Yale psychiatrist explains how to deprogram Trump supporters who’ve been sucked into the vortex of his lies
Even as President Donald Trump is battered by controversies, including a recent report that his self-proclaimed business acumen is largely a sham — he lost money starting in the 1980s — his approval ratings among his supporters remain high.
Raw Story spoke with Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine, about why Trump supporters are so loyal to the President. She and several co-authors recently submitted an analysis of what the Mueller report revealed about the President’s mental health, covered here and here. Their summary of the report was the number one article in the Boston Globe.
Dr. Lee has also been a vocal critic of the American Psychiatric Association’s alteration of the Goldwater rule since the Trump administration, so much so that she held a conference on it in April 2017, inviting the most preeminent psychiatrists in the nation.
Their critique of the altered Goldwater rule led to a book in defiance of the change, which became the New York Times bestseller, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” Since then, thousands of mental health professionals joined her to form the World Mental Health Coalition (dangerouscase.org), intended as an alternative to the American Psychiatric Association, and named her president.
Raw Story: If you had the chance to speak with Trump supporters, what would you say to them?
Dr. Bandy X. Lee: I am already in contact with many, and have worked with, shared meals with, and “hung out” with several while working in Alabama. Contrary to the stereotype, they are often some of the most humane and most innocent people I have met, which is why they trusted so easily.
It is heartbreaking to consider how they have been exploited—over the years by a politics that retains power not by serving them but through psychological manipulation, and now through a predatory president.
I would say to them, it has become time to ask ourselves: do we have the self-respect to demand a leader who is even capable of leading? Our recent test on his capacity was intended as a service to the public, based on the rigorous information in Robert Mueller’s report: he failed on every criterion. We also just learned of the president’s spectacular business failures during the years he flaunted himself as being the biggest success, while he lost more than any other American on record.
It is difficult to make this shift, especially when we have invested so much, but after a while, it takes less energy to change than to continue making excuses to protect “our guy.”
Policy-wise, he is hurting his everyday supporters the most (not the billionaire supporters). If we stopped to think for a moment—doesn’t it bother us that he deceived us into believing he was a successful businessman, the only qualification he brought for being a successful politician, when all he did was go to his father when in trouble? Doesn’t it disturb us that he so lies, cheats, and defrauds the public, that it is safer to assume that every word out of his mouth is the opposite of what is true? Should we tolerate a president whom more than 800 former federal prosecutors, of both parties, would call a criminal?
Raw Story: Is there anything you would advise them to do?
Dr. Bandy X. Lee: The transition will be gradual and painful, but the moment they realize they hold the power and do not have to submit to a strong authority to be safe, they won’t be so easily fooled any more. This is all understandable; working in the criminal justice system, I know how good serial predators can be—they can create powerful emotional bonds.
This is what they thrive on.
I rather hold responsible the institutions that propped him up for their short-term profits, and the American Psychiatric Association is chief among them. Given that the insidious effects of mental pathology defined this whole presidency, the Association was in a unique position to prevent vast suffering. Psychiatrists understand not just mental illness but criminal behavior, violence, capacity to serve in an office, and many other things. By aggressively shaping a milieu where mental health professionals would not be able to share their knowledge as a national mental health crisis was unfolding, the Association instead primed the public to become the president’s prey.
Raw Story: Those are strong words. How do you make that claim?
Dr. Bandy X. Lee: The public has a right to know what the American Psychiatric Association has done. Imagine if a high official contracted Ebola. One would not think twice about deferring to doctors about proper management. The doctors do not make political decisions but medical ones, and based on recommendations, political bodies would coordinate. The important, immediate issue at hand is to contain the disease and spread of harm.
I have described the current president’s condition as worse than Ebola—and yet, imagine if the Ebola doctors were prohibited from even uttering a word of caution, for fear of upsetting the high official, and leaving the disease to its natural course. By propagating popular misconceptions that mental health issues are somehow different than other health issues, that it is imaginary or subjective—or worse, just an insult—the APA has effectively stigmatized the entire field of mental health. By allowing a serious condition to continue without even educating the public, it has allowed pathology to spread unchecked.
Raw Story: Why did you decide to boycott the very symposium you helped to organize at the American Psychiatric Association?
Dr. Bandy X. Lee: I have lost faith in the Association’s ability to have an honest discussion. Psychiatrists were never supposed to be beholden to public figures—our primary responsibilities are to patients and to society. The actual Goldwater rule says this: work to improve the community and public health, and when asked about a public figure, educate the public—just don’t diagnose.
Instead, the APA expanded the “don’t diagnose” part out of proportion to silence an entire profession and to change public expectations. Its timing and aggressive public relations campaign make clear that it intended to protect Donald Trump, not ethics.
That said, I should clarify that the leadership did this by fiat, against member protests. We are now in a constitutional crisis, about to enter catastrophic wars, and economic breakdown is looming—all in ways that were wholly predictable from having a mentally unstable president.
Science now shows that even diagnosis does not require a personal interview. By distorting ethics and falsely intimidating experts, it deprived the public of critical knowledge at a critical time. Edmund Burke said, “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.” And what better way to serve tyranny than to institutionalize this silence?