Close to Home: When the evidence about Trump’s mental state is too great to ignore
John Gartner, a psychologist based in Baltimore, started a petition on change.org a year ago calling on the Cabinet to remove President Donald Trump from office under the 25th Amendment, which allows for the removal of the president if the vice president and a majority of Cabinet members inform Congress that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Gartner circulated the petition among mental health professionals via social media. The petition now has upwards of 60,000 signatures. Gartner has also produced a video, with interviews with well-known psychiatrists and psychologists, sharing their assessments that the readily observable narcissistic and sociopathic traits of this president, together with his impulsivity and tendency to become enraged, make him a danger to the country (and the world).
There is a debate among mental health professionals about the ethics of diagnosing someone in public life. The Goldwater Rule, established by the American Psychiatric Association and later the American Psychological Association, forbids psychiatrists or psychologists who belong to those groups to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined. It is named after 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who won a suit against Fact magazine after it polled psychiatrists as to whether Goldwater was fit to be president.
However, Gartner and his supporters argue that the Tarasoff law trumps (so to speak) the Goldwater rule. The Tarasoff ruling (which comes from a case in California) found that, after a patient killed a woman he'd threatened in the context of a therapy session, therapists have a duty to warn and protect those whom they perceive may be in danger. Under this argument, many mental health professionals feel that we have an ethical obligation to warn the public of the dangers Trump poses - as his policies endanger the whole planet. And more and more of us are speaking out.
Prominent Harvard and Yale psychiatrists have issued statements. Dr. Bandy Lee from Yale Medical School has been meeting with Cabinet members and members of Congress. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, has introduced HR 1987, co-sponsored by Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Jackie Speier of California and 29 other Democratic members of Congress, to create an oversight commission to review and advise on Trump's mental capacity.
I was initially struck by the argument of psychologist William Doherty, a professor at the University of Minnesota, who founded the group Citizen Therapists, during the presidential campaign. He noted that mental health professionals did not speak out in Nazi Germany because they did not feel it was their place. Doherty enjoins therapists to speak up now, when we find ourselves in the unprecedented position of having an American president who is moving toward authoritarianism.
Psychotherapy, as it is practiced in America, relies on the principles of a functional democracy: a respect for truth; a tolerance of differences; a belief in personal agency rather than relying on a strong man to fix our problems; introspection and taking responsibility rather than projecting blame onto a demeaned other. Doherty states, “The public rhetoric of Trumpism normalizes what therapists work against: the tendency to blame others in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities and then battle these others instead of taking the healthier but more difficult path of self-awareness and self-responsibility.”
Town halls were organized across the country on Oct. 14, to warn and protect the public against the Trump administration and to petition the Cabinet. Our Santa Rosa event had to be postponed due to the tragic wildfires the previous week. But we have rescheduled it for Jan. 20, the first anniversary of the inauguration, when women's marches and demonstrations will be happening once again across the country.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts and local mental health experts will be among the speakers for the event to be held at the Glaser Center downtown from 2-4 p.m. We will also tell attendees about the newly formed Duty to Warn Political Action Committee and how you can get involved in electing those who support your values in the 2018 midterm elections.
We hope you will join us. Now is the time to make our voices heard.
To sign up for the event, go to www.eventbrite.com and look for “Duty to Warn” under Santa Rosa events.
Alissa Hirshfeld-Flores, a marriage and family therapist based in Santa Rosa, is the coordinator of the “Duty to Warn” town hall meeting planned for Jan. 20 in Santa Rosa.