Reporters have explored many questions about Donald Trump: Is he a real conservative? Does he believe in anything? Will he ever learn to act presidential?
But it turns out we may all have been asking the wrong question. The right question could be: Is he crazy? Yes, I mean crazy as in "nuts," and mentally unfit to hold the office of president.
Strangely, Donald Trump is known to portray himself that way. As Jonathan Swan of Axios reports, when U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently informed Trump he'd tell South Korea they had 30 days to make concessions demanded by the United States, Trump forcefully corrected him. "No, no, no. That's not how you negotiate," Trump insisted. "You don't tell them they've got 30 days. You tell them, 'This guy's so crazy he could pull out any minute. … You tell them if they don't give the concessions now, this crazy guy will pull out of the deal.'"
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Donald Trump may have been half-joking, but according to a prestigious group of American psychiatrists, calling Trump crazy is no laughing matter. In their blockbuster new book, "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump," 27 leading psychiatrists – led by Robert Jay Lifton, known for his study of doctors who aided Nazi war crimes – discuss evidence of Trump's mental capacity and come to an ominous conclusion: "Anyone as mentally unstable as this man simply should not be entrusted with the life-and-death powers of the presidency."
Actually, it's not the first time psychiatrists have spoken out. After Trump's surprising election last November, three of the authors – Drs. Nanette Gartrell, Dee Mosbacher and Judith Herman – wrote an open letter to President Obama stating that Trump's apparent signs of mental instability – "including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish fantasy from reality" – led them to question his fitness for the presidency. Before his inauguration, they urged Obama to make sure the president-elect received a "full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators."
Although all military personnel responsible for relaying nuclear orders must undergo rigorous mental-health evaluation before taking the job, they pointed out, there is no such requirement for the commander in chief. Never hearing back from the White House, this book is their follow-up.
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For psychiatrists to offer a professional opinion about a person's mental health without having personally examined that patient is in direct violation of the so-called Goldwater rule, adopted by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973, after 1,189 psychiatrists had warned that 1964 presidential candidate Barry Goldwater could not be trusted with his finger on the nuclear button. But, in the case of Donald Trump, these 27 psychiatrists argue, the Goldwater rule is superseded by their moral and civic "duty to warn" the public whenever they determine that an individual is dangerous to another person or persons, even if not technically mentally ill. For psychiatrists, in other words, when danger to the public exists, even under the Goldwater rule, speaking out trumps silence.
And with Donald Trump, this group of psychiatrists believes there is ample evidence of danger. You don't need 50 years of professional experience, they say, to recognize the dangerousness of a president who asks what's the point of having nuclear weapons if we cannot use them; who urges our government to bring back torture; who boasts about his ability to get away with sexually assaulting women; who urged his followers to beat up protesters; and who tells his secretary of state to forget about diplomacy and threatens to totally destroy North Korea.
The real danger, they assert, is that we get so used to Trump's erratic behavior we begin to accept such abnormal behavior as normal. Trying to prevent that "malignant normality" is one of the key reasons psychiatrists were compelled to speak out. Writes Dr. Bandy X. Lee: "How can I, as a medical and mental health professional, remain a bystander in the face of one of the greatest emergencies of our time?"
In one sense, Trump's the new Richard Nixon. To help end the Vietnam War, Nixon adopted what he called the "madman theory," whereby he instructed Henry Kissinger to warn North Vietnamese officials they'd better negotiate fast because Nixon was so crazy nobody knew what he might do next.
There's only one big difference: Richard Nixon was only pretending to be crazy. Donald Trump really is.