the 2016 and 2020 elections.