I purchased this group of essays, edited by Bandy X. Lee, M.D., M. Div., in 2017. However, this month was the perfect time to read them. The issue of President Donald Trump’s psychological makeup has been making more headlines and tweets than ever. In fact, it was his 2019 talk at CPAC that finally made me crack the cover open and get going.
I suspect this isn’t an easy book for anyone to get through. The entire idea that the U.S. President could be dangerously mentally unstable is terrifying, whether you’re liberal or conservative. I come at this from the former camp, more liberal, and not a fan of 45. Just FYI, that’s my chosen way to refer to him since he’s the 45th President.
These essays are all written by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Collectively, their qualifications are both boundless and stellar. No crackpots, at least not in my eyes. And most of them make it clear they are not diagnosing 45. Instead, they are discussing whether he could be a danger to himself or others.
The distinction is important, because mental health professionals are prohibited from diagnosing public figures with whom they have no clinical connection. And, if they did, the diagnosis and relevant clinical hours would be protected by confidentiality. On the other hand, another policy makes it the duty of health care professionals to warn the appropriate people or officials. In some states, the duty to warn is also a law.
These two concepts are discussed in detail in the book, in nearly every essay. But the true focus is assessment of that dangerousness. Lee divides the essays into three parts: the phenomena, dilemma, and effect. As such the topics are well-organized and flow from most individually specific to the more societal analysis.
Each of these essays is intense. I’m glad Lee gathered them in one printed volume. Many of them are scholarly, and likely to be beyond the average reader’s life experience. The situation they discuss is unprecedented. But then, it’s not. 45 isn’t the first President to possibly be living with mental illness. Others have been assessed with depression, dementia, and more potential diagnoses.
The question, again, is how dangerous is the President to the well-being of the nation. Are the possible diagnoses going to lead to decisions that would endanger our democracy or the world’s safety? Each essay addresses these questions thoroughly and convincingly. And they were written well over a year ago. So much more has happened since, which gave me both chills and a sinking feeling in my stomach. Bottom line: it’s a depressing book that’s somewhat repetitive, but it couldn’t be more important.
However, one essay really hit home for me. It’s called Who Goes Trump? Tyranny as a Triumph of Narcissism. Elizabeth Mika, M.A., L.C.P.C. is a clinical psychologist in Illinois. She lays out the psychology of a tyrant. Then she explains how the tyrant gains supporters, and their likely profile. Third, she discusses what makes a society ripe for the development of the two. It had insights I needed, no matter how discouraging. But to understand it all, I confess to reading most sentences at least twice. It also made me want to reread On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder.
If you find the actions of this President concerning, and maybe even if you don’t, I recommend this book. I suppose his supporters diminish the validity of the essays and their authors. But if you’re inclined to read even a few essays, please find a copy and do so. I think the health of our nation depends on its citizens having open, informed eyes.
A note on book pairing
I thought reading this book might upset me. (I was right.) So I set some rules for myself. Only one essay each day, read early in the day. At the same time, I read a compilation of speeches by President Barack Obama. So each day I read one speech and one essay. It helped tremendously. I’m also formulating a post about book pairings, since I realized it’s something I do often. If you set out to read Lee’s book, please pair it with something uplifting. Your mental health will thank you!