I’ve not been shy in my criticism of President Trump’s candidacy or his first year in office. However, I draw the line at the public debate over his mental competence. Some were critical when I said on CNN on Saturday that I find it both unfair and unseemly.
Recently an increasing number feel emboldened to discuss the matter because Michael Wolff’s new bestseller, Fire and Fury, quotes Steve Bannon as saying that Trump has “lost his stuff” and claims that every single person around the president questions his fitness.
Wolff’s words follow the recent release of a book by 27 mental health professionals who expressed their concerns about the president as evidenced by its title: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. This sort of thinking is not entirely new. Last week news broke that the book’s editor, Yale University psychiatry professor Bandy Lee, met on Capitol Hill in December with more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress who were concerned about Trump’s recent behavior.
I expect those drumbeats to grow louder this Friday, when the president undergoes an annual physical at Walter Reed Medical Center. Still, even if Trump’s behavior is objectionable – and it often is — none of it is sufficient reason to change what has been the 40-year practice of not armchair diagnosing a president’s mental state.In 1964, a magazine called FACT polled mental health professionals on U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s mental fitness to serve as president.
The magazine published a cover story claiming that many found him unfit. After the election, Goldwater sued the editor for libel — and won. The entire ordeal engendered a debate in the mental health community and in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) adopted the “Goldwater rule,” which says:
“… it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”
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