In 1964, the quarterly magazine Fact published an issue entitled “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater” where they openly criticized the Senator from Arizona and 1964 presidential candidate. The editor and publisher of Fact, Ralph Ginzburg, polled over 1,800 psychiatrists and more than half of the respondents said that they considered Goldwater to be mentally unfit to assume the presidency.
The then Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association, Walter E. Barton, sent a warning to Ginzburg about this issue of his magazine, stating, “a psychiatrist’s evaluation must take place in the context of a doctor-patient relationship and a thorough clinical examination”. Goldwater would go on to sue the magazine for “false, scandalous and defamatory statements referring to and concerning [the] plaintiff.”
Goldwater did in fact NOT win, instead losing to the incumbent Democratic United States President Lyndon B. Johnson in spectacular fashion. Johnson would take 61.1% of the popular vote, giving him largest share of the popular vote of any candidate since the largely uncontested 1820 election. This event would change how mental health practitioners would speak publicly about any president or presidential candidate.
By 1973, ‘The Goldwater Rule’ would be adopted into the field of psychiatry’s code of ethics, it stated, “It 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.” From that point on mental health practitioners have stuck by this rule, that was until one Donald J. Trump sat behind the Resolute desk in the Oval Office in 2016.
That same year, Dr. Bandy X. Lee, an Assistant Clinical Professor in Law and Psychiatry with Yale University, organized a conference at the Yale School of Medicine called “Duty to Warn”. Their aim, as stated by their website was “Duty To Warn is an association of mental health professionals and other concerned citizens who advocate Trump’s removal under the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is psychologically unfit for office.” almost 800 mental-health professionals joined this group.
The term “Duty to Warn” goes back to a 1974 trial known as the Tarasoff case, where a patient confided in their therapist that they had the intention of killing a fellow university student named Tatiana Tarasoff, the therapist failed to warn the student directly. The court held that a psychotherapist, to whom a patient had confided a murderous intent, had a duty to protect the intended victim from harm. Thus the law was created and is now in force in 38 states.
Although the conference obviously didn’t conclude that Trump intended to murder anyone, they did however conclude that the president displayed “the clear characteristics of someone with Antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy).” Characteristics that Dr. Lee felt he had displayed then and she certainly thinks that those worrying traits are even more on display today.
President Trump’s maskless return to the White House, his pronouncement that he is somehow immune to the coronavirus and his statement “One thing that’s for certain: Don’t let it dominate you, don’t be afraid of it.” is evidence enough for Dr. Lee. His clear disregard for the health and safety of his aides, advisors and White House staff have just added to his already questionable behavior in the psychiatrists opinion. So much so, that she intends to carry on what she started in 2016.
Lee, who also authored the 2017 New York Times bestseller ‘The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump’, is also the president of the World Mental Health Coalition. The coalition and, according to Lee, 100 mental health experts plan to release a video statement arguing that Trump should be removed from office and the 2020 ballot, because he is dangerous and unfit.
She also plans to throw the Goldwater Rule into the trash can of history by publishing what she has titled “Profile of the Nation”, in which she intends to be a full psychological profile of Donald Trump in the context of his followers and the nation.
There have been some questionable statements made by the White House doctors about the presidents general physical health and how he has managed to fight off COVID-19. With him now back on the campaign trail, if he still has the virus then he is fully aware of the risks he poses to his supporters and staff alike.
Although a psychological diagnosis of someone without direct interaction might seem unethical at worst and questionable at best, as the Goldwater Rule suggests, we unfortunately live in unprecedented times. Especially with a president, according to commentators and fact checkers, who continues to make false or misleading statements, 20,000 plus since taking office.
Is it not the duty of health professionals, or anyone else for that matter, to say something when they see clear signs from an individual that might make them a potential risk to others, especially when a global pandemic is threatening the world? Certainly, someone who has access to the nuclear launch codes should be of sound mind and who better to evaluate that than mental health professionals.
Or will this set a new trend as any future presidential candidate must go through a psychological evaluation before being allowed to run for the highest office in the land?