Bannon’s one word description of Trump that 60,000+ mental health professionals are implying

From BuzzFeed two days ago about email content in a 2016 Breitbart-related exchange that reflects at least one true thing expressed by Steve Bannon:

In response to Bannon’s criticism of Trump’s lack of humility before God, Breitbart’s Washington political editor Matthew Boyle chimed in. “…He can’t do anything wrong, at least in his mind,” Boyle wrote. “Trump is a genius at showing absolutely no weakness whatsoever and projecting macho man confidence. He is a giant walking, living, breathing self-fulfilling prophecy.”

“Narcissist,” [Steve] Bannon wrote back.

Seven months later, Bannon left Breitbart to lead the Trump campaign.

And although they’re saying it in different and more words than Bannon used, it boils down to the same:

April 23, 2017:

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a diminutive Yale psychiatry professor who organized the meeting, puts it this way: “The Goldwater Rule is not absolute. We have a ‘Duty to Warn,’ about a leader who is dangerous to the health and security of our patients.” She has formed a coalition by that name, and it now comprises almost 800 mental-health professionals who are “sufficiently alarmed that they feel the need to speak up about the mental-health status of the president.”

August 25, 2017:

The [pyschiatrist] group’s letter, sent to members of both parties, said: “It no longer takes a psychiatrist to recognise the alarming patterns of impulsive, reckless, and narcissistic behaviour — regardless of diagnosis — that, in the person of President Trump, put the world at risk.

“We now find ourselves in a clear and present danger, especially concerning North Korea and the President’s command of the US nuclear arsenal.”

And finally, also two days ago:

More than a dozen lawmakers last month met with a Yale University psychiatry professor for two days to discuss President Trump’s fitness for office, Politico reported Wednesday.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee reportedly met with the group of lawmakers on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6 and warned them the president is “going to unravel.” All of the lawmakers in attendance were Democrats, except for one Republican senator.

“We feel that the rush of tweeting is an indication of his falling apart under stress. Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency,” Lee told Politico.

I’ve never been bothered by the Goldwater Rule (that mental health experts not offer a professional diagnosis of any person they have not personally examined) when it’s involved the matter of Donald Trump and the presidency. Psychology Today does a nice job writing about why so many (60,000+) mental professionals aren’t either:

[John Gartner, Ph.D] speaks for the book [The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President] contributors as well as the 60,000-plus mental health professionals who signed his petition when he contends that the mental health community has an obligation to protect the public that overrides the Goldwater Rule —we’ve advanced quite a lot in 44 years—and that Trump has proved himself a clear and present danger. Also, the Goldwater Rule is not relevant because it was established before the DSM made diagnosis behaviorally based.

and then they provide Dr. Lee’s explanation as well:

So why are so many mental health professionals—the contributors to The Dangerous Case and the rest of the 60,000+—willing to put their careers on the line? We’ll defer to Bandy:

“We are asking our fellow mental health professionals to get involved in politics not only as citizens, but also, specifically, as professionals and as guardians of special knowledge with which they have been entrusted. How can we be sure that this is permissible? It is all too easy to claim, just as we have done, that an emergency situation requires a departure from our usual practices in the private sphere. How can we judge whether in fact our political involvement is justified?

“We would argue that the key question is whether professionals are engaging in political collusion with state abuses of power, or in resistance to them. If we are asked to cooperate with state programs that violate human rights, then regardless of the purported justification, any involvement can only corrupt, and the only appropriate ethical stance is to refuse participation of any sort. If, on the other hand, we perceive that state power is being abused by an executive who seems to be mentally unstable, then we may certainly speak out, not only as citizens, but also, we would argue, as professionals who are privy to special information and a responsibility to educate the public. For whatever our wisdom and expertise may be worth, surely we are obligated to share it.”

Personally and professionally, I find this description extremely persuasive, even if Steve Bannon’s one word description in a 2016 email makes the same observation.

2 thoughts on “Bannon’s one word description of Trump that 60,000+ mental health professionals are implying

  1. Good morning Jill,

    I had a long conversation last evening on this topic—the sanity or Donald Trump, or the lack thereof—and I have great unease about going down this path Not that we should condone a mad president, but rather that we have a solid route here for removal through the 25th Amendment.

    If our vice president and the majority of the cabinet, who see Trump daily, or nearly daily, cannot make this decision, I just don’t think the rest of us can. I say this, in part, because I know that a psychiatric diagnosis is not the same as a cancer diagnosis and the tit-for-tat door this opens has no good escape.

    I’m far from convinced, especially in the case of North Korea, that Trump comes even close to anything like a “clear and present danger.” to anyone except Republicans in the the 2018 elections. I want him out of office—either by impeachment and conviction by the senate or the 25th amendment—but not by the views of such a tiny, no matter how well qualified, minority of Americans.



    p.s. and totally unrelated, what does dr. lee’s “stature” have to do with anything? JH

    • Thanks, Jeff. I know you are not alone in the thinking you’ve expressed.

      The easy thing first: no clue why the author would put in diminuitive. No need, adds nothing and if anything as I imagine you’re thinking, it takes away (i.e., saying she is “small”) and plays into any stereotype someone might have about a female with that name and being of a certain height. Whatever. I hadn’t even caught that. Very unfortunate. Haven’t gone back to see whose byline is there.

      Regarding the substance of your comment:

      1. I share the unease but I feel no guilt or hesitation and also desire a solid route for removal through the 25th. But giving mental health professionals the latitude to apply their experience and education to a political situation should not be so controversial, and it isn’t for me.

      I’d also say engaging on a topic like this is exactly why I studied law and social work.

      2. First off, the American Psychiatric Assn, the American Psychological Assn and the American Psychoanalytic Assn are all different orgs with different memberships and have taken different positions. But one thing they all have in common from what I’ve read is that their rules indicate that professionals who are members of their associations “should” refrain from “diagnosing”. So it’s not mandatory – they had to choose whether to say, “should” or “must” and they chose should.

      Secondly, they’re saying diagnose. Experts of all sorts are used in courtrooms as a standard way to give opinion to juries and judges. They often must do so in hypotheticals, if they have no direct experience of a person. That is acceptable. How does a mental health professionals expression of their opinion differ when they’ve not had direct experience of a person and they’re not even offering it under oath?

      In addition, the term diagnosis is very specific. We were taught appropriately in social work school that even licensed social workers cannot diagnose. But we do treat based on observation and other types of reporting we do based on what we observe and experience with clients.

      Likewise, people who are not professionals often engage in interventions with family members or friends when they’re concerned about someone’s status. Often those are led by either a licensed professional or a lay leader of some type.

      And let’s remember, the existence and structure of licensure of clinical professionals is of course in part to provide accountability when people seek help. However, they are also massive gatekeeping structures that are extremely political at times in terms of who they’ll let in and how they’ll screen out and so on. Social work licensure has only been in Ohio since about 1986! And it is a huge profession. Likewise, thousands of people practicing social workers are grandfathered in without any licensure. So – let’s keep in mind what licensure and these associations have at stake as they put out their positions.

      3. When you say the VP and majority of the cabinet “cannot make the decision” – what did you mean with cannot? Because they don’t see it, or because they aren’t qualified? Can you clarify?

      4. Can you more about the qualitative ways you think psychiatric diagnosis is different from a cancer diagnosis? I’m a big fan of parity between mental health and physical health, but mostly I’m not clear on what distinctions you’re thinking about in this Trump is sick topic.

      5. I get the tit for tat concern but honestly, I’m not bothered by it in this instance. I see it more as a question of being an upstander than a bystander and worrying about the tit for tat just doesn’t rise to the level of staying quiet for me in this instance. The damage being done and the risks for future damage are too large and likely, IMO.

      6. I’ve analogized the situation to the way people are middling climate change deniers approach climate change: they say that they don’t know or don’t want to get into or don’t want to commit to whether it’s man-made or natural, but they do want to address the effects of the trends they will admit to in weather-related disasters and problems. The analogy being: we don’t have to commit to or get into the cause or the diagnosis of Trump’s behavior in order to acknowledge and respond to its effects.

      7. Which brings me to my last point: duty to warn. That, to me, is they lynchpin of the clinicians’ speaking out. The Goldwater Rule is not binding law on anyone. Duty to warn is. And it is a very serious one. I used to teach it to hundreds of mental health staff, including when Ohio began to legislate a rubric mental health professionals must use if they want to avoid liability when people challenge their assessments of whether they had a duty to warn or not in any particular scenario.

      To conclude, I’d actually like to see a lot more discussion and debate on the duty to warn in the context of Trump. It is warranted, IMO.

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