What Trump's bizarre obsession with conspiracy theories tells us about his downward mental spiral: Yale psychiatrist
President Donald Trump. (AFP/File / Brendan Smialowski)

At a tarmac press conference Tuesday, President Donald Trump once again failed to refute the conspiracy theory that the Clinton's were behind financier Jeffrey Epstein's death. Instead, the president directed reporters to find out if Bill Clinton had ever traveled to Epstein's personal Island, where he's been accused of sexually abusing young girls.

“And then the question you have to ask is, did Bill Clinton go to the Island? Because Epstein had an Island and it was not a good place as I understand. And I was never there. So you have to ask. Did Bill Clinton go to the Island? That’s the question. If you find that out, you’re going to know a lot,” the president said.

Raw Story spoke with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist and an expert on violence at Yale School of Medicine, about how we got to the point where the president of the United States is spreading conspiracy theories. Lee has 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 is author of the textbook, “Violence: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Causes, Consequences, and Cures,” 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.” She and her coauthors prepared a mental health analysis of the Mueller report and presented it in a national online town hall (for more information, visit: dangerouscase.org).

Raw Story: After Jeffrey Epstein's ghastly death, Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory about the Clintons having him murdered. How are we at a point where it's "normal" for a sitting president to accuse a former President of having an inmate killed?

Human beings are adaptable creatures, as we see from all the extreme places where malignant leaders have led entire nations to go. An honest and informed glimpse into Donald Trump’s behavior is quite frightening. So we would rather find ways to minimize or deny, and fear overcomes our ability to act.

By the time the billionaires and the politicians who thought they could profit from an impaired president realize that the benefits do not outweigh the costs, things will have progressed far. Those who thought Donald Trump a harmless buffoon will also be surprised: it is precisely the incompetent and cowardly who are perpetrators of the most extreme violence.

Look at last week’s roundup of undocumented workers. It does not matter that you tell them that separating small children from their parents is the worst form of torture for life, since protecting people was never the point. Cruelty is. It does not matter that you give them irrefutable evidence that we are creating the very conditions that will make our own country less safe, since security was never the point. Cruelty is. It does not matter that you demonstrate how this leads directly to the downfall of our once globally revered nation—as has happened throughout history—since “making America great” was never the point. Cruelty is.

Ultimately, it does not matter that you tell them they are destroying themselves, too, since self-preservation is never the point of disease. All kinds of rationalization, even religious zeal, can be adopted to justify these instigations. The longer we take to intervene, the more emboldened he becomes, and the scarier it is to speak up—and hence the downward spiral. It is a mistake to believe there is a limit.

Raw Story: How do we get back from the point where this is "normal"?

Knowledge is power, and I do believe the truth sets you free. The more people recognize the power they truly have, then the more they will realize that they do not have to accept this dysfunction. This is autocracies make truth the first casualty.

It is somewhat like extracting the victim from an abusive relationship. You learn helplessness as the abuser requires you to accept the arrangement as “better.” The mind may engage in all kinds of fantasies to tolerate the situation, even painting the abuser as savior. The abuser creates the conditions through “milieu control”—restricting your access to information and other people. You are told that blue isn’t blue, right isn’t right, and up isn’t up. Facts are “fake news,” and those who criticize him automatic “Democrats” (or other code word for “evil”). He attacks those who are positioned to help the people, such as reporters, whistleblowers, and experts.

As such, the president’s replacement of Dan Coats, director of national intelligence, is a critical sign: he is trying to hijack the mind of the nation. This may seem like an extreme thing to say, but he already attempted to place an unqualified person on the job. The more appointments we let go in the direction of the president’s, the more the nation will reflect his psychology—chaos at the onset but a deliberate, concerted march toward destruction as disease progresses.

But human beings are resilient and highly capable—and to address a problem, we must not be afraid to see it for what it is. If we could label a mental health issue as a problem of mental health, for example, we would know where to look for the answers.

We know that Trump supporters are suffering, even more than non-supporters. They take part in the record levels of stress and anxiety that have been documented for our nation, and economic indicators are even worse. Once we see the truth, not only will we be free, the great masquerader’s façade will fall.

Raw Story: So the solution is psychological?

Yes. People ask me what procedure to use, but I say that whatever procedure we choose, our psychological readiness is what will make it work. Are we ready to see the president as a public servant and an equal, or can we only see him as a king, a demigod? Can we imagine that it is possible for someone in his position, like any human being, may not have full soundness of mind? Are we willing to put him through a test, like many an employee or CEO has to undergo, every day in this country, for showing the signs that he has? Can we imagine human health, or law, that is not subservient to him? Are we ready to apply medical standards of care? These are the questions the solution depends on.

Raw Story: Can you talk about the 25th amendment and how it applies to Trump?

I have always stated that the 25th amendment is not my area of expertise. The reason I say this is because expertise counts as evidence that is admissible in court, like facts, and is different than mere opinion. So as an expert I have to distinguish my personal, including political, opinion from a professional one.

However, I can point out some misconceptions that seem to surround the amendment. Many believe it applies only to physical conditions, such as a stroke that renders one unconscious. This makes no sense from a medical standpoint, since in medicine, psychiatric conditions are no different than physical ones. They are just as debilitating, just as scientific, based on evidence and clinical observation, and—a little known fact—psychiatric diagnoses are the most reliable among all medical specialties.

The drafter of the 25th amendment, a very wise and enlightened man, seems to hold a view that is closer to medicine’s. The amendment would not be sensitive enough to implement in certain situations without psychiatric input, he said.