Political pundits have taken to comparing President Donald Trump to a toddler, with David Brooks at the New York Times most recently writing an op-ed titled “When a Child Is Leading the World.”
Two prominent developmental psychologists, however, have taken issue with the comparison. In a letter to the New York Times, Jeffrey Jensen Arnett and Lene Arnett Jensen argued that comparing Trump to children is insulting to children:
The three reasons Mr. Brooks gives are that he: 1) can’t sit still; 2) “needs perpetual approval to stabilize his sense of self”; and 3) is unable to “perceive how others are thinking.” Yet none of these flaws are true of children, certainly not the way they apply to Mr. Trump.
Most children have no trouble sitting still by the time they reach first grade. Nor do children need “perpetual approval.” If they did, they would find it wanting. Children are also quite adept at understanding the thoughts of others. Most feel sympathy for the suffering of others and are quick to help someone in need, even as toddlers.
This is essentially the point that Alexandra Petri made in the Washington Post earlier this week and that Matt Yglesias made for Vox on Thursday. Sharing his own experience with his own 2-year-old, Yglesias noted, “If you tell him no, he’ll usually listen. If you remind him of the rules, he’ll acknowledge them and obey. He shows remorse when his misdeeds are pointed out to him, and if you walk him through a cause-and-effect chain he’ll alter his behavior.”
Trump, by contrast, is not at all like this. He regularly does bad and wrong things, even after it’s pointed out to him that these things are bad and wrong.
Just consider Trump’s repeated claim that the murder rate is at a 45-year high. The murder rate is, in fact, near historic lows, as a quick glance at the FBI statistics shows. This is easily disprovable, and many in the media, including Vox, have run articles about how wrong Trump’s comments are. Yet Trump continues making the claim — usually to prop up his draconian “tough on crime” agenda.
A typical child wouldn’t behave like this. They would be told that they are lying, and that lying is wrong, and then they would correct their behavior. Trump, however, just seems to do whatever he thinks is best for himself.
As the two developmental psychologists conclude, “Stop insulting children and adolescents by comparing him to them, and hold him accountable for his own offenses.”