|Who cares whether Donald Trump has mental illness?
(Hint: Whether or not he has mental illness does not matter)
Let’s be clear: I hate Donald Trump as much as the next freedom-loving American. Trump is a self-described sexual predator, a liar, a xenophobe, a racist, and a bad businessman. His friends and advisors include white supremacists like Steve “Darth” Bannon, formerly of Breitbart fame, now wreaking his alt-right havoc on the entire world. Trump has openly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, the autocratic Russian leader whose record is not likely to be enshrined in anyone’s Human Rights Museum any time soon.
While I have little else in common with Trump’s supporters, at least now I can sympathize with how that “birther” crowd felt when President Obama was elected in 2008. For reasons too numerous to list here, Donald Trump is #notmypresident.
But while I welcome (and enthusiastically retweet) nearly all negative news and commentary regarding Trump and the Orwellian nightmare he and his evil Avengers have wrought on my beloved America, there’s one “criticism” of him that makes me cringe. Any time a layperson or even an expert weighs in on whether Trump has a mental illness that would make him unsuitable for office, I refuse to engage in the conversation.
The problems with linking mental illness and Trump include but are not limited to the following:
- As far as we know, Trump has not been diagnosed with a mental illness. In 2016, his own physician, in a report that was undeniably unusual in its hyperbole, described the then-presidential nominee’s overall health as “extraordinary.”
- Armchair diagnosing, even for the professionals, is not considered an ethical pastime. The so-called “Goldwater Rule” that condemns this kind of behavior was named after 1,189 psychiatrists responding to a survey described the 1964 presidential candidate as “psychologically unfit.” In 2014 (pre-Trump), Forbes contributor Cheryl Conners summed up the ethical standard: “It is not okay to directly suggest a mental health diagnosis for public figures…[T]o address a person’s mental health in speculative articles, or to serve an ideological or political agenda, is…still a professional and ethical ‘no.’”
- Discussing Trump’s (alleged) mental illness as a potential
disqualifier under the 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is
inappropriate and stigmatizing. Here’s the language in question:
Section 4. Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President (25th Amendment, U.S. Constitution).
Exhibit A: Abraham Lincoln. His spells of “melancholy” were well known by friends and foes alike. In his 2005 exploration of Lincoln’s likely clinical depression (the Goldwater Rule does not extend to deceased public figures), Joshua Shenk wrote:
In his mid-forties the dark soil of Lincoln's melancholy began to yield fruit. When he threw himself into the fight against the extension of slavery, the same qualities that had long brought him so much trouble played a defining role. The suffering he had endured lent him clarity and conviction, creative skills in the face of adversity, and a faithful humility that helped him guide the nation through its greatest peril.
Let me be clear: I am NOT comparing Trump, whom I think history likely to judge as America’s worst president, to Lincoln, who to my mind still retains the title of America’s best president. I am, however, making the important distinction that it is not mental illness that makes a president great, or mediocre, or downright abysmal. People are who they are. In Lincoln’s case, and in many people’s cases, the challenges of living with mental health conditions may actually confer certain advantages in leadership positions, including empathy, resilience, and an ability to think creatively.
As a mental health advocate, I am asking my fellow Trump-haters for a favor. Please continue to shame Il Cheeto for his shameless behavior, and even for his tiny hands. Call out his cruel and un-American policy decisions. Keep demanding that he release his tax returns. But stop speculating about whether Trump has mental illness, and whether living with mental illness would make him unfit for office.