So, You Still Say Trump is Crazy?

Sera Davidow
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This is not my first Trump versus ‘crazy’ blog, but this one goes out expressly to those of you who call yourself ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ or whose views put you in the camp where folks who go by such labels usually hang. It is not so much intended as criticism (or support!) of Donald Trump, as it is an exploration of how you justify calling him ‘mentally ill’, and if doing so is of any use at all.

You: You’re imperfect, but well-intentioned and keen on doing the right thing. You likely participate in a progressive listserv or social media group or two. You have favorite causes to which you dutifully donate your time or funds (combatting homelessness, food for hungry kids, animal rights, and so on). You believe in global warming. You would probably consider going to an anti-oppression workshop or public event on your own time. At the very least, you are not a stranger to speaking out against sexist, racist or other bigoted remarks on your Facebook or Twitter accounts, or defriending the people who promulgate them. Overall, you are a good person. You really try.

And, as a good person, when you call Trump ‘crazy’ you probably mean one of two things:

Trump & Crazy 1
Found via Google Images using the search phrases “Trump” and “personality disorder”

1. You just can’t believe that someone who you feel is doing such terrible things could possibly be of sound mind. What he says and does just feels too wrong to you, and that’s worth calling out in some way… maybe with a little jab of humor or sarcasm to make it a touch more tolerable in the moment.

And/or:

2. You think that Trump being removed from office is paramount, and you genuinely believe that proving he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” due to his perceived lack of mental fitness is the best way to get him out. (See the 25th amendment for more on this point.)

Okay. I want you to know that I hear you. I understand your logic. Really, I do. It even makes sense to me, and I do not consider you to be a bad person for thinking in that way. And, while some still believe in Trump’s ability to “make America great again,” there are certainly hundreds of thousands of others who are right there with you looking for a way to oust a man that they see as a real threat to society.

So, yes, I hear you, but I wonder if you could take a few moments to hear me, too? Stick with me here for just a bit and consider the following scenarios:

1. L is your co-worker. L’s adult child recently began providing foster care for a new baby, as a first step to adoption. It’s an exciting time for everyone. However, social services has informed the family that L is not allowed to have any contact (let alone help to care for) their soon-to-be grandchild due to L’s psychiatric history. This is in spite of the fact that L has been working successfully at the same job for years, and has no history of violence toward others.

2. Q is your child. Q has worked so hard to be accepted to their first-choice college. As head of their class, Q gave the valedictorian speech and earned a fantastic scholarship, too. But in their freshman year, Q struggled. It was their first time away from home, and the same efforts they put in to be top of the class in high school didn’t yield the same results as Q was used to. One day, Q nervously shared with a campus counselor that suicide had crossed their mind. This triggered an automatic response that landed them in a local hospital where they were diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder and put on a suicide watch for three days before being released. During that time, the school also made the decision to require a medical leave, which eventually turned into a permanent dismissal. Now Q is living at home with no scholarship or access to higher education.

3. T is your neighbor and friend. T has been working at the same job for five years. They have gotten great performance reviews throughout their time there, and were recently promoted to a supervisory position. However, after a number of difficult turns in their personal life, T felt the need to take some time off. When speaking with their boss about taking a medical leave, T disclosed for the first time that they’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder many years ago. Although their boss seemed supportive and sympathetic at first, it was a different story when T returned, at which point they were asked if they really felt ‘up to’ coming back. T’s work was scrutinized in a way it never had been before, and people continued asking them questions about their ability to meet job requirements. T was written up for the first time ever a month after their return, and lost their job six months later. Now, they’re struggling with how to pay their rent.

4. Y is your parent. Y has always struggled to keep up with the world and life’s demands, but after your sibling’s death, Y’s emotional wellbeing went into a tailspin. After several hospitalizations, they ended up in the mental health system, living in a residential program for several years. Now, the same agency is supporting them to find an apartment. Conversations with landlords often start out positive, but multiple potential leads have ‘fallen through’ after the landlord finds out about the rental subsidy and the connection to mental health services. Y is still stuck living in the residential program, and is beginning to feel hopeless.

Perhaps this all sounds a little outlandish or extreme. Maybe you think these sorts of stories are outliers, cherry picked to upset you or raise your activist hackles. But, each of these scenarios are real, and all too common. There are several articles on the web about students being kicked out of school for being ‘depressed.’ Many families have been broken up primarily on the basis of diagnosis, and there are even cases of forced abortion or sterilization for people so labeled. There are literally hundreds of thousands more examples and scenarios I could offer, from the seemingly small (like the Vipassana meditation retreat center that says, “Although Vipassana meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment and we do not recommend it for people with serious psychiatric disorders.”) to the homeless shelter that would rather leave someone standing out in the winter cold than give them a place to sleep if they’ve ever been prescribed a psychiatric drug, and many shades in between.

Trump & Crazy 2
Found via Google Images using the search phrases “Trump” and “crazy”

It’s also no small point of note that psychiatry has a long history of being used to control marginalized groups. Homosexuality remained a diagnosable illness until 1973, and a potential reason for ‘treatment’ well beyond that. Drapetomania was a diagnosis given to enslaved people who tried to run away from their captors in the 1800’s. Women have sometimes been imprisoned in psychiatric units by their husbands for holding what were seen as abnormal views on marriage and child rearing.  Schizophrenia also shifted from a diagnosis most common among women to one most common among black people round about the 1960s (go figure), and remains so today. People have been tortured and died in the sorts of restraints and straitjackets that some jokingly paint Trump in.

And these are all things you care about, right? Housing, employment, and educational access. Keeping families together. Stamping out injustice and discrimination in so many forms. In fact, the discrimination and hate that you see Trump as perpetuating (against immigrants, women, people of color and more) is one of your foremost complaints against him, isn’t it?

So, why play party to replicating that hate? You see, by calling Trump ‘crazy’ for making wildly racist, sexist, and other hateful remarks and out-of-control tweets (among other things), you fail to actually promote an end to such violence and bigotry. Instead, you are simply asking that it be redirected to another group. And you’re doing so in a way that is blind to all the history, and continues the aforementioned trend of using psychiatry as a tool of social control. In other words, focusing in on the idea that Trump should be evicted from the White House because you feel he is diagnosable points the president-tossing shovel at a psychiatric label rather than at his actions themselves.

Trump & Crazy 3
Found via Google Images using the search phrases “Trump” and “mentally ill”

Ultimately, each time someone posts another article or image asserting that Trump is ‘crazy’ it reinforces all the misguided and harmful ideas that are precisely what drives the scenarios above. It equates psychiatric diagnosis with danger. It helps justify leaving those who’ve been so diagnosed without home or job. It silently supports tearing people from their loved ones, leaving them isolated and alone.

On top of all that, the fact of the matter is that it’s also just not working. Regardless of the intent, this grasp at a sort of loophole in the 25th Amendment is not working to move Trump along. The 25th Amendment was established after the assassination of President Kennedy, to set forth procedures in the event that the president or vice president become incapacitated. In the past, it’s only ever come into play when a president has become physically incapacitated. Success in a debate of ‘mental’ capacity is highly unlikely, especially since, well, first of all, it’s a debate rather than a certainty (such as when a president dies or is in a coma). Secondly, it flies in the face of presently acceptable methods and ethics of diagnosis (in person, by a doctor). Finally (and perhaps most importantly), hope of success seems particularly low given that one of the primary methods of achieving this goal would be by formal declaration from the vice president. You know, Mike Pence?

Trump & Crazy 4
Found via Google Images using the search phrases “Trump” and “psychiatric diagnosis”

This is a desperate ploy, destined to failure. And, while the level of desperation is telling as to the state of our current political climate, all anyone has succeeded in doing by arguing about Trump’s mental status is give even more energy to discriminatory systems and the meme-making machines that produce offensive images of him in straitjackets and more.

People who identify as progressives and liberals generally see themselves as fighting against abuses of power and for the underserved, underrepresented underdogs. Please hear that it is precisely those people that you are now hurting, while Trump remains unscathed (even if a bit annoyed, as well).

You simply can’t have it both ways.

57 COMMENTS

  1. Sera,
    Thank you for another thought provoking article and the examples you have given of stigma are all just heart wrenching and a dose of truth. Unfortunately, there is about 350 million reasons that the lobbyist hold that keep the merry go round moving. Can you imagine the economic disaster if this area of medicine was eradicated? My thoughts on that, unfortunately, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. I would hope to enjoy seeing that one day. Only then if it’s destroyed and shown scientifically it doesn’t work will we ever get something that does.

    In some respects, I hope they do succeed with getting the president with a diagnosis. I would love to see a congressional hearing on it for all the world to see. How annoyed do you think he might become then? Can you see his lawyers pick apart the basis for psychiatry and diagnosis?
    “So you mean to tell me that the chemical imbalance theory is incorrect? But that’s all you do, is prescribe drugs that exasperate the problem, and are in fact, not in the best interest of the patient?” It would never happen but it’s fun to imagine. Taking the whole industry to the wood shed.

    Between the government adding to the disability rolls because of psychiatry and psychotropic drugs and the public safety issues that these toxins cause, I can’t see where this ends. Especially with the Michelle Carter trial and what is going on with the DA trying to silence Dr Breggin and the bill that was presented last Friday to require Trump to have a mental assessment, the question still remains, how does the general public not know about this?

    And more importantly, do they care?

    They will when they come for them next. Earnings must always increase, which mean revenues have to, and only then will they expand too far.

  2. I agree with you that it only promotes more trouble, usually for us, to call Trump crazy. I myself agree with Michael Moore who believes that Trump knows exactly what he is doing when he says and does the outrageous things that drive me up the wall.

    I believe that he has an agenda and this is what truly scares me in the end. The German people laughed at Hitler when he started out politicking for office in the German government. They called him a clown and a buffoon and a person bereft of morals and ethics. They said that they would never have to worry about him in government because he didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting elected. And we all know what happened from there on. The German people called Hitler crazy and look how much good that did for them. Hitler attacked the media and undermined the faith of the German people in their newspapers and magazines. And then he became the German dictator who almost destroyed Europe and beyond.

    If Trump is “crazy” it is being crazy like a fox.

    • Stephen.You’re sharper than you think. Being a dude who thinks only of himself, Fearless Leader’s certainly under pressure to want to run the country by fiat, getting rid of everyone and everything in government except a staff of toadies (you sure are a genius, Mr. Trump!) to do the dirty work and get regularly shipped off to Alaska when things go wrong (they botched the execution of our Fearless Leader’s Divinely Inspired ideas!).

  3. So, once again Sera hits it out of the park. The thing about Sera is that she writes in a popular form about what only professionals usually write about, i.e., how calling someone (like the president) “crazy” is not stigmatizing to that person but stigmatizing to the actual crazy people. In other words, don’t blame me for your violent racist bullshit; the problem isn’t being crazy, like me, the problem is being an asshole like you, and I’m tired of taking the blame for your bullshit, motherfucker. If you really want to read the ultimate on this, you have to read a book about voicehearing called “Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations” that has an article about how every time a schizo kills someone, he is identified in the newspapers immediately as a schizo (“Howard Johnson, a schizophrenic, killed his father last night” is the lead, immediately associating schizophrenia with violence), when everyone knows that schizos are no more violent than anyone else, whereas no one who kills someone is immediately identified as a diabetic, which is also a condition that has no history of violence. It’s a brilliant chapter in the book, probably the best one. Maybe if we all start walking around and saying, yeah, he was a real fucking asshole, and he drove a taxi and he lived on that side of town and he had cancer and he killed people, maybe the public would start to believe that driving a taxi while living on that side of town while fighting with cancer is a serious, serious danger sign.

    Sera, one day you and I are going to start our own magazine. Some day it will happen. If I have to slave in New York 8 days a week to pay for it, it will happen. Bank on it.

  4. Sera,

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate this article. Calling Trump ‘crazy’ is so completely discriminatory against people who have experienced madness or identify with madness. Calling Trump mad and therefore unfit for office sends the message that people with psychiatric diagnoses are not fit for positions of trust or authority. When I think about my family member and how sensitive they were to the injustices, cruelty etc. that exists in the world, it breaks my heart that anyone would describe Trump in any way that was similar to how they have been described.

  5. Until the conflict between the round heads and the flat heads managed to get the neck of King Charles I severed from his body, England’s royals had kept, for amusement and entertainment purposes, fools. I would suggest that, given the surfeit of folly we’ve seen exhibited by the Trump administration, the Trump presidency could desperately use a designated wise person, or sage, for the same reason. Also, when the history books come around for their eventual appraisal, as they inevitably will, you can point to the administrative sage, and say, all was not delusion and vanity in the White House of the time, somebody had it right throughout, even though advice in general during this period went unheeded. As is, when it comes to ‘diagnosis’, there is still no grounds for considering the madness of President Trump any sort of a match for the madness of, say, King George III. Trump though, like Reagan before him, is getting up there where all sorts of unfortunate things could be taking place in his noggin. The ‘diagnosing’ of Trump is politics as usual, nothing more than politics as usual, candidate baiting and bashing, and to be expected. The silver lining to this cloud, call it a Trumpicane in the making, is that nobody, but nobody, except perhaps for a few deluded Trump diehards, is going to be ‘diagnosing’ President Trump “normal” any time soon. If medicalization, medicalization of the unmedically “ill” (i.e. fraud by another name), is to fall by the wayside, perhaps it is close to reaching, now that a standing president has been selected to be so insulted, a saturation or exhaustion point.

  6. Thanks Sera! I just commented on this on another social media site.
    I would direct folks to put on their presidential historian hats in and do research. Have issues does not preclude you to being a great president. Massive amount of words have been written about Lincoln and please check out his wife Mary Todd Lincoln. Hers is a hard story.
    Behavior, behavior, behavior should be the way to remove a president from office. Choice is involved.
    We all need to speak up. I don’t know how to get away from the stinkin thinking you so elequently described since it involved those in MH Mt Olympus.
    I am repulsed by all of our leaders aspects but at the same time I can also appreciate how some folks voted out of desperation.
    What have we come to? I can only hope that something good will find its way like a weed and push trough concrete cracks.
    My guess is that he and others despite money despite background had trauma – it was covered up and hidden and they choose to continue to wallow in it rather then stop and at least try to turn around.
    As the song goes…. “You have to be carefully taught…”

  7. Well done, Sera I agree with you that all this chatter about diagnosing 45 reveals more about them than DJT.
    All the anti-stigma campaigns, posters on hosp walls of famous people (Lincoln) contradicts this effort to discredit thru diagnosis.
    I go with “Gump on Trump”; malignant narcissism IS, as malignant narcissism DOES.

    • I agree.

      Most of the stuff in you hear in the MAGA mantra sounds like an attempt to go back to the wonderful times of the 1950’s. The only problem with that is that the /50’s were not so wonderful for a lot of people, only a particular group of people found them to be so. How are you going to convince the powers that be in these large companies to hire more workers when they can buy robots that cost them less over the long haul and do the jobs of many people at one time? You can talk about creating jobs till you’re blue in the face and it’s not going to change what is happening. When it comes to money and profits you are not going to convince any of these companies to reverse their decisions to outsource and to mechanize their plants. Profits speak loudest of all. The MAGA mantra is not useful or honest; it is just a catch phrase used to excite and encourage crowds to shout their adulation. We will never return to the “Golden Age” of the 1950’s. It ain’t gonna happen, no matter how much people sit in their nostalgia and wish for the good ol’ days. But they weren’t good for everyone!

        • Exactly!!!! You got labeled as a communist for just looking cross eyed at good ol’ Senator Joe. I took care of a gentleman who served in Congress with McCarthy. I asked him one day what McCarthy was like. Judge Harris sat looking out the window at the traffic going by the nursing home. He was quiet for a very long time and I thought that he’d forgotten about my question. Finally, he said, without ever looking at me, that Senator McCarthy was not a very nice person. He didn’t want to talk about McCarthy at all.

  8. Hi Sera,
    Thanks for the Article. Vipassana Meditation IS a Brilliant Substitue for “Psychiatric Treatment”, and offers lasting unharmful solutions.

    “…Although Vipassana meditation is beneficial for most people, it is not a substitute for medical or psychiatric treatment and we do not recommend it for people with serious psychiatric disorders…”

  9. Haven’t had time to read all this but I’m glad to see you holding your own amid the circles of identitarian neoliberals you seem to hang out with, or around. Clearly labeling bad behavior as “mentally ill” is a hypocritical contradiction when applied to politicians, etc. by “progressives” who don’t approve of their thoughts or actions. Problem is, most “progressives” are no longer progressive in any standard sense. Some equate “progressives” and Democrats with leftists, but rarely do I see a true understanding of capitalism among such people, who seem to believe that the revolution will magically occur if people change their privileged attitudes rather than fighting the material basis for such attitudes. But I digress…

    The reason so many “mainstream” corporate politicians — not confined to one party or the other — are uncomfortable with Trump is that, not being a professional politician, he is incapable of hiding his murderous policies behind a cloak of civility the way slicker pols, Democrat & Republicans alike, are so adept at doing. He “talks shop on the block” so to speak, and puts the ugliness right up front for all to see, which is definitely bad for business. This is embarrassing and threatening to the capitalist class.

    • The challenge here is that many of his supporters don’t recognize even his bald-faced manipulations and support for the corporate-capitalist status quo. This hard core of supporters genuinely believe he will change things for the better by chasing away dark-skinned immigrants and magically bringing back anachronistic industries like coal, as well as somehow increasing salaries while he does all he can do make sure workers are unable to organize and that employers get to set the standard for what they feel like paying. I could go on, but the point is, Trump supporters (the poor and working class type) don’t appear to understand that he is completely antithetical to their interests, even though it is “out of the closet,” as you say. It’s a conundrum!

      • I agree. I’ve been struggling with this for months now. Trump is very transparent about what he is going to destroy and who he is going to benefit. And what he’s doing is not going to benefit most of his followers. But they doggedly refuse to see the reality for what it truly is and keep right on supporting him! I don’t understand it at all.

      • Do you ever fantasize about Trump being a steroidal version of the old Stephen Colbert character, purporting to support the most outlandish reactionary things imaginable as a way of getting people to face deal with the absurdity and possible consequences of their prejudices?

        Nice to dream about anyway.

      • My first comment didn’t pass moderation. It was disallowed because I included the same descriptor of persons wishing to take up lives in the US that you used. It refers to an aspect of the anatomy, namely the shade of the dermis which, in humans, depends upon the density of melanin, a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes, in the outer one-tenth of a millimeter of human bodies, the epidermis.
        In this revision of my comment, I swapped in a wordier, more general descriptor that should cause no offense. The impact was greater when it included the wording copied from your comment, which should not have caused any offense, but the meaning I intended is still conveyed.

        I’ll take this opportunity to spell out my point, lest anything think it was to disparage any kind of immigrants. I’m all for immigration. My county is 29% non-hispanic white and you won’t hear me beefing about it. I’m an immigrant, as are my parents and as were their parents, to Canada.

        My point is that for every problem one might face in the US under President Trump, there was a problem faced by someone else under President Obama. The bases for the problems are deep. To make that point, I changed a few of your words to their opposites. I omitted the words “dark-skinned immigrants” in this revision because the policy here is that they may be used in presenting President Trump as a racist, but they may not be used in presenting President Obama as a non-racist. Go figure.

        “The challenge here is that many of his supporters don’t recognize even his bald-faced manipulations and support for the corporate-capitalist status quo. This hard core of supporters genuinely believe he will change things for the better by EMBRACING “controversial immigration philosophies” and magically ERADICATING anachronistic industries like coal, as well as somehow increasing TAXATION while he does all he can do [to] make sure workers MAY organize and that employers DO NOT get to set the standard for what they feel like paying. I could go on, but the point is, OBAMA supporters (the poor and working class type) don’t appear to understand that he is completely antithetical to their interests, even though it is “out of the closet,” as you say. It’s a conundrum!”

  10. I see a certain perverted logic taking shape here that I think is misdirected. The logic runs as follows: We need to do something about the crazies. Trump is crazy. We need to do something about him. At the same time, this sensationalist focus is intended to throw people off the path, that is, it is part of a cover up of what should be a serious international scandal if it were exposed. Not only are people, given the most serious of mental disorder diagnoses (labels), not improving significantly, but they are dying much younger, 25 to 30 years, than the general population. Psychiatry, the mental health system, is, with it’s standard practice, literally killing people. Would Donald J. Trump be able to perform his office better if given a good dose of Abilify? Undoubtedly not. I’ve seen innumerable people in the mental health system die, and none of them were in geriatric units. I’ve also seen many people seriously debilitated, not despite, but because of the treatment they received. Saying Trump is crazy doesn’t do anything to change this situation because that would make him one of those threats to the nation “we, the people” of the nation don’t care about so much, wouldn’t it? Question is, how do we uncover this scandal, put it before the people of the world, and, thereby, change it? Mental health treatment, as is, is Hell on the physical body. Mad lives matter, er, or if they don’t, they should matter anyway.

  11. Great thought-provoking post, Sera. You raised many important points, mainly the double-edge sword of a what can happen as a result of a diagnosis, including being shut out of employment, housing, and educational opportunities. To me, the most disturbing aspect is not so much the well-documented failings of DJT, but the fact that so many of our citizens were willing to vote for him (and continue to support him) in spite of all that he has said and done. I watched some historic coverage of the Democratic National Convention from 1924 in NYC where a significant arm of the DNC was headed by full-fledged KKK members who wanted to influence the choice of the Party’s candidate that year. Their choice was a well-known DNC member with close ties to the KKK and they wanted to vote down the alternative candidate. Anyway, the run off between these candidates was so contentious, they eventually went with a relative unknown who ended up being trounced in the general election by Coolidge. The KKK used these events as a rationale to beef up their national image, which included a march on Washington DC a couple of years later by 50,000 bona fide, card carrying members of the KKK! They were in full garb, including robes and hoods, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. My point is that this country has a large segment that fully supports DJT and he has understood this from the very beginning. To me, coupled with general voter apathy in the general election (almost half of eligible voters did not vote), DJT speaks to a very large constituency in our country that has existed from the outset. And, because he took full advantage, including the use of the MAGA slogan, this reveals a sense of savvy on his part that completely belies most people’s notion of what is meant by the word “crazy.” So, as one of your commenters said, DJT is “crazy like a fox.” My only creative addition to that would be a “crazy like a fox in a red power tie.”

  12. Wow…this article has certainly gotten my wheels turning; therefore, thank you for this excellent piece of writting Sera!

    The word “crazy” is such a relative term for me. While growing up, me and the rest of the rest of my neighborhood tribe used the word “crazy” to describe something as “a lot” of whatever it happened to be what we indetified said item of discussion as. For instance; “Yo, its crazy early” or “These fries are crazy good”. It’s a possibility, I guess, that my use of the word in such a fashion helped me to view the word “crazy” as either a good or bad word, according to how a person chooses to use it. Therefore, I consider myself flexible in regard to how individual people choose to use it themselves. Yet…my **emotional** response was fairly polarized in the direction of your own perspective on this Sera.

    Trump hasn’t, and likely never will, earn the right of being called “crazy”, as I alone define it in my own heart and mind. I am proud to be crazy. I’ve crumbled under the weight of many of the absolutely absurd dynamics that we (as in human beings) have perpetuated in our society, and from my own. The nature of who I am has wrestled, fought, debated, and danced with itself in my journey to figure out who I really am; yet, some of that wrestling, fighting and dancing with my own heart, mind, and soul throughout my journey to date has landed me psychiatric units. On the other hand, my “craziness” has facilited my ability to: solve complex problems with out-of-the-box thinking, create art, fully experience music, achieve academic excellence, become a better parent, and help other human beings. Just as a hammer can be used to break things, it can also be utilized to build something great: so as is being “crazy” according to my own chosen definition.

    That being said, I agree that associating Trump as being “crazy”, and presenting him in illustrations wearing a straightjacket only continues the negative stigma surrounding what it means to be crazy. When I make a genuine effort to view the matter from an opposite perspectve, I have to acknowledge that my view and definition of the word crazy may be debatable for some. Although, I believe that such definitions should be defined by those of us who have endured, and enjoyed, the challenges associated with our craziness, and not by those who wish to highjack the word and use it for political reasons, whether you hate Trump or think he’s great. Just as Friedrich Nietzsche stated “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster”, and a common quality of many “monsters” is the dehuminization of others.

    Thank you again for sharing your perspective in your well written article Sera!