Monday, August 20, 2018
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Trump’s Mental Health and Stability: A Clear and Present Danger

Interview with Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in law and psychiatry at Yale University's School of Medicine, conducted by Scott Harris

During his presidential campaign and the last 12 months of his presidency, grave questions have been raised about Donald Trump’s mental health and stability. In the estimation of many mental health professionals, both his rhetoric and decisions made have called into question his fitness for office. While there certainly is room for debate on the difference between an individual’s idiosyncrasies and a serious mental health condition, there is no dispute regarding Donald Trump’s penchant for lying.

A Washington Post investigation has revealed that since taking office in January 2017, Trump has made more than 2,000 false or misleading claims. While he averaged 4.9 lies a day in his first 100 days, that average grew to 5.6 lies daily toward the end of his first year in the oval office. In the words of the reporters covering this story, the longer the president has been in the job, “the more frequently he touts an assortment of exaggerated, dubious or false claims.”

During a conference, titled “Duty to Warn” at Yale University last April, a group of psychiatrists warned that Trump has a “dangerous mental illness” and is not fit to lead the U.S. The gathering was chaired by Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in law and psychiatry at Yale University’s School of Medicine, who has since gone on to edit a book titled, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” and more recently briefed members of Congress on her and other mental health professional’s concern about the psychological state of the president. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Dr. Lee, who discusses her concern about President Trump’s fitness for office.

DR. BANDY LEE: First, let me make clear that I’m speaking for myself and not for Yale. When I organized the conference, it was to address the ethical issue about speaking about public figures. You may have heard of the Goldwater which is an ethical guidance not to diagnose a public figure from afar. But we thought, if there wasn’t restriction on our speech, did we have a positive duty to speak up about a public figure when there is danger involved? And the conference led to a lot of media attention and following that, hundreds and hundreds of mental health professionals came forward, speaking about the same concerns that they saw basically, that Mr. Trump in the office presidency was a danger to the nation and the international community.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Dr. Lee, from your perspective and those of the contributors to your book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” what are some of the most troubling signs you’ve saved since he took office in the White House one year ago?

DR. BANDY LEE: I am an expert on violence. I’ve been devoted my career to studying, predicting and preventing violence. And what was most troubling for me his tendency for violence. And in fact, many people were speaking about he was unique, or how his personality different than others. For me, he was fairly typical of the violent offender population that I see. I probably have seen over a thousand individuals with the same kind of manifestations. So the tendency for violence – usually future violence is predicted by past violence and so, when you see someone who is verbally aggressive, who boasts about sexual assault, incites violence at his rallies, who endorses violence in his speeches, is attracted to violence and powerful weapons, and then continually taunts a hostile nation with nuclear power – that is an individual who is likely to be violent in the future and probably become more violent over time as the stresses of the presidency grow on him.

BETWEEN THE LINES: The threat of violence is disturbing and could create a threat to the community. But of course, someone who holds the most militarily powerful office in the entire planet, their access to the use of nuclear weapons really creates a frightening, potential scenario. And Dr. Lee, I would ask you, What in your mind are some of the scenarios you’ve considered in going public with your concerns generally and gathering around you these other mental health professionals who similarly see a threat to our life and our security here in this country?

DR. BANDY LEE: He has at his sole disposal the power to launch (a) nuclear arsenal that could destroy the world many times over. And this is an individual to whom that would not be a deterrent, but would be actually tempting and attractive simply for its force. And so, in terms of danger, we cannot rule out everything from everyday danger and violence-prone followers whose violence he has encouraged – and everyday act of bullying to gun deaths that have escalated, to conflicts with our allied nations and threats from hostile nuclear powers to extinction of the human species. These are all within the realm of possibility. It is a frightening possibility.

But it does not help to silence the warnings and to deny what it is actually in front of us. Congress is controlled by Republicans who would not take action, we were told by the Democratic lawmakers. And that is why I’ve chosen to go public with this.

As shocking and distressing as it may sound, it is actually less anxiety-inducing to actually know what is happening and to face what is happening and know that we can have solutions.

For more information, visit the National Coalition of Concerned Mental Health Experts at dangerouscase.org and A Duty To Warn at adutytowarn.org.

This interview was previously broadcast on Jan. 17, 2018.

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