As the most eminent mental health experts warned would happen since Donald Trump’s election, the office of the U.S. presidency has become a locus of grave psychological dysfunction. Seldom do we see our warnings realized in real life with such recurrent, precise confirmation, as if on schedule.
The president’s latest suggestion that injecting bodies with disinfectant, or irradiating them with ultraviolet light, could help with COVID-19 is only the latest, blatant example of his malady: His boundless willingness to place the nation in harm’s way for his slightest gain. Given our track record, the world should know that we were not speaking frivolously of his dangerousness and that, were Trump to continue in the presidency, not only the United States but the world would see vast, unnecessary increases in suffering and death.
Just as COVID-19 was exceeding 2 million confirmed cases across the world, Trump announced that he would freeze funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), the main agency that is in charge of helping the world to confront the pandemic. I have been consulting with the WHO since its launch of the landmark World Report on Violence and Health. On a shoestring budget, it does innovative and vital work around the world that saves lives in ways that no other agency can replace. For a global pandemic, which requires a concerted effort among nations, this funding means protecting ourselves in a closely linked world of international travel and interconnected economies.
The remaining nine months of Trump’s presidency are looking to be the most dangerous of all, for the United States and for the world.
This is especially true in the absence of U.S. leadership. We will never know to what degree the COVID-19 pandemic could have been attenuated or contained altogether, like other near-pandemics in the past, had Trump not disbanded the nation’s global pandemic response system two years earlier, out of pathological envy of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. It was a system that experts lauded throughout the world and voiced outcry for when it was dissolved.
Trump’s withdrawal of funding for the most important global health organization in the midst of the most serious global public health emergency in a century will likely have similar results as in the United States. When he depleted funding to another crucial public health institution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it eliminated the CDC staff stationed in China, exactly the group that was supposed to monitor threats like COVID-19, just months earlier. And when the crisis came, the CDC let the nation down. It sent out faulty test kits that took at least a month to correct, while Germany, South Korea, and other countries successfully developed test kits and went into large-scale testing weeks before the United States.
Scapegoating and Persecutions
We should recognize the president’s behavior for what it is: a mental problem. Mental health professionals have long ago recognized his patterns and his tendency to project his own unacceptable actions onto others, as he does when he scapegoats the Chinese people (even as he praised their leader Xi Jinping during the early coverup), state governors, hospitals, and now his top medical expert. It is all so as to deny his failures and weaknesses and to avoid accountability. The psychological pattern is the same as when he persecuted immigrants and desperate migrants to boost his party’s election chances in 2018, which led to unprecedented violence both domestically and abroad.
Allowing such a gravely impaired person to preside has given us the gravest failure of U.S. security in history, dwarfing the number of deaths at Pearl Harbor or September 11. The United States is now a staggering outlier with more than 50,000 deaths or 150 per 1 million population. South Korea has incurred 240 deaths, or 5 per million. Taiwan’s death toll stands at just six deaths, or 0.3 per million, and Singapore’s death toll stands at 12, or 2 per million. Many other countries have a similar record of lower death rates. Canada’s death rate is one-third of the U.S. The U.S. currently accounts for one of less than every four global COVID-19 deaths, even though the U.S. has one of every 24 persons on the planet.
Hypnotic Effect on Followers
His pathological drive to deflect blame and to attribute his errors to an outside “enemy” will continue to exert greater emotional force than any rational planning, as well as to have a powerful, hypnotic effect on his followers, as is the characteristic of pathology. As his other mismanagements contribute to what seems will be a Great Depression-level economic devastation, he has called for armed insurrection against Democratic governors who are unwilling to reopen the economy.
These are truly frightening developments that likely foreshadow potentially catastrophic international crises to come. Amid a worldwide economic depression on top of major misery and death from the pandemic, geopolitical confrontations that this president has already brought to a brink are likely to explode.
He Will Create New Crises
While it is likely he will use his presidential powers and the current health crisis to try to postpone the November elections or to annul the results, it is also likely that he will turn to creating new crises if this does not seem workable in his mind. We simply cannot risk these greater dangers while a seriously mentally compromised person is wielding the powers of the presidency. Past behavior is a reliable predictor of future behavior, and the remaining nine months of his presidency are looking to be the most dangerous of all, for the United States and for the world.
Because these patterns are familiar in mental health settings, thousands of mental health professionals have tried to fulfill our professional responsibility to protect society by speaking up. Recently, a giant in our field, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, has joined us in stating that the president is “crazy.” We believe that prevention is important, and we have issued a prescription. Just as we can choose whether to coordinate our fight against the novel coronavirus or stubbornly stay with a lethal course, we can choose whether to address the greatest mental health emergency of our time or not. The healthy choice seems clear.