The time has come to say it: there is something psychologically wrong with the President.
The fuzzy outlines of President Trump’s likely mental illness came into sharper focus this week: in two interviews with major networks, he revealed paranoia and delusion; he quadruple-downed on his fabrication that millions of people voted illegally, which demonstrated he is disconnected from reality itself; his petulant trade war with Mexico reveals that he values self-image even over national interest; his fixation with inaugural crowd size reveals a childish need for attention.
Partisans have been warning about Trump’s craziness for months, but rhetoric from political opponents is easily dismissed; it’s the water of the very swamp the President says he wants to drain.
But frightened by the President’s hubris, narcissism, defensiveness, belief in untrue things, conspiratorial reflexiveness and attacks on opponents, mental health professionals are finally speaking out. The goal is not merely to define the Madness of King Donald, but to warn the public where it will inevitably lead.
“Narcissism impairs his ability to see reality,” said Dr. Julie Futrell, a clinical psychologist, who, of course, added a standard disclaimer because she has never actually treated Trump. “So you can’t use logic to persuade someone like that. Three million women marching? Doesn’t move him. Advisers point out that a policy choice didn’t work? He won’t care. The maintenance of self-identity is the organizing principle of life for those who fall toward the pathological end of the narcissistic spectrum.”
A little background: Shrinks don’t typically analyze public figures. The reticence dates back to 1964, during Barry Goldwater’s run for President. Then, like now, many shrinks believed that the candidate was psychologically damaged — but unlike now, many diagnosed him for a Fact magazine special issue titled, “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater.”
The headline itself — “1,189 Psychiatrists say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!” — prompted the American Psychiatric Association to issue the so-called “Goldwater Rule”: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination” of the patient in question.
Not anymore. For the past few weeks, psychologists have been speaking out, arguing that their profesional integrity, and patriotism, can’t be silenced. The latest? A top psychotherapist affiliated with the esteemed Johns Hopkins University Medical School said Trump "is dangerously mentally ill and temperamentally incapable of being president.”
The expert, John D. Gartner, went on to diagnose Trump with “malignant narcissism.”
Gartner has joined a growing chorus of experts who are so concerned about the president that they are willing to face the wrath of their professional organizations’ gag rules.
In an earlier effort just after the election, thousands of shrinks joined a new group called “Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism,” which quickly released a “Public Manifesto” to warn America about its leader’s apparent psychosis.
The psychological warning signs? “Scapegoating …, degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics, fostering a cult of the Strong Man who appeals to fear and anger, promises to solve our problems if we just trust in him, reinvents history and has little concern for truth (and) sees no need for rational persuasion.”
Hate him or love him, but you have to admit, that’s Donald J. Trump!
The American Psychiatric Association says that anyone exhibiting five of the following nine egotistical traits has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Count up how many Trump exhibits:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
Believe that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or high-status people.
Requires excessive admiration.
Has a sense of entitlement.
Is interpersonally exploitative.
Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.
My count: Eight, easily (I’m being charitable.)
His pathology was on display all over his interview with ABC News’ David Muir. Quoting the transcript doesn’t do Trump’s ego justice because his bluster is part of the effect, but the words themselves betray a twisted mental state.
“I know what the problems are even better than you do,” he told Muir at one point. Later, when Muir refers to critics of Trump’s plans to “take the oil” from Iraq, the President thundered, “Wait, wait, can you believe that? Who are the critics who say that? Fools.” (No, just skeptics.)
On Obamacare: “It’s a disaster. You know it and I know it.” (It’s flawed, but workable.)
On Obama: “We have a great relationship.” (They don’t.)
On his own greatness: “I could be the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?” (He could not.)
On voter fraud: Muir’s statement that there is no evidence to bolster Trump’s claim didn’t matter to the President because “millions of people agree with me.” (That doesn’t make them or him right.)
On news coverage of his speech before the CIA: “That speech was a home run. That speech, if you look at Fox…they said it was one of the great speeches. … In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl.” (It was not. It was not.)
So boil it all down: We have a President who only believes something is true if it praises him. Everything else is fake news to him. Psychologists know what that is: It’s a dangerous, pathological detachment from reality.
“That portion of the interview showed me that Trump lacks proper reality testing,” said Jean Fitzpatrick, a relationship therapist practicing in midtown Manhattan.
She and others said this particular mental deficiency is why Trump surrounds himself with people who won’t smash the narcissistic mirror, lest the Dear Leader become enraged (which we’ve already seen in Trump’s jeremiads against journalists).
“Living with a person with narcissistic or sociopathic traits is exhausting because they are all about meeting their needs and getting constant strokes,” Fitzpatrick said.
The problem, as columnist Matt Bai pointed out last week, is that Trump has hired only lackeys because he’s “not someone who puts a ton of value on the truth.” The danger to the nation? “Who here will refuse to keep saying things they know aren’t true?” Bai added. “And will anyone tell the boss what he doesn’t want to know?”
Trump’s lackeys are not only on the official White House payroll. His personal Riefenstahl, Sean Hannity, spent most of his interview on Thursday night on Fox News not only holding up the mirror to Trump, but polishing it with his own moist, hot breaths.
Let me be clear: This is not an attack on Trump’s policies. You want to build a wall and charge Mexico for it? Sure, whatever. Borders are supposed to mean something, I suppose. You want to cut regulations? Again, I don’t love the idea of dirty water or unbreathable air, but favoring Big Business over the environment is, like, page 4 in the GOP playbook. You want to defund abortion overseas? That’s page 3. Even supporting Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank isn’t too far outside classic conservative thought (see pages 5-40 of that aforementioned playbook).
So I’m not quibbling with Trump’s proposals. I’m concerned with the man’s clear mental illness. And there’s a lot more at stake than just who pays for the wall.
Another shrink to whom I spoke — who declined to be identified — said Trump was indeed mentally ill, and that his anger is a classic “repetition compulsion” that is similar to that of an alcoholic.
“It’s a reaction to some anxiety from childhood,” said the doctor, predictably going back to Freud’s root of all evil. “An alcoholic initially drinks to relax, but it destroys him in the end. With Trump, he’s a disturbed person who protects himself by building up his ego and tearing down others.”
And it’s very difficult to treat that, Futrell added.
“A narcissist’s defenses function to protect the person from the knowledge of what lies beneath, and as such, must not be challenged lest the walls come crumbling down,” she said. “It is important to understand that the need to maintain the self-image is so great, … the severe narcissist bends reality to fulfill whatever fantasy about power, wealth, beauty, etc. s/he maintains.”
The Citizen Therapists’ manifesto argues that Trump’s deformed ego will lead to “fear and alienation among scapegoated groups, …exaggerated masculinity as a cultural ideal…coarsening of public life by personal attacks on those who disagree (and) erosion of the American democratic tradition (in favor of) the Strong Man tradition of power.”
Trump’s psychological damage will, in short, create “the illusion that real Americans can only become winners if others become losers,” which “normalizes what therapists work against: the tendency to blame others in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities … instead of taking the healthier but more difficult path of self-awareness and self-responsibility. It also normalizes a kind of hyper-masculinity. … Simply stated, Trumpism is inconsistent with emotionally healthy living — and we have to say so publicly.”
Unfortunately, too few say it publicly. But the more Trump lies on Twitter, the more he and his staff demean journalists, and the more he bullies his opponents, the greater the number of shrinks who will come forward to say that not only does this Emperor have no clothes — he’s out of his mind, too.