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The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump

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In “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump” 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts warn that the ascendancy of an individual with such impairments as those expressed by Donald J. Trump speaks to the general state of health and well-being of the Nation.

In the forward, Robert jay Lifton, M.D. introduces the concept of “malignant normality.” He points to his study of NAZI doctors who adopted to the killing process while assigned to Auschwitz through a certain amount of counseling by more experienced hands. The process, he notes, included drinking heavily together and giving assurance of help and support, thus allowing a great majority to overcome their murderous acts.  This [malignant normality], Lifton argues it was a process of adaption to the evil that is all too possible in a certain situation.

Dr. Lifton refers to the CIA’s torture protocol, supported by the American Psychological Association and defended by certain psychologists, as an example of modern-day malignant normalcy. He is not equating this American behavior with the NAZI example.  But rather he is suggesting that malignant normalcy can take different forms.  And nothing, he argues, does more to sustain malignant normalcy than support from a large organization of professionals.

He argues that the Trumps presidency and his administration is another kind of “malignant normalcy.”  Lifton refers to a letter to the New York Times in March 2017 that he co-authored with Judith Herman, M.D. In the letter, the authors pointed to Trump’s dangerous psychological patterns including his creation of his own reality and his inability to manage the inevitable crisis that faces an American president.

Lifton suggests that Trump has, in various ways, violated American institutional requirements and thus threatens the viability of American democracy.  Yet, because he is president, Lifton argues, he operates within the “broad contours and interactions of the presidency.” Therefore, Trump creates an impression that “what he does as simply part of our democratic process,” thus “politically and ethically normal.”  In this way, Lifton says “a dangerous precedent becomes normalized, and malignant normality comes to dominate our governing or, as he says, our “antigovernment dynamic.”

In “The Dangers Case of Donald Trump,” author Bandy Lee, M.D., addresses the politicization of the mental health profession through a one-sided approach to the “Goldwater rule.” That ruled in the American Psychiatric Association” code of ethics states: “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 for such a statement.” Lee argues that assessing dangerousness is different from making a diagnosis.  “It is dependent on the situation, not the person,” she argues.

The book consists of three parts, the first describes “The Trump Phenomenon” with an understanding and that no definitive diagnosis is possible. The second part deals with the dilemma that mental health professionals face in observing Trump and a professional requirement to speak out when they feel they must. Part three addresses “The Trump Effect” on society both now and in the future.

Lee emphasizes that the book is not only about Trump.  It is about a context that gives rise to his presidency, and the effect on the greater population.  “The ascendancy of an individual with such impairments speaks to our general state of health and wellbeing and, as a Nation, and to how we can respond; we can either improve it or further impair it,” she says.

Estelle Freedman, the Robinson Professor in U.S. History at Stanford University, said of the book:

This insightful collection is grounded in historical consciousness of the ways professionals have responded to fascist leaders and unstable politicians in the past. It is a valuable primary source documenting the critical turning point when American psychiatry reassessed the ethics of restraining commentary on the mental health of public officials in light of the “duty to warn” of imminent danger. Medical and legal experts thoughtfully assess diagnoses of Trump’s behavior and astutely explore how to scrutinize political candidates, address client fears, and assess the ‘Trump Effect’ on our social fabric.

Writing for RealClearPolitics, Carl M. Cannon, by contrast, argued that the book’s foreword, by psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, “offers the melodramatic view that clinicians who don’t warn the world about Donald Trump’s shortcomings are akin to Nazi doctors who worked at Auschwitz. At the risk of practicing medicine without a license, I’d suggest that this historical comparison is de facto evidence of [Trump Derangement Syndrome] – and paranoid grandiosity”.[5]

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About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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