It’s clear to anyone who spends even a minute watching Donald Trump that there is something off. His ego is too big. His skin is too thin. His lies are too obnoxious. For many of us, these signal a profound inability of Trump to responsibly run the United States of America. For the mental health community, who are trained to pick up on the signs of mental illness, Trump’s speeches and interviews say a whole lot more.
Many couldn’t help but speak up about it.
Here’s former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier:
— Jeffrey Flier (@jflier) July 30, 2016
A Northwestern University professor went further, publishing a 9,000 word psychological evaluation of the Republican nominee for president. The word “narcissism” came up a lot.
If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. You often monopolize conversations. You may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior. You may feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry. You may insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club or medical care.
At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.
Are these experts out of line for pointing out the connection? The American Psychiatric Association seems to think so. This week, the APA warned its members to stop publicly diagnosing Trump with mental disorders, citing the need for privacy and the damage it might do to psychiatry more generally if patients saw their doctors openly diagnosing their candidate.
Not that APA president Maria A. Oquendo doesn’t understand the temptation.
Every four years, the United States goes through a protracted elections process for the highest office in the land. This year, the election seems like anything but a normal contest, that has at times devolved into outright vitriol. The unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible.
But while the APA’s concerns are well founded, it’s hard not to sympathize with the trained psychiatrists who are watching a man with very clear signs of mental unfitness and finding it hard to remain silent. Particularly as Americans slowly realize that, despite his nearly constant lies and blunders, the candidate currently holds sway over a large swath of the Republican Party – and just might actually win.
Already many in the intelligence and military communities have expressed anxiety at the idea of Trump being handed over sensitive information and, worse, the nuclear codes that could send the world into ruin. The current president and every living former one has expressed similar dread.
So professional ethics aside, it may be reasonable to conclude that the mental health community has a higher moral obligation to speak up when they see someone so clearly unfit to lead or gain momentum based on fear-mongering and the perverse populism of bigotry. As Dr. Flier, our intrepid former Harvard dean, later remarked, if Trump isn’t a narcissist then he’s doing an awfully good job of playing one.
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