Opinion: It isn’t our place to diagnose Trump

Nicholas Hunter

Nicholas Hunter

It is not groundbreaking to say that President Donald Trump has shown a troubling penchant for inflammatory behavior.

He has been erratic and unpredictable since before his campaign and, most recently, his back-and-forth statements on the incident in Charlottesville and vague, contradictory statements on the strategy for war in Afghanistan enraged his detractors.

This erratic behavior has led many in public office and media to question how fit Trump is to hold office.

Specifically, many have taken the troubling route of questioning his mental health and whether he has any sort of mental illness that would make him unfit for his position.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, has presented a resolution in Congress forcing Trump to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he is fit to serve. Lofgren cited the 25th Amendment, which states that if the president is found by the vice president and a majority of cabinet members or a majority of Congress to be unfit to serve as president he must turn over his duties to the vice president.

Huffington Post published a piece by Michael Calderone, and he made a great point about this type of speculation, saying: “Political journalists are often loath to speculate or report on a politician’s mental state, since making diagnoses from afar ― something most journalists are not even qualified to do up close ― is fundamentally at odds with the confirm-before-you-print ethos of reporting.”

Calderone, however, followed that by giving a platform to mental health professional John Gartner – who has never sat down and spoken to Trump – who called him “a paranoid, psychopathic narcissist who is divorced from reality and lashes out impulsively at his imagined enemies,” in an interview with MSNBC.

Andrew Sullivan, a contributor for New York Magazine with no qualifications to make a mental health diagnosis, said in his blog in regard to Trump’s mental and psychological health: “I know we’re not supposed to bring this up — but it is staring us brutally in the face.”

Sullivan is obviously aware that he is breaching a subject that is taboo and politically incorrect in society, as do most people in the media who have been discussing the mental health of Trump.

Without a doubt, it is the role of journalists to discuss and shed light on issues that are outside of the mainstream or that carry a negative stigma.

But that is not what is happening here.

Instead, these mentioned people, along with everyone else discussing the topic of whether Trump’s behavior is the result of some sort of mental disorder, are only reinforcing damaging and dangerous negative stereotypes of people with mental illness.

Saying that Trump’s flip-flopping on issues and his inability to avoid aggressive confrontation is because “he’s got something going on” implies that people with mental illness are unable to control themselves and that they are dangerous and unstable.

That’s simply not true.

And this problem extends beyond people questioning Trump’s mental health: Keith Ablow wrote an op-ed for Fox News, where he states: “I have not personally examined President Trump. But, I don’t need to.”

It’s a troubling statement from someone who was a board-certified psychiatrist.

Ablow went on to assert that, based on Trump’s lifetime accomplishments, there is no way he could have a mental illness. By doing this, he’s pushing the idea that people with mental illness are incapable of leading a normal life.

Let me be clear: I don’t think that anyone making these assertions is aware of how harmful they are toward people with mental illness. Instead, I think it’s an attempt to explain away the mind-boggling behavior of Trump.

An excellent column from Steven Reisner of Slate gets into the gritty details of mental illness and where the heart of this idea lies.

This quote from Reisner sums it up perfectly: “When therapists call Trump crazy what they are really saying is that Trump lives in a reality that they don’t like and don’t understand.”

The same, I believe, goes for every newsroom psychologist making an argument that Trump needs to be removed from office because he is mentally unfit to be president.

In reality, it is simply a convenient scapegoat to avoid facing the reality that the man in the Oval Office is an indecisive, aggressive, inexperienced and xenophobic politician with no regard for anything except preserving his own power.

Those aren’t symptoms of mental illness – just the traits of an ignorant, petulant man.

Nicholas Hunter is an assigning editor. Contact him at [email protected].