Democrats, Psychologists Look Into Removing Trump for 'Mental Psychosis'

Jackie Speier one of several interested in using 25th Amendment

Rep. Jackie Speier / Getty Images
October 24, 2017

Prominent Democrats are flocking to a group of psychologists who are increasing their involvement in politics by asserting that President Donald Trump is psychologically disturbed.

At the center of this effort is John Gartner, a psychologist who founded Duty to Warn, a network of mental health experts making a push into politics, as well as the 25th Amendment PAC, both of which seek to remove Trump from office, BuzzFeed News reports.

This push goes against established practice in the field of mental health, which prevents psychologists from diagnosing public figures without any clinical evaluation, but Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) is one of several Democrats reaching out to Gartner and others.

"It's one thing from my non-professional, non-clinical standpoint [to] believe that someone does not have the capacity to do the job; it's another thing to talk to experts and [those] who can deal with mental psychosis on a daily basis, so I wanted to hear from them," Speier told BuzzFeed.

Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, recently reached out to Gartner to discuss Trump's mental health. Gartner and his associates have not hesitated to diagnose the president in a variety of ways, with some surmising he is a sociopath, a narcissist, or suffers from a form of dementia.

Whatever the correct diagnosis may be, Gartner is confident that Trump is "deeply and dangerously psychologically disordered." He has high hopes for the possibility of using the 25th Amendment to end a presidency for the first time in U.S. history.

"We hope to be to the 25th Amendment what the NRA is to the 2nd," Gartner said of the 25th Amendment PAC.

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.) received $1,000 from the 25th Amendment PAC and introduced legislation forming a commission to determine whether Trump is fit to exercise his duties. The legislation has 31 cosponsors among House Democrats but is not expected to pass through the Republican-majority Congress.

Yale psychiatry professor Bandy Lee edited The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, in which Gartner and 26 other mental health professionals analyze the president, and she claims to have spoken to six Democrats in the House and Senate about Trump's mental health. Lee's book made the New York Times best-seller list for nonfiction last week, although she is distancing herself from Gartner and his political activism.

It is unclear which Democrats contacted Lee about Trump's mental health, though Rep. Frederica Wilson (D., Fla.) recently called Trump "a sick man" and Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) said he should be impeached for being "unstable."

Lee wrote in the book's prologue that the work is an attempt to judge the "dangerousness" of Trump, not a collection of formal diagnoses. But while Lee tries to avoid directly breaking the so-called Goldwater Rule, established by the American Psychiatric Association in the aftermath of the 1964 presidential campaign, against diagnosing public figures, Gartner and others associated with Duty to Warn and the 25th Amendment PAC are happy to defy professional norms in the name of opposing Trump.

"Duty to Warn is an association of mental health professionals (and other concerned citizens) who advocate Trump's removal under the 25th Amendment on the grounds that he is psychologically unfit," the group's website states.

Many fellow psychologists oppose Duty to Warn's approach and the actions of others who would use psychological language to critique Trump's politics or behavior.

"We shouldn't be confusing bad behavior with mental illness," said Allen Frances, former chair of the psychiatry department at Duke University. "When we do this, it reduces our ability to respond appropriately to bad behavior, and it stigmatizes the mentally ill."

The field of psychology has faced challenges recently with an apparent inability for major studies to be replicated, calling into question the validity of its findings. Many in the mainstream media are still considering the possibility that Trump's mental health needs earnest evaluation, while some have seriously considered using the 25th Amendment to remove him.

One self-identified retired therapist and delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) went to an event with some supporters of Raskin's bill and disapproved of their strategy.

"This is a cheap shot," the man told BuzzFeed. "This is a masturbatory activity. They are engaging in their own form of narcissism."

Update Jan. 31, 2018, 9:03 a.m.: Dr. Lee has clarified that she respects the Goldwater rule and requested that all contributors abide by the Goldwater rule for her book, including Dr. Gartner.