A group of mental health professionals led by a trio of pre-eminent psychiatrists is urging the House Judiciary Committee to consider Donald Trump’s “dangerous” mental state arising from his “brittle sense of self-worth” as part of its inquiry into whether to approve articles of impeachment against him.
“We are speaking out at this time because we are convinced that, as the time of possible impeachment approaches, Donald Trump has the real potential to become ever more dangerous, a threat to the safety of our nation,” said Yale Medical School Professor Dr Bandy Lee, George Washington University Professor Dr John Zinner, and former CIA profiler Dr Jerrold Post in a statement which will be sent to House Judiciary Committee members on Thursday.
The statement will be accompanied by a petition with at least 350 signatures from mental health professionals endorsing their conclusions.
All three psychiatrists have said they are willing to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.
The statement warns that “[f]ailing to monitor or to understand the psychological aspects [of impeachment on Mr Trump], or discounting them, could lead to catastrophic outcomes.”
“[W]e implore Congress to take these danger signs seriously and to constrain his destructive impulses. We and many others are available to give important relevant recommendations as well as to educate the public so that we can maximise our collective safety,” the psychiatrists write.
While Dr Lee and her colleagues have previously offered themselves to be consulted by impeachment investigators, she told The Independent they felt it necessary to come forward once more because the US president is “is ramping up his conspiracy theories” and “showing a great deal of cruelty and vindictiveness” in his “accelerated, repetitive tweets,” which she explained are signs that he is “doubling and a tripling down on his delusions”.
“I believe that they fit the pattern of delusions rather than just plain lies,” she continued, pointing to the claim he made during a meeting with Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, that “many legal scholars” were “looking at the transcripts” of his 25 July phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and agreeing with his description of the call as “absolutely perfect” as an example of his pathology.
Dr Lee, an expert on violence prevention, acknowledged that members of congress – especially Republicans who are supportive of the president – might dismiss the warning she and her colleagues are delivering as just a product of differences of political opinion, but stressed that the fact that they should be taken seriously because their training enables them to recognise Mr Trump is exhibiting “definitive signs of severe pathology of someone who requires an advanced level of care” and who “meets every criterion of lacking a rational decision making capacity”.
“The one thing that we are trained to do is to distinguish between what is healthy and what is abnormal, and when the pattern of abnormality fits, then we recognise that it is pathology and not part of the wide variation of which healthy human beings are capable,” she said. “What we recognise is a pattern of disease and that may look like another political ideology or another political style to the everyday person who is unfamiliar with pathology, but to us it is a very recognisable pattern.”
Dr Lee explained that the president’s continued embrace of conspiracy theories was actually a public health issue because of his ability to draw members of the public into a “shared psychosis at the national level”.
“His detachment from reality… his pathology is actually gaining ground more quickly than the ability of rational actors to bring up the facts,” she said, adding that the House should consider these issues in the same way they are examining the legal and constitutional aspects of impeachment.
“They are having four constitutional scholars testify, but alongside the legal aspects, we must consider the psychological aspects. In fact, the psychological aspects are more basic because the legal process presumes psychological health and equipment and capacity,” she said.
Dr Zinner, a former National Institutes of Mental Health researcher who has taught about and consulted with intelligence agencies on narcissistic personality disorders, told The Independent that members of congress need to be warned about the danger impeachment poses when the presidency is held by someone of Mr Trump’s pathology, which he described as a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
“Impeachment is the greatest threat to his self esteem that he’s experienced so far, and we’re very worried that his rage will be even more destructive than it’s been in the past,” he said.
He also dismissed Republicans who defend Mr Trump by claiming that his style is that of a blunt-talking New York businessman as “simply ignorant about the whole area of psychology that pertains to him”.
“These aren’t alternative viewpoints,” Dr Zinner explained, calling one “the product of very sound psychology… that comes from mainly from psychoanalytic theory, but is very established and sound and studied,” and the other “just ignorance and dismissiveness”.
Dr Zinner said the goal of the petition is to reach legislators to educate them. “Most people don’t really know this is a coherent, well-studied, well-defined condition,” he said.
“Even those that don’t dismiss [the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder] say, ‘well, you know, these are just a lot of random bad, insane behaviours,’ but they don’t see how it coheres around the self esteem issue,” he continued.
“And others, they say, ‘well, he’s a liar and he’s a cheat and he exploits people and all of that stuff,’ but those are just random traits, whereas all of it hangs together around his developmental deficiency of not having an internal stable self-esteem.”
He rejected the suggestion that the so-called Goldwater rule prohibits him from speaking out on the president’s mental state. The Goldwater rule suggests that it is unethical for psychiatrists to give opinions on the mental health of someone they have not personally examined.
But Dr Zinner said: “It’s not a rule, it’s really a principle or a standard, which is very different because the preamble of the code of ethics of the American Psychiatric Association that establishes the basic guidelines for the ethical canons says that a psychiatrist’s responsibility, first and foremost, is to his or her patients and to society and to his colleagues and himself in that order.
“You know … the people that have written most strongly in favour for the rule themselves have diagnosed Trump. In other words, they’re total hypocrites,” he said, before adding that a one-on-one interview wasn’t necessary to diagnose the president because of his myriad public statements and public behaviour.
Dr Post, who created psychological profiles of Israel’s former prime minister Menachem Begin and Egypt’s former president Anwar Sadat for former president Jimmy Carter to use when negotiating the Camp David Accords, and who founded the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, told The Independent that evidence of Trump’s lack of self-esteem and the danger that impeachment will bring by exacerbating his precarious mental state can be found in the way he pardons convicted war criminals like Navy Chief Petty Officer Eddie Gallagher and labels them heroes.
“He’s identified with these war criminals because he knows that he’s being seen as a criminal. So he’s trying to redefine them as heroes, just like he is. People challenge his intelligence, so he accuses Maxine Walters of being ‘low IQ’ and says, but I’m a stable genius,” said Dr Post, who founded George Washington University’s Political Psychology Center after his retirement from the CIA.
Dr Post warned the strong connection between Mr Trump and his followers means the possibility he would call for violence against his perceived political enemies “cannot be discounted”.
“Watching his rallies, there’s an almost palpable connection between Trump and his followers, who have taken his invitation to externalize and project their problems upon [other groups],” he said. “He’s basically saying he understands where their problems are coming from and he will rescue them, so to hurt their rescuer is very painful [for his followers] indeed.”
Any challenge to Mr Trump’s power, whether impeachment or an election loss next November, could be a significant trauma for him and his supporters, Dr Post said.
Asked for a prediction of how Mr Trump would react to either, Dr Post invoked the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas: “He will not go gentle into that good night, but will rage, rage at the dying of the light.”