In 1973, mental health practitioners adopted a new rule into their code of ethics named after former president Lyndon B. Johnson's Republican challenger, Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ). The Goldwater Rule stated, “[I]t is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization."
The rule was developed after Goldwater sued Fact magazine in 1964 following a published poll in which over half of psychiatrists who responded said they considered Goldwater to be mentally unfit to assume the presidency, should he win. He lost by a landslide - and the field of psychiatry has remained mum on presidential candidates ever since. That is, until a candidate by the name of Donald J. Trump assumed the presidency in 2016.
That year, a group of mental health professional gathered at Yale University for the "Duty to Warn" conference. The conference was organized by Dr. Bandy X. Lee who went on to curate a New York Times bestseller, "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."
At the conclusion of the conference, mental health professionals declared it a duty to warn the public that they believed Trump displayed "the clear characteristics of someone with Antisocial personality disorder."
According to Mayo Clinic, "Antisocial personality disorder, sometimes called sociopathy, is a mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others. People with antisocial personality disorder tend to antagonize, manipulate or treat others harshly or with callous indifference. They show no guilt or remorse for their behavior."
Zev Shalev wrote in Narativ on Sunday, "The Goldwater Rule seems at best misguided. After all, In 1964, Americans heeded the warnings about Goldwater’s mental state and delivered Johnson one of the most decisive election victories since 1820. But at its worst, the Goldwater Rule provides cover for literal madmen to assume the highest offices of power. Any reasonable person would agree that mental health practitioners should warn the country if there is clear evidence of danger."
Shalev wrote, "Things will get worse," saying "These days, we could do with Goldwater’s spirit from a later chapter of his political career, when he told Nixon he had to resign, and Nixon did. We don’t have Republican Senators like that anymore. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be forced to confront many societal structures and long-held beliefs which have outlived their usefulness or their times. The Goldwater Rule serves as a timely reminder not to cling on to a past that no longer makes sense."
Listen to the podcast below.