The question of whether Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president – or, more frankly, if he suffers from a serious mental disorder – is not to be taken lightly, but it sometimes seems doomed to be tinged with comedy. . In 2017, when speculation about Trump's mental state started to boil, Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the Criteria That Defines Narcissistic Personality Disorder, published a fair letter to the New York Times emphasizing the fact that Trump was not an example of this syndrome. I searched the criteria on several major medical websites, and guess what? Trump meets each of the criteria. (Don't take my word for it; watch it yourself. This letter to the editor read like Freud coming back from the dead to claim that the character of Woody Allen from the 70s was not, in fact, neurotic.)
Trump is the kind of screwed-up blowhard who has inspired too many of us to play the chair psychiatrist. We put him on the couch for the duration of his presidency. So most, if not all, of the ideas presented by the upcoming documentary “#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump” (out August 28) will be familiar to any student of TISDS (Trump Is Serously Deranged Syndrome).
Trump, as Dan Partland's film explains, is a clever narcissist. (Has there ever been a DSM diagnosis that felt more like a direct insult?) The film details Trump's four qualities that define this syndrome: his paranoia (the feeling that any reporter asks him a difficult question, or any staff member who does not kiss their ring is there to have it); his antisocial personality disorder (constant lying, lack of remorse for the most destructive things he does); sadism (the thousands of vicious attacks and insults in his tweets); and… well, narcissism (do I need to detail this?).
In addition, the film analyzes his propensity to create and live in his own reality. He explores his lack of empathy – which, of course, is the defining quality of the sociopath. (They aren't crazy; they just don't care about you – or anyone else.) And that compares him to Hitler and Mussolini, and the authoritarian rulers of our time.
As headlines, most of this information may sound like old news. However, “#Unfit” finds perceptual nuances there. Rick Reilly, veteran sports writer and author of "Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump," claims Trump is "one of our best golf presidents," and therefore asks a question: why would Trump need to cheat at golf? But cheats he does. According to Reilly, Trump jerry-rigs his golf cart to go twice as fast as the others, so that he can, if he wants, be the first off the tee and more able to manipulate the results. He will plant his mark in the wrong place, or deny hitting a ball in a lake. He claimed championship wins when he lost, or where he was the only player. And then there's this: he tried to cheat Tiger Woods. No one is saying America's well-being depends on Trump's sordidness on the green. Still, the movie suggests that if Trump cheats at golf, he'll cheat at anything.
From the start, Trump's psychoanalysis has been fraught with controversy, much of which stems from Goldwater's rule. In 1964, Fact magazine published a survey of 1,189 psychiatrists saying Barry Goldwater was unfit for president. Goldwater sued and won, and psychologist John Gartner said he was right to win. The original article contained diagnostic information such as "He never forgave his father for being Jewish" and "He is a mass murderer at heart." In other words: sheer scandalous speculation. The guiding principle that emerged was that psychiatrists should not offer diagnoses of public figures whom they have not personally analyzed.
But Gartner, in the documentary, says the Goldwater Rule was never meant to be a gag order. It was a way of diverting the mental institution from baseless speculation. There is a less famous guideline, known as the Tarasoff Rule, which places a duty on psychiatrists to notify the appropriate people when a patient may be at risk of harm. The Tarasoff case, from 1969, involved a patient who told a psychiatrist that he was going to kill his girlfriend. No warning occurred and he returned home and committed this act. It is now a law in all 50 states that if a psychiatrist is aware of a potential danger, confidentiality disappears.
Gartner says that in Trump's case this absolutely applies. “If we didn't talk,” Gartner says, “it would be immorality.” He goes on to fascinatingly echo Goldwater's rule – that the DSM textbooks are based on observable behavior, of which Trump has provided an abundance. He is perhaps the most observed president in history. But if a psychiatrist were to conduct a personal interview with, say, a sociopath, it is in his nature to lie to you.
The film also emphasizes that certain mental illnesses should not disqualify one from the presidency. Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression, and the illness may have helped him win the Civil War. “He was cooked into who he was,” Gartner says, “and so the enormous burden of the Civil War was actually something he was able to endure. "
But malignant narcissism is, in a word, malignant. The film interprets Trump's attacks on the media – his attacks on facts, on reality itself – as a form of gaslighting, as they become a means of deliberately distorting the public's sense of what is real and what is real. who is not. And Lance Dodes, the psychiatrist in the film, explains how Trump's lack of loyalty – all of the people he's turned on and fired – is a direct reflection of his lack of empathy. He has no human connection. "It goes from 'You are the greatest person' to 'You are a horrible person, you are a worthless person, I will attack you, I will destroy you.'
In the middle of the 84-minute film, "#Unfit" takes a step back from Trump's inner life, so to speak, and moves on to topics like whether he's racist or not – Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway (who turned down a job in the administration), is on hand to testify that he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt but ultimately decided he was indeed racist – and how much his political will and rhetoric overlap with those of Mussolini and Hitler. (Trump used to prioritize Hitler's speeches as bedtime reading, and took a trick from him – repeating sentences three times.) These questions, of course, never left the center of the story. Trump debate, and you don't have to be an amateur shrink to see them.
Where the film goes all the way, bringing Trump's psychiatric view back to politics, relates to the issue of nuclear weapons. Would Trump ever use them? This is the scariest question you can ask about her, and if the answer is rooted in her mental state, it is also, potentially, the purest expression of it. If he threw these weapons, it would confirm our worst fears about his demons.
“#Unfit” never gets into what I've always considered the most mentally unhealthy aspect of Trump's personality, namely: we all know how many lies he told in power (and for years before ), because it is well documented. But aside from the mockery of his daily cheating, one has to ask: what is it to say that so many lies, so much that he can believe a lot of them, done to someone's mind? What reality does Donald Trump live in? If we knew the answer to that, they might name a new disorder after him, one that he would probably be proud to have his name on.