On Wednesday, President Donald Trump retweeted an anti-Semitic super-fan who compared Trump to the “second coming of God.” That was after he made comments Tuesday suggesting that Jews who vote for Democrats are traitorous to Israel. The comments come after a long summer of Trump accusing members of the Squad of being anti-Semitic and suggesting that the Clintons are responsible for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein’s death in jail.
Raw Story spoke with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist and violence expert at Yale School of Medicine, about the president’s fitness for office. Lee helped launch a public health approach to global violence prevention as a consultant to the World Health Organization and other United Nations bodies since 2002. She authored the textbook, “Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures,” which shows how the dangerous psychology of individuals is connected to dangerous societies and cultures, including their politics and economics. She and several coauthors of the public-service book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” prepared a mental health analysis of the president using information in the Mueller report (dangerouscase.org).
Raw Story: It seems that Donald Trump himself is proving what you have said about him all along. Reporters and former White House staff are regularly calling him dangerous, saying he is “melting down” or “losing it.” Is this consistent with your observation?
Dr. Bandy X. Lee: Since his insinuation of the Clintons’ involvement in the death of Jeffrey Epstein, his suspicion that economic forecasters were conspiring against his reelection, and then his fancy of buying Greenland, we have indeed been inundated with messages. Some members of the public are asking if we feel vindicated, while others are wondering where we are, not knowing that media outlets have specific instructions not to air us. We are of course witnessing ongoing deterioration, but what is important is not the spectacle but the economic, nuclear, and political consequences.
What 20 years of researching violence has taught me is that violence is a societal disorder. While individual characteristics—especially what we commonly call “mental illness”—predict little about violence, societal characteristics predict precisely where and when epidemics of violence are likely to occur. It takes a violent society to elect a dangerous president, for example, and once elected, the president will be very attractive to a violent culture—even if the violence escalates into societal self-destruction. What is most telling is not what we say about ourselves but our actions: our approaches to the climate crisis, to gun control, to a dangerously impaired president, and even to our refusal to look at a mental health problem as a mental health issue. If we looked at behavior alone, it amounts to a collective suicidal tendency.
So if we were not just saying that Donald Trump is dangerous but truly appreciated what this means, then more people would be out in the streets than Hong Kong, or even Russia, for nothing could be more urgent in our personal or public lives. Congress members would act, whether Republican or Democrat, recognizing that whatever one invested in this presidency or the next election could not possibly have greater priority. Media outlets would be inviting us, now that our warnings prove not to be hyperbole but sober assessment based on science and clinical experience. The American Psychiatric Association would lift its gag on an entire profession that could have served as “insight” (the ability to recognize that something is wrong) for society, instead of protecting its purse.
Raw Story: Today, he horrified the Internet by tweeting out quotes from an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist. Can you comment on this?
Lee: We need to perceive a bigger picture than just Mr. Trump’s present behavior. By now, it seems common agreement that the president is unfit, and his extreme vulnerability to flattery and proclivity for conspiracy theories are a part of it. At our interdisciplinary conference in March , 13 experts from all different fields explained how the president is unfit from each of their perspectives. Our analysis of the information in the special counsel’s report, through a standard procedure that often accompanies fitness tests, showed that Mr. Trump lacks basic mental capacity, which explains the lack of all other capacities.
Raw Story: How should we understand our situation?
Lee: Psychiatry makes use of the concept of systems: when a family, a community, or a nation identifies itself as a unit, then we can draw parallels with the individual. When an individual’s mental health starts breaking down, the mind fragments and comes into conflict with itself. As a person falls further into illness, the ability to recognize that something is wrong (insight) is also lost. Being the first to know that one is losing one’s mind, one begins to deny—avoiding treatments and real solutions at all cost. When illness has taken over completely, it actively draws the person to destruction, be it of others or of the self. This can also be the progression of a nation.
Mr. Trump epitomizes a larger trend. My analysis of historical data shows that Republicans handed off poorer if not damaged economies to Democrats, consistently, for 110 years. Because the parties alternated and real effects have a lag period, Republicans benefited, giving the false impression that they were the party of prosperity. This finding echoes the work of economists, most notably Larry Bartels of Princeton University.
What is more extraordinary, though, are the trends of violent deaths—the main subject of my study—which on average doubled during Republican administrations and halved during Democratic ones. Again, because the parties alternated, Republicans were able to advance the false idea that they were the party of security, even as they were making us less safe. Since violence is a good barometer for societal health, when there is such a stark difference, we should understand this in terms of health and disease, not just ideology.
This is important because prevention is always far more effective and less costly than reaction after tragedies have happened. It is as true of gun violence (sensible policies on access will be far more effective than all the red-flag laws in the nation, though still important), as it is of danger signs in a powerful public figure (early fitness-for-duty tests would be far easier than removing a dangerous president, though still critical). In order to enact prevention before things happen, we need education. Knowledge reduces fear and irrational responses, because it shows us that not only solutions but effective solutions are available.
Raw Story: I know you said you can’t comment as an expert, but as a citizen, is it time for the 25th Amendment yet?
Lee: Our organization is involved. Since the APA abdicated its role in fulfilling psychiatry’s societal responsibility, and rather interfered when individuals tried to speak up, we formed our own professional organization, now the World Mental Health Coalition. Our purpose is to preserve independent mental health expertise but be open to collaboration with other disciplines and to rigorous consultation with political bodies.
Constitutional law scholars and mental health experts will get together on the 25th Amendment at Yale Law School in the fall.