At the center of the chaotic maelstrom that is the Trump presidency is the question of Donald Trump’s mental health. His public behavior (and, by most accounts, his private behavior as well) is that of a man who is a compulsive liar and malignant narcissist, is paranoid, lacks in impulse control and lives in an alternate reality of his own creation.
Donald Trump has recently declared a “national emergency” in order to further expand his power and gut American democracy and the Constitution in the service of his radically destructive right-wing agenda. But in reality it is Donald Trump who is the actual national emergency, an obvious threat to this country and the entire world.
Former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe recently revealed that officials in the Justice Department discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove President Trump from power. Yet it also may be true that Trump’s apparent mental health problems are actually helping him to remain in power and to control his supporters.
How are mentally unwell leaders more dangerous than leaders who are “merely” criminals? How have the American people become so numb to Trump and the Republican Party’s assault on American democracy and the common good? How is dangerous behavior normalized in an unhealthy society — such as ours? How are Trump and his movement affecting negatively the mental and physical health of the American people?
In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Dr. Bandy Lee. She is a psychiatrist at Yale University and a leading voices among the growing number of mental health and other medical professionals who have been trying to raise public awareness about Donald Trump’s mental health. Lee was lead editor of the bestselling book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.”
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. You can hear the entire conversation on my podcast.
Many members of the pundit class and other observers are stuck in a cycle where they continue to be “shocked” by Donald Trump’s outrageous, anti-democratic and likely illegal behavior. In many ways this is all very anti-climactic. Trump is highly predictable. Are you in any way surprised?
What is happening with Donald Trump is what me and my colleagues predicted several years ago. Nothing is a surprise, but of course, the urgent situation continues because no one is doing anything about it. This is what is putting so many people on edge in the United States and around the world.
How is Donald Trump’s mental health central to the destruction, cruelty and chaos he engages in?
When a person’s mind is pathological we know that it is going to create a lot of chaos and danger. That’s precisely what Trump’s pathology has done. When I or other mental health professionals say that we need to stop him, it is not stopping the person Donald Trump per se, it is actually freeing Donald Trump from the pathology that gets him, and the country, in trouble.
Have the American people become habituated to this crisis? With any other president and given the many dangerous things this man has done, he would be removed from office and there would be mass protests. Somehow Trump hangs on and he’s still remarkably popular.
Allowing a mentally impaired president to remain in power is much more dangerous, as compared to having a president who is just a likely criminal. Studies have shown that delusional leaders are more effective at beguiling others and then getting them to agree with them and go along with their plans and goals than a leader who is just or merely a criminal.