I’D LIKE to put something to rest … Several friends, from different parts of the world, have been sending emails with this simple heading: “Is Trump insane?”
They, in turn, are responding to an upsurge recently of statements by psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers — some from prestigious academic departments of psychiatry — purporting to act out of duty to warn people that Donald Trump constitutes an imminent danger to the country in that he suffers from a mental illness.
That diagnosis, claim these psychiatrists and psychologists, is sufficient to be disqualifying from the office of president.
These mental health professionals, acting from concern for the safety of the democracy and basing their opinions on their credentials are, in fact, doing little in the way of good for either entity.
These opinions have no effectiveness in safeguarding the republic and they besmirch the very professions of these opinionators.
There’s history to such unsolicited “professional” opinions.
In 1964, the Republican candidate for US president, Senator Barry Goldwater, was painted by political opponents as unstable because of his cold warrior views.
A now-defunct magazine, ironically titled Fact, solicited opinions of 1400 psychiatrists, a majority of whom weighed in with allegations of mental illness based upon psychiatric diagnoses.
The absurdity of these “opinions” led to the “Goldwater Rule”, an ethical principle for psychiatrists, prohibiting the making of diagnoses of living public figures in the absence of a personal examination.
An ethical restriction is a thin bar to such speculative behaviour as it comes with few consequences save ridicule.
In 2005, the Republican Senate leader, Bill Frist, a heart surgeon, jumped in on the controversial right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo, a woman whose own doctors had declared her to be in a persistent vegetative state.
Frist claimed she was actively cognisant based upon his viewing a video of her. Complaints to his state board of registration were rejected as he had done no significant harm except to his own reputation.
In the absence of personal examination of the “patient” — here, of course, there exists no doctor-patient relationship — these “professional opinions” have no more weight and should be given no more consideration than that of the fellow in the pub who offers: “I think he’s a nutter.”
The mental health professionals speculate that Trump fits the description of someone with a narcissistic personality disorder, characterised by grandiosity, a need for admiration and a tendency toward unrealistic fantasies — plus vindictiveness when thwarted.
That diagnosis is the basis for their claim of Trump’s dangerousness.
The author of the section on narcissistic personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, Dr Alan Frances, takes issue. He writes: “Trump may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill.”
The antidote to a dystopian Trumpian dark age is political, not psychological.
It’s historic fact that US presidents have not always been models of mental health.
President Grant was said to have been an alcoholic, as was Nixon. Kennedy reportedly used medications like steroids, amphetamines and barbiturates, daily.
These drugs are known for their side effects of distorting cognitive process — yet the ship of state continued to sail even with a loopy helmsman.
There are a few legal mechanisms for removal of a seriously impaired president — aside from impeachment, the cabinet could certify as to his or her impairment. In Trump’s case, it would mean installation of Mike Pence as president.
Does anyone want to trade a populist demagogue, who energises the citizen opposition, for a more contained ideologue whose views on church and state verge on the fanatical?
Those who oppose the political decisions of Mr Trump need to seek their relief in the political process.
Calling him insane by misuse of psychiatry is a distraction and an erosion of the democracy these diagnosers claim to protect.
The allegation of mental illness takes away from accountability, a democratic mechanism that focuses on actions, on policies, and not on psychiatric terminology used as a form of insult.
Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.