Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why I Won’t Comment on Donald Trump and Mental Illness

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:
  1. 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.” 
  2. 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.’” 
  3. 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).
It’s likely at this point that you have read the opinions of people who want Trump’s alleged mental illness to disqualify him as president. But living with a mental illness would not and should not necessarily proscribe anyone from being an effective president.

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. 


barb said...

Well said!! Thank you for sharing!

Ron said...

Liza -- I agree with the point you're making that mental health issues ought not disqualify anyone from public service. I also agree that since the election's in the past, focus needs to be on defending Democracy and decency.

However, I would make a greater distinction between Lincoln's melancholia and Trump's brand of megalomania. True, Trump hasn't been declared insane by a medical professional, but on the surface, his behavior would fit into what used to be called classically neurotic. That term may no longer used in clinical diagnosis, yet for the layman, the extreme displays of insecurity, low self-esteem, narcissism, need to control, bullying and physical signs of depression point to powerful conflicts going on below the surface.

I'm not a professional, but having had family members, as well as myself, in treatment, I know about the "borderline personality" that walks a fine line between neurosis and psychosis. I could see Trump easily fitting that category, with the potential for sliding into the deep end. Several recently published Trump biographies would probably be enlightening.

Some people don't consider it fair to compare current politicians to a certain mid-century dictator, but in this case, the more one learns about the Fuhrer, the more ominous the situation becomes.

By the way, my Mom had that one's personality disorder diagnosed perfectly: cuckoo

Peace -- Ron

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Dadofsocio said...

Interesting that President Lincoln is considered the best in hindsight. At the time, our country was also very divided and 1/2 the country thought he was an incapable country boy and actually had much harsher words. They hated him just as much as many democrats hate Trump now. Also Interesting that it was the democrats at the time who not only opposed him, but also opposed liberating slaves. History does have a way of repeating.

Unknown said...

I read a heartbreaking account of your struggles with your son Michael, from 2012. I would not trade shoes with you for all the money in the world. You had then, and still do today, my sympathy and best wishes and hopes for a wonderful outcome for your family. Fast forward to today, when I read your article on Donald Trump from January of this year. Suddenly, I began to wonder if YOU have mental illness. Trump is no saint, he has said, and continues to say stupid things. But compared to the former idiot that occupied that office, I'll take Trump any day. Our American presidency is filled with the stories of men who have had major flaws, and I am not going to take the time to name all of them here. Suffice it to say I think your attack (yes, that is exactly what I would call it, an ATTACK) on a sitting president was sickening, reprehensible, and demonstrated a clear lack of common sense....
I continue to hope the best for you and your son, but I wish the hell you would not post any more political nonsense on things you seem ill-equipped to handle.