Psychologists warn of the deadly consequences of the "silent partner" in abusive homes. When a father beats or sexually assaults a child, the family will often react by refusing to discuss the abuse, allowing silence to enable the predator and protect against confronting a reality that is too painful and frightening.
This article first appeared in Salon.
The United States of America is now an abusive household. Donald Trump is the lunatic authority figure stalking and traumatizing the victims — the American people — while the Democratic Party, along with the mainstream media, act as the silent partner.
It becomes increasingly evident, with Trump's every social media post, public utterance and policy directive, that our president suffers from a severe form of mental illness. His insanity threatens millions of lives, and has become particularly dangerous during the most devastating public health crisis in the last 100 years.
For all the criticism that Democrats and pundits advance against Trump, their refusal to state the obvious forces the American public to feel as if we are the ones confined to a mental institution. It also emboldens Trump, even as he prioritizes his fragile ego, his compulsion to appear infallible and political expediency above the lives of countless human beings.
The most popular terms that Trump's opponents use are "liar," "un-American," "egomaniac" and "malignant narcissist." All of these labels are weak, which is why we watch as Trump peels them off like Band-Aids after a shower. Half the public probably doesn't know what "malignant narcissist" means, while "un-American" is too vague and ideological to have any widespread resonance. "Liar" quickly collapses into the "all politicians lie" refrain, and "egomania" is borderline meaningless, considering that almost anyone who becomes famous in our consumer society — including most high-powered CEOs, Hollywood celebrities and professional athletes — obviously have massively swollen egos.
The reality that is too painful and frightening for many Americans to confront is that the wealthiest and most militarily powerful country in the world, during a pandemic, is under the leadership of someone who is certifiably nuts.
In December of 2019, 350 mental health professionals co-signed a letter to Congress stating that Donald Trump's "deteriorating mental health" constituted a "threat to the safety of our nation." It was merely a month later that Trump would begin to ignore multiple warnings regarding the coming COVID-19 epidemic, repeatedly announcing at rallies and on Twitter that media coverage of the virus amounted to a "hoax," and making bizarre, unscientific statements that the potential pandemic would "go away like a miracle."
One recent morning — again, while thousands are dying and the coronavirus ravaged numerous American cities — Trump tweeted 46 times in a few hours, mostly to mock House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whine about "fake news" and retweet conspiracy theorists arguing for the firing of Dr. Anthony Fauci.
If any of our loved ones behaved in a similar manner, we would plead for psychiatric intervention. One does not have to have the expertise of a psychiatrist at the Yale University School of Medicine to make that assessment, but Dr. Bandy X. Lee, who indeed holds that title, recently told Salon that Trump's "pathological malice," "mental pathology," and "bottomless need to place his own psychic survival above any protection of the public" could "destroy the nation or the world."
Lee was the principal editor of the 2017 bestseller, "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President." She has also organized a coalition of 800 mental health professionals who are "sufficiently alarmed that they feel the need to speak up about the mental health status of the president."
A Change.org petition started by Dr. John Gartner, a psychotherapist and former professor at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, calls on Congress to remove Trump from office on the grounds of mental unfitness. It now has 70,602 supporters, most of them professionals with education or experience in the mental health field.
In the foreword to "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist who is one of the world's leading experts on the psychological causes of war and terrorism, writes that the United States has entered a disastrous stage of "malignant normality":
Judith Herman and I, in a letter to the New York Times in March 2017, stressed Trump's dangerous individual psychological patterns: his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crises that face an American president. He has also, in various ways, violated our American institutional requirements and threatened the viability of American democracy. Yet, because he is president and operates within the broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process — that is, as politically and even ethically normal. In this way, a dangerous president becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing (or, one could say, our antigoverning) dynamic.
Since the first printing of "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," and the publication of the letter from 350 mental health professionals, the fatal consequences of Trump's mental instability have become manifest. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed a terrifying hypothetical into a catastrophe with effects that multiply by the hour.
Even as rates of infection and the daily body count escalate, while overwhelmed hospitals lack the equipment to properly care for their patients and protect their workers, Trump displays a horrific failure to empathize with victims, place public need above personal interest or even acknowledge reality. He continues to tout the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which so far has shown little if any positive effects on coronavirus patients, and is known to increase the risk of cardiac arrest.
Trump makes decisions that threaten more lives, such as the elimination of U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, which is not only on the front lines against the global spread of COVID-19, but is also central to the campaign against treatable diseases throughout the developing world. He boasted of the creation of a coronavirus website in partnership with Google — which does not exist and never will — and has likened his presidential powers to those of a dictator, telling a report that "the authority of the president of the United States is total." (In an entirely typical Trumpian maneuver, he then retreated from that position without acknowledging he had ever said any such thing.)
Unlike other world leaders, who allow their chief medical officials to lead press briefings on the pandemic, the wannabe dictator hosts a surreal press conference nearly every afternoon. This has become a pathological national spectacle, in which Trump insults journalists, makes transparently false claims and answers simple questions, like "What do you say to the Americans who are scared?" with incoherent rage: "I say you're a terrible reporter."
In their cowardice, weakness and lack of imagination, the White House correspondents, the networks and publications they represent, and most Democratic officials offer a hideous illustration of "malignant normality."
Most journalists, adhering to an institutional decorum that might have been appropriate during the Carter administration, ask Trump a question and then dutifully take notes while he blusters through an illiterate response.
Lenore Taylor, an editor with Guardian Australia, offered a reasonable perspective on Trump last year that still eludes her American peers. After attending a White House press conference, she wrote that she realized "how much the reporting of Trump necessarily edits and parses his words, to force it into sequential paragraphs or impose meaning where it is difficult to detect," and concluded that most of journalism "masks and normalizes his full and alarming incoherence."
Major newspapers and television networks largely refuse to publish or air consideration of Trump's mental health, ignoring the consensus of hundreds of the most prestigious academics and doctors in the field.
Dr. Anthony Fauci was recently compelled to grovel before the Dear Leader, insisting that when he had said that earlier adoption of social distancing would have saved lives, he of course intended no criticism of the porcelain president.
For the sake of the country, millions of lives and everyone's sanity, some political figure of national prominence needs to respect the consensus of mental health professionals, and publicly declare that President Donald Trump is mentally unstable and unfit for office. This must be stated in the simplest terms possible, and while making clear that he or she is not joking or issuing the statement for dramatic effect. It is time to liberate American discourse from its self-imposed restraints, and it is essential to the future of American democracy that Trump's mental condition becomes a focal point of urgent investigation and discussion.
Shameless and dishonest operatives on the right have no reticence about making the health of a major Democratic figure part of public inquiry, even when they have to resort to baseless lies. In 2016, many Republican commentators – from Sean Hannity to Trump himself — warned that Hillary Clinton was near death, because she appeared wobbly at one public event. Four years later, she is still alive. Currently, discussions of Joe Biden's "dementia," without any clear evidence of cognitive decline, dominate right-wing chatter about the prospective Democratic nominee.
More than a thousand mental health professionals are now on the record declaring that Donald Trump is mentally unfit for office, but leading Democrats still refuse to discuss the issue openly. Amid this pandemic, Democratic cowardice regarding Trump's insanity goes beyond the usual liberal pattern of bringing a pillow to a knife fight. It puts millions of lives at risk.
No Democratic governor, even one with considerable power and influence like California's Gavin Newsom or New York's Andrew Cuomo, can afford to gamble with the health of his or her people by alienating Trump. But a prominent U.S. senator — perhaps Chris Murphy of Connecticut or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — or even Joe Biden himself, must level with the country about what anyone outside Trump's cult following can see with their own eyes. The president is sick. It's time to talk about it.
A recent profile in the New Yorker of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quoted a staffer as claiming that behind closed doors McConnell has described Trump as "nuts." Democrats should demand to know if the Republican Senate mastermind truly believes that the president is impaired, and force McConnell to choose between yet more lies and the future of his country.
Democrats should also get over their concerns about angering Trump supporters. Anyone who continues to applaud Trump's weird and reckless disregard for humanity at this point is beyond the limit of rational persuasion. Trump supporters live in a hallucinatory dreamscape under the authority of a maniac. Let them have their anti-social distancing rallies, and allow them to believe that Barack Obama invented COVID-19 shortly after he was born in Kenya.
Rational Americans need to stop enabling this abusive and deranged presidency. Declare Donald Trump insane and, at long last, bring an end to our era of malignant normality.