After entertaining extreme ideas such as a redo of elections under martial law, appointing as special counsel a conspiracy theorist to investigate voter fraud, and downplaying a massive Russian cyberattack on the U.S. government, Donald Trump jeopardized over Christmas weekend a pandemic relief bill that would offer an economic lifeline to millions of desperate Americans and avert a government shutdown.
As Trump is consumed with overturning Joe Biden's election win, denying his defeat with five dozen lawsuits, two Supreme Court appeals, and pursuit of election reversal in Congress, refusing to leave peacefully, what we are likely watching unfold in the White House is a grand reenactment of an earlier, traumatizing experience that he had at age 13.
Somewhere deep inside, in an unconscious region of his brain, Trump now has the chance to reenact his 13-year-old experience—only this time, he will be the victor.
When Donald Trump was rejected by his parents and banished to a military-style boarding school at 13, because he was incorrigible and dangerous, there were no cameras. There were no adoring crowds shouting his name and proclaiming his innocence, so that he could feel powerful. There was only helplessness, hurt, shame and smothered rage. Somewhere deep inside, in an unconscious region of his brain, he now has the chance to reenact his 13-year-old experience—only this time, he will be the victor. He will be vindicated. He will be seen as the wonderful, lovable, wronged boy he needed to prove to his parents to be.
Protectors and Defenders
He had to become president, the most powerful man in the world, to form his "base" of millions of co-conspirators who would never abandon him. They are the "gleam in his mother's eye" he never saw. They are the defenders and protectors he never had against a preoccupied mother and an indifferent father.
This is why, when assessing dangerousness through "actuarial" data, one of the central questions a widely used standardized questionnaire asks is: Did the person live with both biological parents to age 16?
In Donald Trump's case, a definitive no. What are some other questions we ask? They are as follows.
Did the person have discipline problems in elementary school? In Donald Trump's case, yes. Did the person (or close blood relatives) have alcohol problems? Again, yes.
We look for personality traits. Is the person glib with superficial charm? Does the person have a grandiose sense of self, boasting about his skills and abilities? Does the person seek stimulation in constant activity, being prone to boredom? Does the person engage in pathological lying, conning, and manipulation? Does the person lack remorse and have "shallow affect"? Does the person lack empathy?
We look for lifestyle. Does the person lead a parasitic lifestyle, exploiting others or one's position for financial gain? Does the person have poor behavioral controls, exhibiting irritability and verbal abuse? Is the person sexually promiscuous, impulsive, and irresponsible?
We look at behavior. Does the person have difficulty accepting responsibility for his actions? Has the person had many short-term marital relationships? Was there juvenile delinquency, or behavioral difficulties between the ages of 13 and 18? Are there signs of carelessness and criminal versatility?
It is difficult to find a trait the president does not meet. The above questions are from the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG), one of the most widely used, standardized instruments for assessing dangerousness.
We also collect data from simply observing the individual. In the case of danger, we do not wait to make a diagnosis but must act right away. If someone were behaving erratically in a subway or an airport and presented a danger, we have to act. If authorities are unavailable or do not respond, we must take other steps to contain the dangers. As health professionals, we cannot choose to walk away from medical emergencies, including the threat of harm to self or others. Consent is not mandatory in an emergency, and if we misjudged, the person would be released after a full evaluation, but we err on the side of safety.
Personal interviews are of little value, since dangerous individuals are often motivated to misrepresent. We make external observations instead. Has the person already demonstrated violence, such as verbal aggression, boasting of sexual assaults, incitement of others to violence, or taunting allied and enemy nations, including nuclear powers? Does the person have violent policies, such as abusing children at the border, ordering assassinations that alarm military personnel, ignoring intelligence or sidelining scientists about a deadly pandemic, attacking peaceful protesters without provocation, and recklessly performing executions or pardoning mass murderers?
A dangerous personality may target anyone he or she perceives as "enemies", including entire states or cities that did not vote for him, journalists who tell unflattering truths, defenseless minority groups he despises, and others who will not go along with his extreme agendas when he feels the walls are closing in on him. They all deserve his wrath for their failure to protect him against the "bad parents" who threw him out of the house, who threw him out of the White House.
Protecting Public Health
Behavior is not random but predictable from the psychological patterns that individuals bring. Mental health professionals, in addition to a responsibility to patients, have a responsibility to society that involves applying their knowledge of human psychology to protect public health. This is particularly important, since, unlike every military personnel and every officer who handles nuclear weapons, who must undergo rigorous psychological testing before starting on the job and renew it every year, the commander of the U.S. military and of nearly 4000 nuclear warheads has no such requirement.
This is why, in 2017, thousands of mental health professionals came forth in historically unprecedented ways to form the World Mental Health Coalition, put together a historic New York Times bestseller, and publish our warnings, now in a volume of over 300 pages. We also issued a "Prescription for Survival" in March 2020 and a video record of 100 senior mental health professionals in September 2020, stating that Donald Trump is too dangerous and unfit for the presidency.
From our perspective, it is not too late to implement the 25th Amendment, another impeachment, forced resignation, or an involuntary psychiatric evaluation. Rather, it is imperative—given the imminent danger he poses to himself, the public, and perhaps even all others.