The new Biden administration has spoken greatly of “healing” and “unity”, but these cannot occur without there first being a mental health intervention. This may sound odd, but it is the number one emergency of our time. Without addressing the mental health pandemic, even the Biden administration’s admirable steps to contain the viral pandemic will encounter obstacles. The first step to any mental health intervention is boundaries, in this case, conviction and prosecution.
Mental health professionals knew from the start that Donald Trump would be very dangerous with presidential powers. For this reason, we immediately held a conference at Yale School of Medicine and published our assessment in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump in 2017. We tried to warn the nation, risking our careers to explain how he would grow worse, and that, without intervention, his dangers would spread and erupt.
The nation experienced this most dramatically on January 6, 2021, but there were many preceding signs. Last summer, I wrote a new book, Profile of a Nation, to help the public understand that “he is truly someone who would do anything,… no matter how destructive, to stay in power”—and would become an even greater danger after the 2020 election, claiming victory regardless of the outcome. The massacre of lawmakers he almost caused at the Capitol, save for a few heroes, proves how close he came to declaring “martial law” or “civil insurrection” in order to remain.
This was the kind of explosion I and thousands of my colleagues at the World Mental Health Coalition anticipated, which is why we issued more than 300 pages of letters, petitions, and statements asserting that, if Donald Trump were not restrained via the special counsel’s report, impeachment, or the 25th Amendment, he would become “uncontrollable” over time.
We had advised on psychologically effective ways of approaching the first impeachment. In 2019, we urged early impeachment—ideally during the unprecedented government shutdown—an “encyclopedia of articles” that reflected the actual level of crimes and misdemeanors, and an indefinite delay on the delivery of articles if the Senate did not appear as if it would do its duty. Our advice went unheeded, and the extremely delayed impeachment with only two articles created a very dangerous situation, as we warned in our petition to Congress in October 2019 with more than 250 mental health professional signatories, three days before Donald Trump caused the massacre of our Kurdish allies, and in December 2019 with over 800 mental health professional signatories, one month before he ordered the assassination of a top Iranian general, bringing us to the brink of war.
The speaker proceeded to deliver the articles in a way that allowed for Donald Trump’s triumphal State of the Union address, a vengeful firing spree of those who lawfully testified against him, and a worse situation than if impeachment had not occurred. Indeed, if the articles had been held onto another month, his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic may have led to a greater likelihood of conviction in the Senate, and hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved.
We must not repeat the same mistakes. We all saw how his unending lies, abuses, and multiple attempts to rig an election that he lost, eventually led to his fomenting deadly violence and near-loss of our democracy. As we did with the Mueller report, the transcript of his phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, and his “Save America” rally speech, mental health professionals can explain how Donald Trump uses words and directly incites violence. Research on violence, furthermore, places in perspective the power of rhetoric, which can cause epidemics of violence far more effectively than specific orders or direct physical assaults.
The ideal course would have been to have swift conviction; impeachment itself was late, happening a week after the actual incident. We would not allow a serial killer to be on the loose with bombs, ammunition, and assault rifles for days, let alone weeks; to permit a serial mass killer, by the order of hundreds of thousands, with nuclear weapons capable of destroying all civilization, without containment was a bad psychological precedent. If the Senate does not appear as if it will convict him, prolonging the trial and presenting as much evidence as possible, including multiple testimonies, could help. Other articles of impeachment may be added, especially since, of the many travesties, we are still living through the soon-to-be half-million Americans dying in ways that would not have happened had Donald Trump been contained, removed by the 25th Amendment, or successfully impeached last year, as we prescribed at the onset of the pandemic.
Unless conviction swiftly removes such privileges as access to the nation’s greatest secrets through the top intelligence briefings former presidents receive, Donald Trump will continue to be a great danger to the country. If he continues without being held accountable, he will use the acquittal to “vindicate” himself and to claim that the second impeachment was another “hoax” designed to undermine him and that all subsequent indictments and prosecutions are politically motivated to prevent his election in 2024. He will resume holding rallies, harping incessantly that he was the real victor in 2020, threatening civil war and further escalating social and political divisions that would prevent what the rest of us call “healing”. He will blame the long-term misery from his failures on the Biden administration, just as easily as he claimed the long-term benefits of the Obama administration’s economic policies to be his own. Through the manipulation of his followers, he will project himself more than ever as the savior destined to “make America great again.”
Furthermore, continued lack of accountability will have a detrimental effect on the public’s mental health by adding to the psychological trauma that is a consequence of normalizing deadly criminality and severe pathology. His exploitation and abuse of those who support him, who are the most in need of healing, will also not stop.
In sum, not convicting Donald Trump in today’s circumstances will ensure that he is a serious continuing danger to our country, with major repercussions behaviorally and historically. For the past four years, we witnessed the perils of permitting a dangerously unfit person in an office he could not handle. Only conviction, as expediently as possible, would help mitigate the vast harm to the nation’s mental health he has caused and begin to set standards for justice, morality, and reality. Mental health experts are willing to testify on any of this and are standing by.
About the contributor:
Dr. Bandy Lee, M.D., M.Div., is a forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, and faculty member of Yale School of Medicine for 17 years who also taught at Yale Law School for 15 years. She was a research fellow at the National Institute of Mental Health, a consultant with the World Health Organization since 2002, and author of the textbook, Violence (2019). She edited The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017 and 2019) and authored Profile of a Nation: Trump’s Mind, America’s Soul (2020). She is also president of the World Mental Health Coalition, which is forming a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to examine what happened over the Trump years and how the nation can heal from it.
For donations to her organization, a tax-deductible 501(c)3, please go here.