The Obligation To Question Trump’s Mental State

By Miles J. Zaremski  Attorney, essayist and commentator

The springboard for this post is an op-ed piece authored by Patrick J. Kennedy, the youngest son of Teddy Kennedy, a former Democratic member of Congress (D-R.I. from 1995-2011) and co-author of the book, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through The Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction”. His piece, first published in the Washington Post, and then reprinted in the August 9 edition of the Chicago Tribune, is titled, “Quit diagnosing Trump’s mental state and deal with the real issue.” I dissent.

My dissent boils down to Mr. Kennedy’s statement, “We can reject Trump without resorting to making baseless diagnoses of his mental health.” It is okay, so says Kennedy, to attack his temperament, but we should stop the name-calling and grade-school bullying of him. I guess that means we shouldn’t label Trump with any description other than his lacking temperament for office.

Besides temperament, and as reported in numerous publications by noted columnists and writers, Trump’s mental health has been questioned, from the use of the colloquial “crazy” to being an extreme narcissist. Just read, for example, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post (“Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?”), Jane Brody of the NY Times (“The Narcissist Next Door”), Dan McAdams in The Atlantic (“The Mind of Donald Trump”), Ezra Klein on Vox.com, and Richard North Patterson in Huffington Post (“Too Sick To Lead: The Lethal Personality Disorder of Donald Trump“). Hillary Clinton calls him “temperamentally unfit” to be president. Others have used other adjectives, like “dangerous,” to describe why he cannot be president. Joe Scarborough, the conservative Republican pundit and co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” wrote in an opinion piece today in the Washington Postthat the GOP “must dump Trump” for his various offenses. Even Rep. Karen Bass (D-Ca.) has circulated a petition online to require Trump to undergo a psychological evaluation.

Senator Collins (R-Me) in her op-ed piece (“GOP senator Susan Collins: Why I cannot support Trump”, Washington Post (August 8)) stated, “I have become increasingly dismayed by his constant stream of cruel comments and his inability to admit error or apologize. But it was his attacks directed at people who could not respond on an equal footing — either because they do not share his power or stature or because professional responsibility precluded them from engaging at such a level — that revealed Mr. Trump as unworthy of being our president. My conclusion about Mr. Trump’s unsuitability for office is based on his disregard for the precept of treating others with respect, an idea that should transcend politics. Instead, he opts to mock the vulnerable and inflame prejudices by attacking ethnic and religious minorities.” What causes what Senator Collins describes?

Last night, former Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-N.H.), called out Trump for being “unbalanced,” so much so that he is requesting the RNC to replace him as the Republican Party’s nominee.

But let’s get back to Kennedy’s thesis about shaming the electorate for labeling Trump with an undiagnosed mental health condition.

To begin with, Trump (obviously) is a vote away from becoming president, and is one of two candidates from the major political parties this election cycle to become the most powerful leader of our nation and the free world. That separates him from every other voter with the exception of one, Hillary Clinton, and a couple more if one includes Libertarian, Gary Johnson, and Green Party candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. Because he (Trump) wants to be our president, shouldn’t we be able to critique and judge his every move, action, spoken word, policy, and his use of the English language — like “dissecting” a lab animal in a high school biology class? He is, after all, the most public of public figures now.

We have heard innumerable times about the mental health disorder called, NPD, or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The Mayo Clinic describes it as, “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.” Depending upon where one looks, there are variously 17 symptoms that characterize the disorder. Noted among them are said to be, (1) an exaggerated sense of self-importance; (2) an unwarranted belief in one’s own superiority; (3) a preoccupation with fantasies of one’s own success, power and brilliance; (4) a craving for constant admiration; (5) a consuming sense of entitlement; (6) a penchant for exploiting or disparaging others; (7) an expectation of special favors and unquestioning compliance; (8) a need to always be right; (9) a tendency to act on impulse; and (10) the visceral reflex to humiliate and degrade anyone who displeases you, no matter the context or situation.

We all have observed what has occurred with Trump for over a year now. His transgressions are starting to fill up a small volume, like denigrating every conceivable group, starting with women and their menstrual cycles; referring to an African American in a campaign crowd as “my” African American; barring Muslims from entering the U.S.; not disavowing an anti-Semitic slur; making fun of the disabled; not considering the likes of John McCain a war hero because he was a P.O.W. for five years; arguing with a Gold Star family; calling those from Mexico rapists; and judges of Mexican heritage being unable to rule fairly and impartially. Living in his own reality, or maybe it is called lying with impunity, goes without saying as we have observed, like inventing a video showing $400M being transferred to Iran at the airport in Tehran. He can’t live without complimenting himself with superlatives like the best, the brightest, the biggest, the most… And lest we not forget that he was on the birther bandwagon, declaring President Obama was not born in America but without any evidence; so, too, has he declared days ago that the execution of a scientist in Iran was no doubt tied to the hacking of Clinton’s Emails (though, once more, no evidence exist to support this position nor that Clinton’s emails were ever hacked).

The list of Trump’s miscues is far from complete, and will no doubt be added to daily or weekly. The most recent addition is his using words at a campaign stop in North Carolina yesterday, suggesting gun violence against Clinton by those supporting the 2d Amendment. And yet with all of this — and repeating Senator Collins — he has never once apologized for his lies, his misstatements or his misdeeds — saying something like, “I am sorry” or, plainly, “I apologize”.

Though by no means a certainty, but by comparing the symptoms of NPD with the above couple of paragraphs, what is a voter to think? What are writers to say; what should they suggest when they write for the voter to read? And one cannot preclude harkening back to Senator Tom Eagleton from Missouri who had to withdraw as a V.P. pick due to his own mental issues.

Conversely, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) tells us that it is basically unethical for any of its members to make a diagnosis of Trump’s mental health without first treating him. This is often referred to as the “Goldwater Rule”, after what occurred when Barry Goldwater ran for president. Fine and good, but does the prohibition on members of the APA also mean, in the “court” of public opinion, that voters should not come to their own decisions as to what is responsible for Trump’s words and actions?

There can be no disagreement with Mr. Kennedy — particularly with his personal demons he has had to face (and overcome) and as a staunch advocate for mental healthcare reform — that we face in our country a mental health crisis; no doubt not one of us is immune from knowing a friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance that has been visited in one dimension or another with mental health issues. He asserts, to which there should be no disagreement, that to toss around words like “crazy” as commonplace is a roadblock for those experiencing a mental illness to openly seek treatment that works. But here is where his thesis and worthy goal for us fails.

For him to say voters in November cannot form or discuss an opinion in psychological terms on what is motivating or causing Trump to say or do what he says and does is to take away an area of real inquiry upon which we need to confront, even by supposition, before we vote. A President Trump, after all, will affect our lives and our futures; will have the power to send our children and loved ones into a war zone with the potential of the ultimate sacrifice awaiting each; and is the person that will have the power to confront other nations militarily with the nuclear option at his disposal. And, unlike Americans who have had to face and obtain treatment for a mental illness, none have taken the stage so publicly as Trump and been so reckless in the process. And unlike Trump, individuals confronting and then overcoming mental illness do so, knowing that what afflicts them will not affect the health and well being of an entire nation.

In the end, each American has the obligation if not the right to talk about Trump’s mental state; doing so cannot either be baseless or should we quit making any back seat, arm chair diagnosis where there has been shown to exist multiple bases to question whether a deficiency in that state exists. The stakes are just too dangerously high for those of us that make up our nation not to do so.

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