In the interest of balance, I’d like to share and discuss this article that states: “Trump’s Judgment Is Debatable. His Sanity Is Not.”
Noah Feldman believes those of us who co-wrote “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” should not use mental health labels to criticize the president’s behaviors.
His core argument is that Trump is not dangerous as the book concludes. Right there is a point on which we fundamentally disagree. Perhaps if I felt Trump was not an immediate and severe threat to the wellbeing of people on this planet, I might not have spoken up, Goldwater Rule or no.
He writes that our activism is an “anathema to effective democracy” and diagnosing Trump will chill political discourse. I, for one, have not seen political dialogue dying off since our group has begun speaking out, starting in January 2017. In fact, political discourse seems more heated in the past year than ever before!
Feldman illogically argues in his title and elsewhere that, first, one cannot reason with a “mentally unwell person,” (using language that implies a disease-model of emotional wellness that I abhor.) Next he states that Trump is able to perform his duties as president, so cannot be impeached or removed by 25th Amendment. Well, I would propose that Feldman has not exactly proved his point here. An illogical person with poor judgment who cannot be reasoned with is fundamentally NOT able to do the most demanding job on the planet and that makes it imperative that we do remove him from office. But then I value logic in my leaders.
I also would argue that poor judgment is a sign of bad character, a topic which I will discuss shortly.
I do agree completely with Feldman when he points out that all humans occasionally act in inappropriate or foolish ways and that “(n)ot every bad act is the product of mental disease.”
First, it is important to clarify there is really no such a thing as “mental disease,” as I have written about previously. Unless there is evidence of true neurological damage from perhaps a head injury or dementia, human behavior is generally driven by emotions and cognitions, not jumbled neurons or imbalanced neurochemicals.
Second, Feldman’s discussion points out further evidence for a need to re-examine the definitions and paradigms currently used in the mental health field.
By labeling all problems of thinking, feeling, and behaving as “mental disorders,” pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists get to make billions prescribing medications to supposedly treat these “diseases.” They pull out the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and diagnose someone like Trump as having a personality disorder, such as narcissistic or antisocial or paranoid. The DSM states that the person was born with this problem, has no control over it, and it cannot change or be treated — all falsehoods.
This framework of the disease model leaves no room for consideration of moral or character, leading to articles such as Feldman’s. He chastises us for “diagnosing” Trump, but we currently have no other language with which to label him.
Ultimately, I would argue that psychology is about human relationships, and relationships are about morals: right and wrong, fair and unfair. People with good character follow social norms and morals and behave in ways that are good and fair and honorable.
Fairness in relationships is a basic element of our humanness. As social animals, we evolved to value cooperation, reciprocity and mutual trust because these aided us in our survival. Sharing resources and aid is such a successful strategy it propelled us into becoming the dominant species on the earth (which resulted in some unfortunate consequences — think: over-population and pollution).
Underlying this urge to share is the urge to care — “tend and befriend”. Our moral codes and social norms, such as to Golden Rule and Ten Commandments, are essentially ways of informally legislating the need of humans to set rules that help us engage in fair, loyal and trusted relationships.
“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”
— Joseph Heller, Catch 22
Those like Trump, however, fundamentally do not play by these rules. The DSM would label Trump as having a personality disorder. (Interestingly, Narcissistic Personality Disorder used to be considered a “character” disorder in previous editions of the DSM!)
Those that I call “Other-Blamers” in my Self-Acceptance Psychology paradigm have poor shame tolerance and will not be held accountable for their moral failings, in other words they lack good character. Rather than hearing criticism with equanimity and repairing relationships through contrition and apology, they lash out repetitively at anyone who would shame or blame them.
A balanced equation is important in relationships, yet when in a relationship with an immoral person, that relationship becomes unfair. It can even lead to anxiety, due to a fear of being betrayed and to a loss of trust. Most of us instinctively know: “You weren’t respectful to me, and didn’t share. How can I trust you to have my back?”
I would characterize those like Trump who consistently engage in this unfair or immoral behavior, as abusers. Abuse is fundamentally about having one’s rights denied, even if that right is a right to speak up freely without fear of being bullied.
Without morals, we have dysfunctional and toxic relationships just like the one the country is in with Trump.
Good character is essential for relationships, yet Other-Blamers like Trump are all about being unfair or even cruel to others, violating basic social norms that are innate to humans.
I strongly believe that psychology can no longer abdicate the ground of discussing morals and character. Our primal human instincts and emotions are formed through evolution to immediately assess character: “Are you friend or foe? Can I trust you? Will you treat me well? Will you share your fish if I share mine?” These are decisions about a person’s character.
Those currently labeled as narcissists or sociopaths by the DSM, labels some use for Trump, are essentially lacking in character. Certainly, I can understand that they learned to be this way due to their childhood experiences and they can, through expert psychotherapy, learn to behave in different ways. However, they do not have a “brain disease,” just a failure to tolerate shame in emotionally mature ways.
To return to the title of the article: Trump’s judgment certainly is horrendous. The evidence for that is overwhelming. And I agree that he is not insane. That is not even a word currently used in the mental health professions. His lack of good judgment, though, is a sign that he is lacking in character and morals.
Sadly, the current use of the DSM and medical or disease model of “mental disorders” distracts us from the real cause of disorders of character.
…be kind to yourself