Trump's Removal Must Be Political, Not Psychological
For the last few months, we have seen a slew of mental health professionals publicly state that Mr. Trump is mentally unfit for office. Some say that he is severely mentally ill and unfit for officei. Others claim that he doesn’t warrant a diagnosis and is just a royal jerkii. This has caused quite the stir among us liberals because it gives an opening to remove Trump from office. I’m sorry, but this is not a useful strategy. To understand why, we need to first look a little bit at the mental health profession and our nature as liberals. We’ll then finish up with a strategic analysis that will shed more light on this for us.
|He will continue laughing at us until we create a unified front to remove him.|
The Mental Health Profession.
The first thing we need to recognize is that these long distance diagnoses are inconsistent with the standards set by the American Psychological Association. When I studied psychology for my undergraduate degree, we were warned against this even though we were years away from having the necessary graduate degree to make a diagnosis. The fact that they teach this as as a basic rule shows how important it is.
Practically speaking, it is only possible to create the trust necessary for a person to be candid when discussing their personal problems when there is a face-to-face meeting with a client. We also must remember the media’s true bias — sensationalism. If it bleeds, it leads. However, that means that nearly all the normal behaviors a person exhibits will not be reported, and neither will any small acts of kindness that display a person’s generosity or humanity. This means that we get a very biased view of the potential client, and that is neither a fair nor appropriate way to evaluate a person’s behavior.
There is also a very real problem of exacerbating the stigma that people with mental illness suffer. Go back to that media bias again for a moment. Now, think about all the news stories you’ve read that deal with mental illness - court cases, new treatments, celebrity meltdowns and breakdowns, and also the portrayal of mentally ill folks on TV shows and movies. How many of those portrayals show the mentally ill in anything near a positive light? Compare that to the heroic way a cancer patient is treated. How can we expect people to seek out treatment when we show them that they can expect to be made outcasts when they do ask for help? The massive, overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are neither obnoxious nor dangerous. It is unfair to disparage them with an unwarranted association to Trump.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that our suspicions are completely irrational (even if the evidence is flawed and incomplete). As liberals we tend to gravitate toward human services fields and have friends in those fields. That means we should be more fluent with theory and terminology of psychology. Further, many of us are trained not to use generalized terms describing personality but to focus on specific behaviors - to break them down into component behaviors as much as is possible. When you do that, and then look at the sum total of those behaviors, then a diagnoses may seem to pop out. That’s especially so if the observed behaviors are way outside the norm. So, yes, it does make sense for us to think in terms of a diagnosis. Unfortunately, we lack sufficient data to make a diagnosis, and this route actually hurts our interests strategically.
Strategic thinking is about focusing on the end goal, but that is not enough. To be strategic, we must also consider the reactionary consequences to our actions, and attempt to foresee other possible influences that could derail our goals. With the mental illness approach to removing Trump, we need to begin by thinking about precedent, policy impact, and politics.
Precedent is the force of earlier examples as a guide to present situations. In our American system, it is more than just tradition. When we think of tradition, we think of activities that we repeat from a static time in the past. Precedent is more like a flowing river that will carry us forward unless we apply effort to change course.
If we remove Trump as mentally unfit, it would be one of very few times that any modern leader were diagnosed as mentally ill. It would also probably be the first time that a world leader were removed from office on mental health grounds anywhere in the worldiii. We also need to consider the degree and type of asserted mental illness that Trump suffers from (and the stigma associated with that). Is it severe enough to declare him unfit for office? What kind of precedent do we want to set? Do we want to make a declaration that mental illness disqualifies one from high office? How severe must it be, and which offices would be off-limits based on a diagnosis? Do we want to have routine political battles revolving around hurling accusations of mental illness from one side of the aisle to the other? And that's before we even consider measures of sociopathy! Before we even consider those questions, we would be wise to consider the profound depression that Abraham Lincoln battled his entire life, which is brilliantly described hereiv. In short, it's not good to experiment with a precedent like this on the highest office in our land. We are dealing with enough problems now as it is; we don’t need to add more.
The policy impact of such a move could be disastrous. How many times have we heard that conservatives don’t care about any disease until it happens to them or a loved one? I’ve heard it used as comic material by Michael Moore, The Daily Show, and Bill Maherv. In general, Republicans are not sympathetic to mental health issuesvi,vii. So, what happens when we get Trump removed based on mental illness? If we think the nation is divided now, we haven't seen anything yet.
Also, we need to consider that the goal of mental health care providers is to keep people engaged with their lives. Any clinician would go in with a bias toward keeping Trump engaged in his job unless circumstances absolutely warrant otherwise. Also, how many sessions would be required before a clinician could make a diagnosis? Just think about the complaints of wasted time that we will hear for weeks on end. It would only make conservatives more opposed to mental health issues for at least a decade. It is difficult enough to get them to even come to the table to talk about mental health policy. We don’t need them to become absolutely hostile.
Lastly, we need to think about the political impact of this. If Trump is removed based on his mental health, it would be impugned as a dirty trick by conservatives forever. Remember, people on the other side of the aisle aren’t as immersed in the nuance of psychology as we tend to be. To pull their president out of office based on theories that they aren’t well versed in will seem to be nothing more than a dirty trick. What we need, in the long term, is to bridge this divide a little bit, not to widen the chasm. We need to keep pointing out the lies and illegalities like a broken record until people start to see the reality of the situation.
We cannot truly assert that Trump is mentally ill, only that he is a grade-A piece of trash, and perhaps the most reprehensible and loathsome person to ever disgrace our nation in the oval office. Being obnoxious is not an impeachable offense. Further, mentally ill people deserve better than to be compared to the detestable dirtbag that is the Donald.
Strategically, this line of attack is likely to backfire. It sets a potentially large precedent with little guidance that will only be the cause for more division for years to come. In terms of policy, even marginal success will create a backlash of more opposition and hostility to mental healthcare for years to come as well. Politically, this is only going to be seen as a dirty trick by his most of his supporters and further widen the political chasm that divides us.
Here, we need to take a page from the behavioral psychologist’s playbook. We cannot just lambaste Trump with general insults. We must keep pointing out the specific individual behaviors that are morally wrong, but then also associate those behaviors. The association needs to be in two directions. First, we need to associate all these awful actions with the moral approbation that they deserve. We cannot just label him a misogynist, for example. We must point out that he brags about committing sexual assault and derides women based on their looks, and then label that as the misogynistic bigotry that it is.
The second association must be to the Republican party. Republicans have branded them the part of Christian family values for decades now. Every time Trump’s egregious behaviors are associated with the Republicans, their claim to morality wears away, and rightly so. More importantly from a strategic point of view, this wearing down of their brand will not just harm the party. It will weaken their Congressmen and Senators to a point that they are willing to “pull the trigger” as Robert Reich reported of Republicansviii. Our job is to push them to that point.
Thanks for reading. I hope it helps us to plan an effective strategy to get rid of Trump. I believe that the next step is for us to Calm the Storm, which you can read by clicking those linked words.
(To assist with these aims, I am beginning to create some memes on this blog that people are welcome to use to help change the course of conversation. I make them with the goal of associating Trump’s misbehavior to the Republicans, as they deserve. My goal is to make a few more every week. Please feel free to use them.)