When Donald Trump assumed office, the media and others were aghast when he continued tweeting on Twitter. Tweeting wasn’t presidential, the wise pundits opined, but Trump ignored the counsel. So far, none of the Democratic presidential candidates have promised to forsake Twitter if elected. Presidential tweeting quite possibly has become the new normal.
Psychiatry also was once associated with a certain professional behavior, but Bandy Xenobia Lee, an associate clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine and president of the World Mental Health Coalition, is looking to change that. Just as Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, Lee in June took to Twitter “as a public service” and began offering real time psychoanalysis of Trump’s tweets. Lee takes her tweeting quite seriously, having posted more than 4,000 tweets in six months. The forensic shrink has 22,000 followers, a surprisingly low number given her credentials and her considerable media coverage.
Lee, who specializes in prison violence, declared Trump mentally unstable within months of him assuming the presidency, a violation of the so-called Goldwater rule which states it is unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about a public figure they haven’t examined in person or from whom they haven’t obtained consent to publicly discuss their mental health. The rule was introduced after more than 1,000 psychiatrists declared former Republican Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater unfit to serve as commander in chief because they likened his conservative views to “a strong identification with the authoritarianism of Hitler, if not Hitler himself.” The same accusations have been leveled against Trump, who like Goldwater in his day is feared and despised by the media.
Lee argues she has a “social responsibility” to warn about Trump because “our survival as a species may be at stake.” In addition to editing a book entitled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” Lee has lobbied mostly Democratic Congressional leaders warning them of her diagnosis that Trump is mentally unstable. Two weeks ago, Lee called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to submit Trump to an “involuntary evaluation.”
Lee says that anyone who supports Trump is suffering from a “shared psychosis,” meaning that the more than 40 percent of Americans who support the president have taken on his mental illness symptoms. The good news is that Lee says Trump supporters will regain their sanity once the president is removed “from contact or media exposure.”
Given what Lee sees as a decline in America’s collective mental health, she wants psychiatrists and other medical professionals to play a decisive role in presidential politics going forward.
“Based on the experience with the current president, we are calling for regular fitness for duty exams on presidential and vice presidential candidates, preferably as a requirement sometime before they take on the job, and even preferably before they run,” Lee said. In other words, Lee wants to subjugate the will of the people to the will of a panel of mental health experts like herself.
I wonder how South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay candidate to mount a major presidential campaign, feels about Lee’s proposal. If an openly gay candidate mounted a presidential campaign before December 1973, he would have been declared unfit for office because the American Psychiatric Association defined homosexuality as a deviant mental disorder. Lincoln would have been declared unfit for office because he suffered from severe depression. Kennedy, who took painkillers, antianxiety agents, stimulants and sleeping pills, suffered from severe bouts of depression, as did Gandhi, and Winston Churchill.
Hitler was bipolar, but Germany’s leading psychiatrists were among his enablers. Hitler’s program allowing the euthanization of mentally ill and disabled patients was supported by four presidents of the German Psychiatric Association. Hitler’s personal physician, Karl Brandt, was a psychiatrist who was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg trials. Psychiatrists have also enabled atrocities in China and the Soviet Union by diagnosing political dissidents as mentally ill.
Prominent U.S. psychiatrists also once supported killing the mentally challenged, including Foster Kennedy, professor of neurology at Cornell University who advocated in 1942 that children suffering from “feeblemindedness” over the age of five be put to death.
Lee’s Twitter profile says she was “uninvolved in politics until politics invaded her area of expertise.” In fact, politics and psychiatry have always been intertwined. The American Psychiatric Association agreed to change its homosexuality diagnosis only after aggressive and formidable lobbying by the gay community, including disrupting the APA’s 1970 convention.
Here’s an excerpt from an academic paper published by Israeli psychiatrist Rael Strous on the role psychiatrists played in Nazi Germany:
The professional status of psychiatrists did not place any obstacle to their participation in Nazi crimes, and many demonstrated a profound commitment to the atrocities. Psychiatrists were instrumental in instituting a system of identifying, notifying, transporting, and killing hundreds of thousands of mentally ill and “racially and cognitively compromised” individuals in settings ranging from centralized psychiatric hospitals to prisons and death camps. Their role was central and critical to the success of Nazi policy, plans, and principles.
The American Psychological Association in August 2018 declared that, “traditional masculinity ideology has been shown to limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict and negatively influence mental health and physical health.” The APA’s revised guidelines came in the wake of critics continuously decrying the “toxic masculinity” of Trump and his supporters.
Donald Trump may indeed be mentally ill as defined by the manual of the American Psychiatric Association. But his erratic and non-conformist behavior was well known when he ran for office and polls are showing that his popularity has risen slightly since the impeachment hearings began. There’s a Catch-22 in requiring presidential candidates to have absolutely clean bills of mental health because one has to be somewhat crazy to want the job. Notably, Lee has yet to offer her psychoanalytic insights on the tweets of the Democratic presidential candidates.
The 25th Amendment allows for Vice President Mike Pence and the majority of Trump’s cabinet to declare the president unfit. Trump is surrounded by aides who despise him and have leaked information intended to harm him, yet none of them are known to have invoked the president’s removal because they view him as mentally incapacitated. If they need any further insights from Bandy X Lee, they can follow her on Twitter.