The only way to understand a time in history is to evaluate it in hindsight. A thoughtful and accurate evaluation is not possible in real-time as events are unfolding. Donald Trump has been out of office now for over 120 days. Although most of us are still in post-traumatic stress mode—with a great deal of lingering anxiety, exhaustion, and heightened hypervigilance after the Jan. 6 insurrection—it is reasonable to begin our review and assessment of the past four years.
Psychopathology, bandeali MD
As mental health professionals, we must evaluate our collective warnings and predictions about Trump. Was our assessment of his mental pathology correct? Did we accurately predict his behavior? Did we overestimate or underestimate his unfitness and dangerousness?
Let us be clear: Mental health experts were 100% correct in their assessment and predictions about Donald Trump.
For four years Trump ruled like a dictator. He proved himself to be a psychopath. The country became divided, tribal, and violent in reflection of his pathology. He undermined democracy. He was compelled completely by his own needs, wants, desires, and greed. He broke norms and laws with impunity. He politicized the Department of Justice for his personal benefit. He thumbed his nose at the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. He grifted at will. He nuzzled up to authoritarian thugs around the world.
Trump’s sadism was exposed in his bungling of the pandemic. Rather than mount a national response that would have contained and defeated the coronavirus, he sat back and let 500,000 Americans die while he strategized his re-election bid. He relied on lies, gaslighting, conspiracy theories, magical thinking, and distractions to try to divert our attention away from his intense cruelty and ineptness.
After Trump’s decisive defeat by Joe Biden in November, Trump refused to concede. Instead, he stoked a violent insurrection of the Capitol on Jan. 6. that failed. Trump actively fomented the overthrow of democracy based on his Big Lie—that the election had been stolen from him. Nothing could be further from the truth. His loss was fair, transparent, and undeniable. The judicial system maintained our democracy while it threw out over 60 of his frivolous lawsuits over the election.
Even before his election in 2016, experts accurately described Trump’s narcissistic personality pathology. In 2017, one year into his presidency, Bandy Lee, MD, edited a book of 27 mental health professionals who wrote of their grave concerns of Trump’s unfitness and dangerousness. Leading up to the 2020 election, some experts voiced their concerns and laid out their predictions. They described Trump’s psychopathology in detail. They predicted that Trump (1) would try to steal the election, (2) would refuse to relinquish power voluntarily, (3) would incite violence on his behalf, and (4) would wield his influence until his social media platforms were removed.
Every single description of Trump’s psychopathology has been correct. Every single prediction of his aberrant behavior has been correct.
But an important story that cannot be overlooked is that the mainstream media refused to allow many experts to speak out because of the outdated and antiquated Goldwater rule of the American Psychiatric Association. To a large extent, experts were muffled and silenced. As a result, millions of Americans were sheltered from experts’ opinions, just as Trump’s pathology was escalating and his destructiveness was growing more ominous. Most Trump supporters were congregated in the echo chambers of Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN. Few of them had access to the professional opinions of mental health experts.
The Goldwater rule of the APA must be discarded. It originated because of inaccurate statements by psychiatrists in 1964 about then-candidate Barry Goldwater. But the case of Donald Trump should be equally powerful in its implications. It is time to admit that mental health experts were accurate about Trump and that their duty to warn the public was a compelling force that the media should have acknowledged and promoted.
Donald Trump continues to be a powerful force in the Republican party. The party is now an ugly reflection of their cult leader. Trump’s power persists because no other politician has stepped up to the plate and captured the imagination of traditional conservatives. So the party has simply attached itself to the disgraced, repudiated, and impeached “former guy.” The country needs a two-party system, but Republicans have chosen to destroy their party by hitching their wagons to a hollow and dangerous pied piper.
Trump is a dead-end street. He is trying to stay relevant while he braces for the impending legal charges against him.
Mental health experts have been 100% correct about Donald Trump. His ultimate demise as a political figure is still looking accurate.
About the Author:
Dr. Alan Blotcky is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Alabama.