Is Donald Trump crazy?
Calling a politician nuts is hardly unusual during tense political times – in fact, Trump likes to refer to “Crazy Bernie Sanders.” But of late liberals, unfortunately including psychiatrists and others who should know better, have been assailing the literal sanity of the president. More than 60,000 mental health professionals, in fact, have signed a petition calling for his removal because he is supposedly “psychologically incapable” of performing his duties. The signatories are thus flouting the psychiatric profession’s “Goldwater Rule.” That 1973 ethical guideline denounced long-distance diagnoses of public figures – and for good reason.
The doctors trying to diagnose away Trump’s presidency (often by saying he has narcissistic personality disorder) are betraying the values of their profession. Professional organizations and licensing boards should work with them to cease their medico-political campaigns, and if they refuse, they should be barred from further patient contact. At the very least hospitals should refuse to hire them and doctors should refuse to refer patients to them, because their lack of empathy and judgment is unbecoming of a mental health professional.
“Doctors” who condemn Trump’s supposed maladies are unworthy of that title for three reasons:
They lack compassion.
A psychiatrist who sees symptoms of a mental malady in a president’s public statements and behavior could have three possible reactions:
- The doctor could angrily condemn the president, denouncing him as terribly unfit for office, saying a man with such a condition has no business having so much power. Weaponizing illness that way, which has become all too common, is deplorable – particularly since few of those doctors appear to have voted for Trump.
- The doctor could calmly express concern about the nation’s welfare given the typical symptoms of the specific condition. Such comments are more benign, but they still use mental illness to predict specific behaviors, and psychiatrists are supposed to be caring professionals, not fortune tellers.
- But the third kind of reaction has been completely absent from discussions about Trump’s mental state: the doctor could offer sympathy and compassion for the suffering of the president and his family. If a president had lymphoma or prostate cancer, doctors would wish him well and offer prayers for his speedy recovery. But when the same doctors suspect mental illness and personality disorder, such empathetic responses disappear. Psychiatrists more than anybody should understand that illnesses are illnesses. At the very least, why aren’t the doctors attacking Trump for various conditions offering comfort to Melania and Barron Trump? They know the toll of mental illness on family members, which makes the fact they haven’t been expressing compassion particularly revelatory.
They don’t understand the role of the psychiatrist.
The Goldwater rule exists because psychiatry is an art as well as a science. Specific conditions – or the existence of any condition at all – demand in-person care. (And doctors who do care for a mentally ill person are of course bound to keep what they learn confidential.)
Mental illnesses and personality disorders should not be equated with medical unfitness. Take narcissistic personality disorder: some narcissists do not express their inner life with any harmful effects on those around them. Yet other people do express behavior that looks like narcissism for a different reason: they’re assholes. Who gave the president’s opponents authority to pathologize behavior they observe but cannot fully process?
Besides, President Trump, like all presidents, already has doctors who closely monitor his health. How can remote analysts know the president isn’t already being treated for this condition or that?
Their activism means that people are going to die.
People who fear they might be mentally ill are already loath to seek treatment, and will use any excuse to avoid seeing a psychiatrist or taking whatever medicine they need. Long before Trump, Americans were using mental illness to delegitimize people whose behavior and ideas they reject. If psychiatry were to bring down a president (as these doctors are clearly hoping), mental health will become a central battleground in the nation’s cultural and political wars – and people who need help won’t get help.
People who need psychiatry but don’t get psychiatry are less capable employees, parents, and community members. For them, getting through the day can be as much a struggle as enduring chemotherapy or kidney stones. Untreated people with depression, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses suffer terribly – and they risk harming others or more often themselves.
On some level, a psychiatrist is a kind of medical priest – a person who keeps deep secrets and exists solely to help people heal and flourish. Psychiatrists who play partisan politics demolish that sense of safety – and for what? We already have politicians and commentators (and ordinary citizens) who analyze a president’s behavior in depth. In a healthy society, everyone has a role to play. If doctors play political operative, who will play doctor?
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or Facebook, or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.