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National Security and the Unethical Diagnosis

Psychology professionals are once again violating their own “Goldwater Rule.”

The psychology community’s long knives are coming for former President Donald Trump again. Seemingly unaware of the current commander-in-chief’s gaffes, stumbles, talking to imaginary people, and occasional fugue states, the progressive left psychotherapists have diagnosed, from afar, the former president as demented. From a national security perspective, that should be concerning, since Trump is the GOP’s leading candidate. And it is, until the source of those mental health evaluations is revealed. These noted psychiatrists violate their own code of ethics.

Dementia and National Security Responsibilities

Accusations of cognitive decline have plagued President Joe Biden for much of his first term in office. Such observations most recently arose with special counsel Robert K. Hur’s assessment of Biden’s keeping classified documents in his garage. However, the left, while overlooking Biden’s speech missteps, has been swift to ascribe dementia to former President Trump for his relatively infrequent verbal errors. What makes accusations of dementia leveled at either Biden or Trump more troubling is when they come from the professional psychiatric community. Labeling as demented the person with US national security responsibilities or the one aspiring to regain that power is dangerous. For the members of the profession that hold to higher ethical standards as part of their charter, using such labels is also unprofessional.

During the presidential campaign in 1964, the Republican nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater (AZ), was scurrilously defamed by liberal detractors who raised the specter of Goldwater not being psychologically fit for the office of president of the US. Jerome Kroll and Claire Pouncey wrote in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law:

“In 1964 when Barry Goldwater, senior senator from Arizona, was the Republican candidate for the office of President of the United States, Fact magazine surveyed psychiatrists’ opinions about Goldwater’s mental health and published the results. A public outcry ensued, criticizing psychiatrists for publicly proposing pejorative diagnostic and psychodynamic statements about a figure whom they had never formally evaluated.”

For more context, Fact magazine was a publication by Ralph Ginzburg, best known for his conviction in 1963 for publishing materials violating federal obscenity laws. The unfavorable public response over Ginzburg’s baseless story resulted in the American Psychiatric Association (APA) crafting the “Goldwater Rule.” The ruling, Section 7.3 of “The Principles of Medical Ethics,” states that when psychiatrists are asked about their general medical view on mental health issues, the practitioner may “share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

Mental Health Professionals Opine

Nonetheless, there seems to be a penchant within the mental health care field to opine on the psychological fitness of politicians without personal knowledge gained from one-on-one interviews. The problem raised its ugly head in 2018 when Doctors Bandy X. Lee, Leonard L. Glass, and Edwin B. Fisher expressed their dissatisfaction with the Goldwater Rule, seeing it as a muzzling of their geographically displaced psychological diagnosis of then President Donald Trump. Having never interviewed the then-president, they wanted to warn of Trump’s dangerous behavior. As this author pointed out in The Federalist at the time, when health care professionals resort to exaggeration, it “harms the credibility of the messenger by changing the tone of the argument from one of professional concern to one of political bias.”

And so, it seems, again, Trump’s mental fitness to lead is questioned. Not surprisingly, the far left-leaning Salon published an interview with Dr. John Gartner, psychologist and former Johns Hopkins University Medical School professor. Gartner also contributed to the 2017 psychiatric hit piece, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. One of the sentences most revealing in the volume explains, “Constrained by the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Goldwater rule,’ which inhibits mental health professionals from diagnosing public figures they have not personally examined, many of those qualified to answer this question have shied away from discussing the issue at all.” That tells us none of these “Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts” have interviewed Donald J. Trump. This fact doesn’t in any way dissuade them from talking as if they had.

Gartner, having never held a one-on-one evaluation of Donald Trump, authoritatively pronounced, “Trump is what we would clinically describe a ‘hypomanic.'” How do we know this? Gartner claims he has the answer: “Trump is a man who is sending out messages on what used to be Twitter and also on his Truth Social platform at three in the morning, sometimes dozens of them in a row.” That is not a sign of dementia. In fact, it would seem the opposite, when most communication is done on social media.

The problem is that such views, uninformed by personal conversations, do not advance the public discourse on the suitability of political candidates, whether Trump or Biden. National security decision-making is the most consequential responsibility a US president has. The APA adopted the Goldwater Rule for a reason. Psychotherapists blue-skying about people with whom they’ve never spoken are that reason. The APA calls such public diagnoses unethical.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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