(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
December 2nd 2019
Psychiatrists with the World Mental Health Coalition are soliciting signatures in a campaign to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump predicated on claims that he is mentally unstable. This campaign arguably violates the ethics of psychiatry, mimicking a historic attack on another Republican presidential candidate who successfully sued for libel after psychiatrists declared him unfit for the presidency.
In an email forwarded to PJ Media, three psychiatrists with the coalition ask other psychiatrists to sign on to a petition to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to include a statement on Trump's supposed mental instability into the official record of the impeachment inquiry.
Dr. Bandy Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine; Dr. Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist and political psychologist who founded the CIA's Center for Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior; and Dr. John Zinner, a clinical professor in the Psychiatry Department of the George Washington University School of Medicine, wrote the petition and statement condemning Trump.
"We are American psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals who have come together at this critical time in our nation's history," the petition begins. "We believe there are important mental health issues that need to be understood and addressed with regard to the president, whom we believe poses unique dangers to the country and the world."
The pro-impeachment statement is one in a long line of psychiatric attacks on Trump, the petition explains. "A group of us first outlined our concerns at a conference at Yale School of Medicine in April 2017, when the majority of the public believed the president was 'settling in.' This was followed by a public-service book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, which many say predicted the course of this presidency. Thousands of others joined us to form a professional association known as the World Mental Health Coalition."
The petition also notes a March 2019 "mental capacity evaluation, based on a standard procedure using extensive coworkers' and associates' reports in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report" which the psychiatrists claim "showed that the president lacked the ability to make rational decisions."
In the statement, the psychiatrists present themselves as "recognized experts who can answer critical questions relating to mental health" during the impeachment proceedings. "We are among thousands of mental health professionals who have felt obligated to speak up because of the exceptional psychological dangers of this presidency. In medicine, safety supersedes all other concerns, and we are here in accordance with our professional responsibility to society and the humanitarian goals of medicine."
Describing Trump as a "threat to the safety of our nation," the psychiatrists note that "Donald Trump, as President, has the unfettered authority to launch nuclear weapons at any time for any reason. There is no formalized way of preventing this unless his order is disobeyed by the Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, who has been given the order to launch. Short of this calamity, there are many other dangers he can pose by the use, fueled by rage, of his assumed absolute executive authority, and by the loyalists who serve him."
They purport to psychoanalyze Trump using his public statements and second-hand reports:
There are many things we can say about the psychology of Donald Trump. He is remarkably transparent through his Twitter stream of comments, real-time video displays and newspaper accounts, past and present, as well as testimonies of persons who know or have known him. He has shown that his sense of worth is entirely dependent on the admiration from others, such as at the rallies of Trump's base. Without this external affirmation, Trump has revealed that he feels, deep down, like a loser, a failure, weak, dumb, fat, ugly, fake, "crooked". We know this because this self-denigrating pictures of himself, Trump projects onto others, whom he transforms into enemies, and compensates consciously by creating a grandiose image of himself as unique, a stable genius, entitled to special treatment, and better at everything than everyone else.
What makes Trump so dangerous is the brittleness of his sense of worth. Any slight or criticism is experienced as a humiliation and degradation. To cope with the resultant hollow and empty feeling, he reacts with what is referred to as narcissistic rage. He is unable to take responsibility for any error, mistake or failing. His default in that situation is to blame others and to attack the perceived source of his humiliation. These attacks of narcissistic rage can be brutal and destructive. A striking but not unusual example of his lack of caring and empathy is his policy of separating children from their parents at the Southern border. Additionally, he has made the reckless decision to allow an attack of our Kurdish allies, against all advice, shortly after announcement of the impeachment inquiry. These events are closely related and betray his extreme inability to tolerate any challenges against him.
While the president is notorious for his pride and bravado, this psychoanalysis seems particularly shoddy. What gives these psychiatrists a basis to suggest that Trump's schoolyard insults reveal his inner fear that he himself is "a loser, a failure, weak, dumb, fat, ugly, fake" or "crooked"? If the president refers to Hillary Clinton as "crooked Hillary," does that really reveal a deep-seated fear about himself, or is it far more plausible that he is attacking Clinton for her corruption?
Furthermore, Trump need not "transform" people "into his enemies." Animosity against the president is very real, as illustrated by the impeachment inquiry itself and the fact that some are even willing to say "Thank God for the deep state!" in regards to the impeachment.
This "psychoanalysis" is also hilariously off base when it comes to the separation of children from parents at the Southern border. This practice was official government policy under Barack Obama, as well. Do these psychiatrists also intend to call Obama mentally unstable?
The psychiatrists also warn about a nuclear war with North Korea, seemingly oblivious to Trump's remarkable strides toward peace with the rogue regime. "We believe that there is a possibility of our stumbling into a war, should, for example, the adventurous Kim Jong-un have further flights of missiles over Japan or another nuclear test. President Trump's need to demonstrate his strength as commander-in-chief and the praise that would come from taking strong actions could lead to a very unfortunate situation," they warn.
Early in 2018, media outlets ran articles predicting Trump's aggression toward North Korea would spark World War III. The Washington Post even ran a hypothetical news report from the future explaining how nuclear Armageddon began with a tweet. Instead, Trump's detente with Kim has received high marks from the American people.
The psychiatrists' statement is correct about one thing, however. "Impeachment is the ultimate rebuke of a president, which President Trump has intensely feared, at least since the appointment of the special counsel," the statement reads. Yet the psychiatrists took the wrong lesson from this, as well: "Failing to monitor or to understand the psychological aspects, or discounting them, could lead to catastrophic outcomes. For these reasons, we implore Congress to take these danger signs seriously and to constrain his destructive impulses. We and many others are available to give important relevant recommendations as well as to educate the public so that we can maximize our collective safety."
If this shoddy psychoanalysis was correct, going public about this would be the worst possible response to Trump's instability. If the president's self-worth is so brittle, a statement like this might put him over the edge. By going public with these concerns, the psychiatrists may themselves spark World War III.
In reality, Trump is nowhere near as unstable as these psychiatrists suggest. While his off-the-cuff tweets are arguably unpresidential and his policies are unconventional, there is no reason to consider him mentally unfit for the job.
Perhaps more importantly, the World Mental Health Coalition's efforts against Trump arguably fall afoul of the Goldwater rule, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) policy against diagnosing a public figure without an examination or authorization.
The APA policy states that "it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement."
While the World Mental Health Coalition statement claims that the psychiatrists are "in keeping with the Goldwater principle," these medical professionals are arguably repeating the very same horrific mistake which led to the creation of the principle in the first place.
In 1964, Fact magazine published an article claiming that 1,189 psychiatrists had diagnosed Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater as "psychologically unfit to be president." The magazine had surveyed psychiatrists, and 49 percent of respondents described Goldwater as unfit, calling him "unbalanced," "immature," "paranoid," "psychotic," and "schizophrenic." A Johns Hopkins professor said the Republican's public statements should "disqualify him from the presidency." Sound familiar?
Goldwater sued for libel and won - a rare legal feat in America's pro-free speech justice system. A Federal District Court awarded him $1 in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages. The decision was upheld on appeal, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
These psychiatrists should stop politicizing their field, especially given this history.
After all, Trump is notoriously litigious, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that he would sue psychiatrists for this kind of attack. If Trump were nearly as unstable as they claim, he would have done far worse already.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.