The Guardian published an article today with the provocative headline
Trump is now dangerous – that makes his mental health a matter of public interest
This world authority in psychiatry, consulted by US politicians, argues that the president’s mental fitness deserves scrutiny
Bandy Lee, The Guardian website tells us, “is on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine and is an internationally recognised expert on violence. She is editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”
There is so much wrong with this article, its author and her 2017 book that it is hard to know where to start.
The piece kicks off with contentious and inaccurate claims:
Eight months ago, a group of us put our concerns into a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. It became an instant bestseller, depleting bookstores within days. We thus discovered that our endeavours resonated with the public.
As we show below, the “experts” almost invariably lacked genuine expertise, while their endeavours resonated with only part of the public – and presumably not with many who subsequently voted for Trump just one month after the book appeared.
In her article, Lee uses an arbitrarily expanded definition of “violence” (see below) which goes far beyond physical violence to discredit Trump, but fails to show the slightest understanding of economics, international relations, deterrence theory and the North Korea problem.
North Korea feeds its people on grass, is developing nuclear weapons and ICBMs and has repeatedly threatened the USA with a nuclear attack.
It also appoints dead politicians to office. Kim Il-sung died in July 1994, but on 5 September 1998 became Eternal President of North Korea, a position he still holds, while in April 2012, his son Kim Jong-il became Eternal General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and Eternal Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea – he too remains in office despite dying in 2011.
No wonder diplomacy has failed since the 1990s.
And yet Lee blames Trump for his Tweet about his “nuclear Button” in yet another spectacular example of cognitive dissonance and confusion between cause and effect.
Typically, of course, Lee is good at criticism, but proffers no solution.
Above all, Lee lacks the cognition to differentiate between Trump’s rhetoric and actions and the political knowledge to compare past and present policies. Both President Clinton and Senator Obama, for instance, called for tighter immigration and border controls.
And yet, last December, Lee testified before more than a dozen Congressmen, with just one Republican present, warning them in her professional capacity that “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”
Lee published a statement on 3 January 2018 on behalf of the National Coalition of Concerned Mental Health Experts after Trump’s “nuclear Button” tweet, saying:
We believe that he [Trump] is now further unraveling in ways that contribute to his belligerent nuclear threats… We urge that those around him, and our elected representatives in general, take urgent steps to restrain his behavior and head off the potential nuclear catastrophe that endangers not only Korea and the United States but all of humankind.”
Lee and other mental health professionals lack the slightest expertise on theories of deterrence and nuclear weapons, but here presumes to give policy advice – but yet again, with no solution.
Even worse, she and other “mental health” professionals make much of the Goldwater Rule, which makes it unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional opinion about public figures they have not examined.
In fact, every educated person should know that it is a fundamental aspect of psychiatry that no diagnosis of anyone is possible without an examination. As Wikipedia tells us:
Psychiatric diagnoses take place in a wide variety of settings and are performed by many different health professionals. Therefore, the diagnostic procedure may vary greatly based upon these factors. Typically, though, a psychiatric diagnosis utilizes a differential diagnosis procedure where a mental status examination and physical examination is conducted, with pathological, psychopathological or psychosocial histories obtained, and sometimes neuroimages or other neurophysiologic measurements are taken, or personality tests or cognitive tests administered. In some cases, a brain scan might be used to rule out other medical illnesses, but at this time relying on brain scans alone cannot accurately diagnose a mental illness or tell the risk of getting a mental illness in the future. A few psychiatrists are beginning to utilize genetics during the diagnostic process but on the whole this remains a research topic.
Clearly, Lee and her colleagues have carried out NONE of the above.
To get round this inconvenient truth, Lee and her colleagues do not pontificate on Trump’s mental health, but on his “dangerousness.”
Nor is the claim valid that Trump’s public persona provides sufficient case material in order to reach a diagnosis. Countless people in the public eye have complained that media reports about them do not reflect who they are. And it is generally acknowledged that Johnny Carson, the presenter of The Tonight Show for three decades on American television, was not the witty gregarious person millions of viewers knew, but a quiet man who went home after every show.
As to the reliability of psychiatry and psychology, none matches physics, the “queen of the sciences”, in terms of reliability, experimental repeatability and falsifiability despite over a century of effort and research.
Let’s look now at Lee’s book, whose full title is disingenuous from the start: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.
In fact, we counted 30 contributors in all, but the vast majority are woefully unqualified to pontificate on Donald Trump’s mental health, despite the book’s claim to expertise.
We looked at nearly 20 “experts” and found that most lack any relevant qualifications, training or experience in fields directly relevant to assessing Trump’s mental health, namely psychiatry or psychology. Even those with training in those two fields usually work on other areas – such as violence and drug abuse and addiction. Some even have no training whatsoever.
Here are the brief bios of about 20, culled from the book and various websites, including Wikipedia, along with some of our comments:
- Noam Chomsky, the linguist and noted conspiracy theorist. His 100-odd books on politics and international relations are highly regarded by illiterate students at elite universities, but dismissed as incompetent by experts who have actually worked in government.
- Gail Sheehy graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in English (!) and Home Economics (!) and has an M.A. in Journalism (!) from Columbia University, where she studied on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship under cultural anthropologist (!) Margaret Mead.
- William J. Doherty Ph.D. is a marriage guidance counsellor!
- Judith Lewis Herman “focused on the understanding and treatment of incest and traumatic stress!”
- Philip Zimbardo is an “expert” in “violence” whose earlier experiments would now be deemed as “unethical” according to some.
- Rosemary K.M. Sword is another “counselor” – “as part of her Hawaiian heritage, she was trained in the Hawaiian psychology based on forgiveness known as ho’oponopono (literally “to make right”)… Along with Philip Zimbardo, Ph.D., and her recently deceased husband Richard M. Sword, Ph.D., she developed Time Perspective Therapy, which is based on Zimbardo’s Temporal Theory. Their book, The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy, helps readers, especially those with PTSD, shift the way they think about traumatic experiences in the past, get away from the present fatalistic mindset, and focus more on a positive future.
- One can safely assume that as President of the United States, Donald Trump is very much “focus[ed] more on a positive future.”
- Craig Malkin “brings 20 years of experience to his work helping couples, individuals, and families overcome a range of emotional concerns and move beyond their current struggles to live richer, fuller lives.”
- One can safely assume that as real-estate developer, TV host and now President of the United States, Donald Trump has probably “moved beyond [his] current struggles to live [a] richer, fuller [life]” – at least on his own terms.
- Tony Schwartz majored in American Studies and is co-author of – wait for it – The Art of The Deal, a book he now regrets writing. On 17 August 2017, Schwartz tweeted that “Trump’s presidency is effectively over. Would be amazed if he survives till end of the year. More likely resigns by fall, if not sooner.”
- Lance Dodes is an expert on substance abuse treatment. He is seen as making revolutionary advances in understanding how addictions work.
- John D. Gartner is a psychiatrist and author of the 2011 book The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (A Little) Craziness And (A Lot Of) Success In America
- the only indication so far of someone even remotely qualified to pontificate on Trump’s mental health.
- Michael J. Tansey is another psychiatrist who might also be remotely qualified to pontificate on Trump’s mental health.
- James Herb is a lawyer who filed a suit in October 2016 in Palm Beach County Court to declare Trump incompetent.
- James Gilligan has written a series of books entitled Violence, where he draws on 25 years of work in the American prison system to describe the motivation and causes behind violent behavior.
- Diane Jhueck has operated a private therapy practice for several decades. She also performs mental health evaluations and detentions on individuals presenting a danger to self or others. In a previous social justice career, she was a women’s specialist at the United Nations in New York City. She founded at the Women’s And Children’s Free Restaurant, an empowerment project that has been in operation for thirty years. She also founded the People’s AIDS Project and was an assistant regional manager for Feeding America. She has directed agencies addressing food aid, domestic violence, apartheid, low income housing, and LGBTQ rights.
- Betty P. Teng is a trauma therapist in the Office of Victims Services of a major hospital in lower Manhattan, New York. A graduate of Yale College, UCLA’s School Of Theater, Film, and Television (!) and NYU’s Silver School of Social Work. She is in psychoanalytic training (!) and practices at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. She is also an award-winning screen writer and editor whose credits include films by Ang Lee, Robert Altman, and Mike Nichols.
- Jennifer Contarino Panning is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who specializes in the treatment of mood disorders, eating disorders, college student mental health, stress and trauma utilizing an integrative approach of CBT [Cognitive-behavioral therapy], mindfulness, and DBT [Dialectical behavior therapy], and is also trained in clinical hypnosis.
- Edwin B. Fisher is a “public health professional, noted researcher and clinical psychologist” whose main research interests are “Cancer, Diabetes, Global health, Health behavior, Mental Health” – yes, “mental health” is included, but his main interest is global public health, a very different animal.
- Nanette Gartrell “is the author of over 70 research reports on topics ranging from medical student depression to sexual minority parent families to sexual exploitation of patients by healthcare professionals. Her investigation into physician misconduct led to a clean-up of professional ethics codes and the criminalization of boundary violations. For this work, she was featured in a PBS “Frontline” documentary My Doctor, My Lover.”
- Dee Mosbacher “is an American filmmaker, lesbian feminist activist, and practicing psychiatrist.” Her documentary Straight From the Heart “explored relationships between heterosexual parents and their adult lesbian and gay children.”
- Mosbacher is married to Nanette Gartrell above.
Two things are immediately clear from these bios.
First – the area of “expertise” is almost invariably a bad fit to Trump’s case. Contrary to the claims of Lee, Trump is not violent in the proper meaning of physical violence against people, and he is teetotal.
Second – that such people are bitterly opposed to Donald Trump on purely political grounds is immediately clear – and that invalidates immediately their credibility.
The numerous experts on violence in particular vitiate the book and Lees’ views.
In her Guardian article, Lee adopts the 2002 World Health Organisation’s blanket definition of violence as:
The intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.
ESC agrees that violence is intentional use of physical force or power, but a strong case can be made that the rest of the definition stretches the meaning of violence so far as to render it useless, misleading and open to abuse – as is the case here.
The tactic of redefining, and often expanding the meaning of, a word or phrase in order to implement an often hidden agenda was noted by Thucydides 2,500 years ago and again by George Orwell in the mid-twentieth century, although sometimes the redefinition is simply a case of bad education and thinking.
In this case, self-appointed experts in “mental health” purport to give an ostensibly objective, intellectual and academically respectable assessment of Donald Trump’s mental health.
In fact, the book’s editor, Bandy Lee, has discredited herself, her faculty, her university and her book from the outset by including the likes of Chomsky, Sheehy and Schwartz and people technically incapable of analysing Trump’s mental health. At best, Chomsky’s work on cognitive development might very tangentially touch on issues such as mental health, but Sheehy and Schwartz can make no such claim.
Most observers, including ESC, believe that Trump is no ordinary person or politician.
But if he is indeed mentally unfit for office, and even dangerous, far more rigorous proof is required than the weak arguments presented by Lee and her colleagues.
Lee’s whole exercise smacks of a political agenda and her own cognitive dissonance rather than dispassionate analysis.