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The ‘shared psychosis’ between Trump and his followers: Yale psychiatrist

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DOJ photo of President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr in the Oval Office.

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On Monday, President Donald Trump continued claiming full exoneration, even as more damning evidence was culled from the Mueller report.
And it appears to be exacerbating the President’s more extreme tendencies.

“Nobody disobeys my orders,” the President barked at reporters earlier today.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a renowned expert on violence and forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine. She has been a consultant to the World Health Organization since 2002 and is author of the authoritative textbook, “Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures.” She is also the president of the World Mental Health Coalition and editor of the New York Times bestseller, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” This public-service book was just released as an expanded edition alongside a major, interdisciplinary conference on presidential fitness that was held in Washington, DC (dangerouscase.org). She and her colleagues are currently preparing a mental health analysis of the Mueller report.

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Raw Story: So, it seems that Robert Mueller’s report did not exactly clear the President of wrongdoing, as he’d previously claimed. So the President is lashing out. What do you think explains the President’s behavior?

I think we are reaching a pivotal moment here. Exactly two years ago, I organized a conference at Yale School of Medicine on how psychiatrists could ethically warn the public against the dangers of the current presidency and fulfill our duty to society. I invited some of the most preeminent psychiatrists of our day, including Drs. Robert Jay Lifton, Judith Herman, and James Gilligan. We put our analysis into the bestselling book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, almost two years ago, as a public service, removing all conflicts of interest by donating all royalties. While Robert Mueller’s report may not have been enough to indict him, it is proving to be a wellspring of information on the president’s mental capacity, proving that our analysis was correct.

In our analysis, we stated that the president’s mental capacity was of grave concern and potential danger to society in his office by reasons of, among other things, impulsivity, recklessness, a lack of firm grip on reality, an inability to work with advisors, an absorption in self-interest that seemed to preclude considerations of national interest, a seeming inability to consider consequences before taking action, cognitive difficulties, paranoid reactions, an attraction to violence, and an absence of empathy that exceeded the normal range. The special counsel’s report now confirms the reasons why we believed the president’s condition is severe and would only grow worse over time in his current position.

Seldom do we have this quantity of detailed information on a person’s behavior, verified with the caliber of a criminal investigation of the highest order. Now, we can interpret the evidence with a high level of confidence, vastly exceeding what we ordinarily have for our own patients. We have thus formed a team to prepare a mental health interpretation of the special counsel’s report.

Raw Story: How do you think his followers are dealing with the fact that the report in fact contains many instances of ethical breaches by the President and his associates?

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There were three ways in which we predicted, based on probability, that his presidency would be dangerous.

First, we said that he was more dangerous than the public suspected, that he would not “pivot” to become more presidential as many expected two years ago, but that the verbal abuse, abusive treatment of women, incitement of violence, endorsement of violence in public speeches, and the taunting and alienation of allies and enemies alike turned out to be only the tip of the iceberg.

Second, we said he would grow more dangerous with time, as his psychological dangerousness translated into social, cultural, and geopolitical dangerousness with the power of his position. His proneness for cruelty has created thousands of young orphans and bereaved families and left entire segments of the population without relief from climate-related disasters; his affinity for despots around the world has encouraged human rights abuses and murder of journalists; and his attraction to violence has encouraged a culture of widespread hate crimes, white supremacist and religious terrorism, heightened risk of war in unstable regions, and a renewed nuclear arms race.

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And third, we said that he would become increasingly uncontainable because his followers would, in a sense, take on more of his symptoms and grow “sicker” with time. Therefore, the ethical breaches by the president and his associates will not matter, just as facts or evidence will not matter, since his supporters are now largely disconnected from reality, the way the president is disconnected from reality. We see this in his low-income supporters whose taxes are going up while reports of wild windfalls for corporations and the super-wealthy are resulting from the president’s tax policy, that they still believe the president is fighting for “the little guy.” We see from farmers who are losing their livelihoods because of the president’s trade policies, or people who are at risk of dying from his proposed healthcare repeal, that no amount of proof will turn them from their fixed loyalties.

In psychiatry, we call this separation from reality “psychosis,” and we are witnessing a “shared psychosis” with the president. So it is no wonder that his followers will deal with the new information in all kinds of maladaptive ways, for example through displacement (“The investigators need to be investigated”), projection (“This is the work of angry partisans”), minimization (“Anyone would do what the president did”), or denial (“It was total and complete exoneration”). The ability of his followers to go to their graveyards—and bring the nation down with them—believing what they do demonstrates the power of the mind and the unique danger of allowing a president with mental pathology to stay on.

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Raw Story: Is there hope?

While his followers seem recalcitrant, they can also suddenly flip when they complete their idealization-devaluation cycle. In other words, once they are disappointed in their leader, they could turn on him drastically. Much of this depends on removing Donald Trump from power—what will matter is not the evidence or reasons for, say, impeachment, but the fact that he is impeached or removed from power, regardless of the reasons. Once the removal takes place, the worshipping will likely stop.

This is why we continue to press on the situation of medical need that we see, regardless of politics, since mental health professionals base their assessment on facts, evidence, clinical observations, and science. The whole nation needs better grounding in reality, which is where further investigations or impeachment proceedings could be helpful for the sake of the nation’s mental health, regardless of political consequences. Of course, we need to be mindful of the greater dangers that would accompany this process, especially if the president’s powers continue unchecked.

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Raw Story: What is your main takeaway from the Mueller report?

That is for our mental health analysis of the report to reveal—all I can say now is, it will be powerful.

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