Don't Call Trump "Crazy": The Dangers of Pathologizing Bad Politics

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona.Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at the Prescott Valley Event Center in Prescott Valley, Arizona on October 4, 2016. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

The word “crazy” is deployed in many contexts in our society, often in a manner that implies abhorrent behavior must be linked to mental illness. Throughout Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and the early weeks of his presidency, it has proven nearly impossible to traverse social media — or press coverage of the president — without encountering language that describes Trump as “insane,” a “lunatic” or clinically narcissistic. Some have even argued that it’s “okay” to assess a public figure’s mental health from a distance, despite longstanding psychiatric standards that prohibit such speculative diagnoses. The ethics that prohibit such diagnoses have, however, had little effect on public narratives that depict Trump as being “insane.”

Comedian and daytime talk show host Joy Behar recently urged celebrity psychiatrist Dr. Phil McGraw to join that chorus by diagnosing Trump with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, during an interview on the ABC talk show “The View.” McGraw declined.

Psychologist John Gartner, a part-time assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, has publicly stated that Trump has “a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States,” diagnosing him with “malignant narcissism.” Gartner has gone so far as to create a petition, which encourages mental health care professionals to cosign his assessment, and demand Trump’s removal on the basis of his supposed mental health problems. The petition has accrued 17,479 signatures, though it’s unclear which of these individuals are mental health care professionals, since many did not fulfill Gartner’s request that all signatories list their psychiatric credentials.

However, not all psychiatrists are jumping on board with the…

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