Q & A
“What is Wrong with Donald Trump?”
Below is an interview of Dr. Bandy X. Lee by Brad Swanson, in relation to a recent review of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.
You are a forensic psychiatrist who specialized in violence. What led you to decide to convene a conference of mental health professionals on Trump’s mental state, in April 2017, just 3 months after his inauguration?
I was trying to bring individual voices together before it was too late. As you can see, everyone is afraid now. It was unexpectedly successful—hundreds, and later thousands, of mental health professionals came forth, but the press stopped covering us.
In sum, what are the key behaviors of Trump that most indicate—to you and other mental health professionals—that he is mentally disturbed?
We believe he probably meets about a dozen diagnoses, but since we are not treating him, this is less relevant to us. Of greater importance in our role as health professionals with a public health duty is his dangerousness and incapacity—dangerousness has to do with worsening, inciting, or initiating violence, and incapacity has to do with an inability to take in and process information to make stable, rational decisions.
Is Trump unique among presidents in the extent of his mental instability, or can we derive some comfort that others with similar disorders have inhabited the White House and left it without lasting damage?
There has been no president in U.S. history, regardless of party, for whom so many mental health professionals have come forth with their concerns. Mental illness does not disqualify, but dangerousness does. That he is now causing a thousand unnecessary deaths per day, crippling democracy, and compromising the nation’s safety and survival are critical issues that need addressing.
After publication of the book that stemmed from the conference, you received death threats and went into hiding for a month. Did you expect that extreme a reaction, given the mutual sociopathy between Trump and his base, or did it come as a surprise?
It is exactly what I expected, which is why I assembled colleagues in a group in the first place through the conference and the book. Unfortunately, the American Psychiatric Association, which is supposed to represent us, astonishingly acted on behalf of the government, marginalizing us. This caused chairs of psychiatry departments from across the country who were in touch with me to pull back. The APA, meanwhile, reaped enormous financial rewards from the government after its intervention.
What was life like during the period you had to remain hidden? Were you able to continue working? See friends and family? How did you keep yourself balanced?
I spent it much like the quarantine now, confined in my apartment or going outside wearing a scarf like a mask. I continued to be productive, but it is illustrative of the two pandemics I speak of now: the viral pandemic and the more serious mental health pandemic that is emanating from the president.
Besides Trump’s rabid fans, are there any signs that Trump personally or his close circle or the Administration have tried to retaliate against you for your work on this issue?
It is unclear who is involved, but I have had reporters and producers interviewing or inviting me, only to have their articles entirely dropped or their broadcasts canceled at last minute—this has been true of dozens of outlets from the New York Times to CNN. They have even gone back to articles published months earlier to remove adjectives such as “renowned” or “eminent” associated with me and my colleagues, apparently to diminish our credibility. It is disconcerting, since the people need access to facts and expertise for self-governance. By relegating the discussion of a president’s mental health to only non-experts, the issue becomes politicized, and misinformation reigns.
As you continue to monitor Trump, how do you see his mental fitness evolving—worsening, stable, getting better?
His mental fitness has always been absent, but in terms of his course, it is worsening dramatically as we see him further detaching from reality, digging into conspiracy theories, divisive rhetoric, and false accusations against China, the medical experts, and the World Health Organization. We are entering a frightening period.
In particular, does Trump’s woeful management of the Covid crisis tell us anything useful about his mental state?
It is precisely what we predicted from the mental capacity evaluation we performed based on the information in Robert Mueller’s report. Direct reports from close associates and coworkers, under sworn testimony, are the most ideal for this kind of test, not a personal interview. We were also best positioned as a panel of independent, peer-reviewed mental health experts, since this is not an evaluation that a subordinate of the commander-in-chief or White House-employed physician can perform. Fitness tests have to be independent. Based on abundant, top-quality data, we were able to conclude fifteen months ago that he would not be able to handle a crisis but make it worse—and the Covid crisis proves we were accurate.
You probably understand Trump as well as anyone, given your close and lengthy observation. Can you imagine a crisis scenario that puts him over the edge? What might that be?
I believe we are witnessing it. His falling poll numbers, the reality of a pandemic he cannot wish away, and his inability to hold regular rallies to spellbind the population are contributing to his greater unraveling.
What kind of behavior can we anticipate from Trump in the upcoming campaign for re-election?
I have been advising a number of activist groups not to wait until the election. That would be a huge mistake. He may incite civil war, declare a war abroad, or evoke emergency powers or otherwise create new crises to prevent a losing election for him.
If Trump loses, do you expect he will accept the loss? Assuming not, given his mental state, are there any limits to what he might do to try to nullify the election and hold onto power?
I believe he will try everything in and outside of his power—not that he likes being president, but he has a pathological drive to “win”. Intervention is necessary, as we have been advocating since March, and the time to save our country is now.