PRIMITIVE REFLEX RESPONSE ILLUSTRATED
The diagnoses of President Donald J. Trump’s mental condition have peppered the media in recent days—“unhinged,” “off-the-rails,” “meltdown” are just a few of the words describing his signs of mental deterioration. Media mavens have remarked on how the encircling pressure of impeachment has loosed from the self-described “Chosen One” a series of shrill screeds directed against his perceived enemies.
A few examples?
“Shifty Schiff” (Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) “is a traitor that should be impeached.”
“Nervous Nancy…is as guilty as [Schiff] is.”
“Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous ass….”
And of course his Taxi Driver takeoff angrily aimed at Reuters’s reporter Jeff Mason, who in a press conference dared to ask him about his Ukraine dealings. “Are you talking to me?” Trump caustically demanded. When the reporter repeated the question, Trump launched a tirade against the reporter and the press that included, “I have answered everything. It’s a whole hoax and you know who’s playing into the hoax? People like you and the fake news media that we have in this country.”
Such outbursts as these have been labeled by some mind scholars as examples of “primitive reflex response.” Sounds like an accurate description of the cornered President’s behavior to me.
The Stable One’s angry “counterattacks” mined from my mind a memory from Boy Scout days. My troop was on a mid-morning hike in the San Bernardino Mountains; I was third or fourth in line marching along a gently rising trail when we heard ahead an alarming sound. There, about six feet in front of the lead scout, was the sound source: a rattlesnake. We all knew it somehow, despite never having seen nor heard one before. It was coiled, head up and fangs bared, tail raised and rattling its defiance.
We reacted as most boys would at the prospect of a thrilling adventure in the wild. The first four of us stopped and formed a tight semicircle beyond the snake’s striking range, gathering rocks; then we began our barrage from multiple directions.
The strangest thing happened. Instead of turning tail and slithering off into the safety of the chaparral, the snake stood its bare ground, and each incoming rock it struck at with its bared fangs. The uneven battle lasted not much more than a minute.
When its death throes ended we warily approached our kill to inspect it: it was a Western Diamondback, native to the territory; it had seven rattles, which meant it was at least two years old (no telling how many it had shed in the strife of daily life); its head was crushed and its fangs broken. Troop 498’s campfire that night was more rowdy and raucous than usual as killers and observers celebrated.
Remembering that day now is not as glorious as it was then. My part in the killing doesn’t wear well. What right did I have to participate in the snake’s killing? I had invaded its home, and it was just defending itself, as living things will do…an example of primitive reflex response. In perhaps a lame defense, I still wonder though, why didn’t it retire, retreat, go into hiding? I’ll never know.
Wait! Don’t get me wrong. I’m not equating our president’s conduct with that of a poisonous serpent. That would be so unfair to the rattlesnake.