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It’s time we stop calling President Donald Trump mentally ill.
“The president’s performance on Fox & Friends struck me and many viewers as one of a frighteningly unhinged individual,” said Dr. Justin Frank in a September 2018 piece for Stat News titled “I used applied psychoanalysis to assess President Trump. The diagnosis is frightening.” Frank’s Twitter is littered with accusations that the president needs “mental help.”
“Mental health experts say his narcissism could make him capable of just about anything,” states the subtitle of Alex Morris’ November 2018 piece for Rolling Stone.
In fact, there’s a whole book about the president’s mental health. “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” is a 2017 title edited by forensic psychologist Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who also led a conference dedicated to the President’s alleged mental illness.
That’s all ridiculous. Characterizing the president’s behavior as a result of some mental illness means that mental illness has become a code-word for idiocy and meanness.
The president knows exactly what he is doing and what he means. He meant it when he said immigrants are bringing rapists, drugs and crime. He knew he was calling former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina ugly, and insinuating that Ted Cruz’s dad killed John F. Kennedy. He knew what he was doing when he backtracked on countless policy issues: the wall, trade, immigration, social policy and more.
To quote the president’s most unlikely ally Marco Rubio, we must dispel with this notion that the president doesn’t know what he is doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. To write off all of his policy blunders and insults as the result of some condition is offensive to those who are actually suffering from mental illness.
Mental illness does not, by default, make someone a jerk or an idiot. Some of the most talented and competent members of American society have mental health issues. The president is not one of them and the fact that he does what he does on his own accord is far more disturbing than any actual mental illness.
It’s not only wrong to say that Trump is Trump because of mental illness. It’s also a violation of medical ethics. Back in the early 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published a guidebook on ethics for the nation’s mental health providers. Section 7’s annotation reads, in part, 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.”
The section, often called the “Goldwater rule,” bears the name of former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The controversial publication “Fact” ran an article in their 1964 edition titled “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.” The article polled a group of psychiatrists about Senator Goldwater and whether or not he was fit for the office. Goldwater sued “Fact,” winning $75,000 in punitive damages.
If the last decade of American politics has taught us anything, it’s that words matter. Their implications are serious; President Trump doesn’t understand this. We must be better. He isn’t sick. He’s racist, sexist, ableist and downright mean. To hide that under the guise of mental illness is despicable and does a great disservice to those who actually experience mental illness.