Trump vs. Psychiatrists: Who's Crazier?
Only seven months into his puzzling presidency, Donald Trump has accomplished an odd achievement: He’s made Sigmund Freud relevant again. Although the father of psychoanalysis is no longer fashionable, the Freudian concept of psychological projection is alive and well.
“I think he’s crazy,” said Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, speaking into an open microphone about Trump. J. Brien Comey, father of fired FBI director Jim Comey, thinks Trump belongs “in an institution.” Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has questioned the president’s “mental stability.”
These aren’t isolated examples. Many prominent liberals, conservatives, moderates, and libertarians have concluded that the president is off his rocker. The tangible evidence for that proposition is thin, and Trump seems to be enjoying himself more and more. Maybe we’re all just projecting.
“Trump Derangement Syndrome” is the phrase used by those sympathetic to the president to explain liberals’ hair-on-fire response to anything Trump says or does. TDS is also an occupational hazard of being a member of the Republican establishment or a movement conservative who cares about such trite concepts as political principles.
This became clear again last week in the hysteria over Trump’s approach to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In response to the administration’s original announcement rescinding DACA, liberals came unglued. Not content to call the decision dumb and racist, which they did, they played the sanity card. “It is lunacy,” opined Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Mark Dayton. The president, added HBO comedic pundit John Oliver, is out of his mind. “Utter insanity,” proclaimed Susan Hay, a co-founder of a Florida-based pro-immigrant and refugee nonprofit.
That was then. A few days later, after dining on Chinese food (you can’t make this stuff up) at the White House with Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, Trump reversed field on DACA. In the real world, such a development is called processing new information. In modern U.S. politics, it’s considered treason -- or insanity. This time, it was conservatives who melted down. Ann Coulter pronounced it the death of the GOP brand; Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, an immigration hardliner, claimed it would “crack” Trump’s core base of support; various commenters on conservative news sites theorized that Trump had been taken over by aliens. Not the illegal kind, the kind from outer space.
Since before Trump’s inauguration, Democratic attorneys in the nation’s capital have contemplated replacing Trump under the 25th Amendment’s requirement that the president is able to “discharge the powers and duties of his office,” i.e. impeaching him on grounds he’s intellectually incapacitated.
Although this idea itself is bonkers, Coulter alluded to it—not unfavorably—Friday. “At this point,” she tweeted, “who DOESN’T want Trump impeached?” Fellow conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, more measured in her criticism, noted that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough had spent most of the year speculating that Trump is “mentally unstable [but] is praising him today.”
Ordinary civilians are getting into the psychology racket, too. “Jody,” an Arizona conservative who dialed in to Ingraham’s radio show, said she was suffering from a new strain of the disease: “Pelosi Trump Schumer Disorder,” she called it. “I am done if they don’t build the wall.”
Jody was kidding, or at least half-kidding, but stressing out to this degree over politics is becoming a national obsession. It can’t be healthy. And as for labeling as cuckoo those with whom we disagree, well, that’s an old KGB tactic. We can’t let Vladimir Putin do that to us. Unfortunately, the psychology racket is full of those with no sense of history.
A new book arrived, unsolicited, in the mail recently with a long title: “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” The cover gives the game away, but the publisher also included a foreword from 91-year-old psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, who offers the melodramatic view that clinicians who don’t warn the world about Donald Trump’s shortcomings are akin to Nazi doctors who worked at Auschwitz. At the risk of practicing medicine without a license, I’d suggest that this historical comparison is de facto evidence of TDS -- and paranoid grandiosity.
A better title would have been “27 Angry Democrats With Advanced Degrees Who Voted Against Trump and Say He’s Crazy Although They’ve Never Met Him.” Lifton and others associated with this project are part of something called the “Duty to Warn” project. The word “duty” is a term of art, given that since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association had cautioned its members against diagnosing patients they’ve not personally evaluated. Although this seems like common sense, it’s more than that: It’s a hard-earned lesson. It’s called the “Goldwater Rule,” and it comes from the 1964 presidential campaign.
In October of that year, when educated elites were just as unhinged over the idea of a Republican populist in the White House as they are today, provocative left-wing pamphleteer Ralph Ginzburg published an article in his “Fact” magazine with an incendiary headline: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater Is Psychologically Unfit to Be President!”
For those too young to remember, Barry Goldwater was a conservative Arizona senator and the Republican Party’s 1964 presidential nominee. Key in the creation of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Goldwater was also a decorated World War II pilot, a fiscal conservative, a fierce anti-communist, and friends in the Senate with John F. Kennedy.
As Donald Trump would do 52 years later, Goldwater wrested the GOP nomination away from the Establishment, creating a fissure in Republican politics that exists to this day. Unlike Trump, Goldwater did not become president. He lost to Lyndon Johnson in a historic landslide. I’ve never heard any political observer blame the Fact magazine article for that defeat, but it was so nasty and gratuitous that when the campaign was over Goldwater filed a libel suit in federal court.
Of the 12,356 psychiatrists queried by Ginzburg, 2,417 responded – and only 657 pronounced Goldwater psychologically fit to be president. Some 1,189 of these quacks diagnosed the senator -- on the record, with their names attached – as unfit, offering such dubious diagnoses as “megalomania,” “paranoid personality, “emotionally unstable,” “immature,” “grossly psychotic,” “mass murderer,” “immoral,” “chronic schizophrenic,” “dangerous lunatic” and – stupidest of all -- “cowardly.”
Goldwater won his case, despite the high bar public officials face in such matters. When he testified in federal court, he came across as rational, composed, normal, and emotionally healthy. His critics were the ones who were unhinged. Is that happening again?
Donald Trump seemed almost happy last week. Sure, he wants good coverage in the New York Times. Doesn’t everyone? And, yes, he’d rather spend time with Chuck Schumer than Mitch McConnell. Who wouldn’t? He wants to build a wall to prevent future waves of illegal immigration, but has a soft spot for “Dreamers.” He was in his element comforting hurricane victims. These traits make him crazy? He could be the sanest politician in Washington right now.