In The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee and her 26 co-authors warn that the president is a clear and present danger because he is mentally ill.
Their diagnosis? Trump has malignant narcissism. His symptoms? He is alienating our allies, taunting our enemies, threatening our democracy, and undermining our national security. And he’s in control of the nuclear trigger. It’s their duty, exclaim the authors, to warn America.
As a practicing neurologist, as well as a Marxist and socialist feminist, it is my duty to warn of the dangerous case of Lee’s book. Its message is that individual psychology, rather than social and political systemic realities, is at the root of society’s ills. This book will only hinder the struggle of working people and all the afflicted to get out from under the deadly economy of capitalism.
The authors clearly support progressive issues, but they do not once question the underlying economic system that aids and abets social crimes like racism. They do not consider that it was precisely the mass disillusionment created by a bipartisan assault on working people’s standard of living that put Trump in the spotlight.
Whatever Trump’s mental status, what must be addressed is his political program, because many politicians who are considered quite normal, whose sanity is not called into question, endorse exactly what he is trying to accomplish. They are working with him, and he with them. He’s not in this alone. And they’ll still be around once he is gone, still leading us to the brink of disaster. We could be left with a Mike Pence running the show. And then what?
Psychology versus social science. The authors betray an embarrassing disregard for the ideas of the psychologist who first proposed malignant narcissism as a clinical diagnosis. Erich Fromm wrote in 1964 that “The ordinary man with extraordinary power is the chief danger for mankind — not the fiend or the sadist.”
Fromm exposed the “fallacy of ‘psychologism’ in the understanding of social and political phenomena.” He asserted that political, military, and business leaders “are not different from the average man.” They wage war, for example, not because they are cruel or vicious, but to gain concrete objectives like territory, natural resources, and advantages in trade.
In fact, capitalist business leaders need war. Their nuclear bombs are merely one more weapon, another path to profit. An “average” capitalist president declares war out of perfectly sane obedience to the business rulers and system he serves.
The U.S. emerged from World War II as the world’s dominant economic and military power. Politicians who are considered rational, Democrats and Republicans alike, have repeatedly lied to the public since then about U.S. military adventures. Who can say otherwise with a straight face? Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, Grenada, Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria — the list goes on and on. The capitalist politicians before Trump are responsible for this state of affairs. Yet the contributors to Lee’s book voice no complaints about these very same “sane” politicians commanding Washington’s nuclear arsenal.
The threat posed by Trump must be seen in the context of an already hazardous world. It is a grave mistake and sheer political naïveté to think that the U.S. is not the leading culprit in creating this danger. Furthermore, its dangerous policies have been carried out by imperialist politicians and military chiefs whose mental stability is not questioned by a single author in the book.
Two solutions. The book’s psychological solution is to convene a panel of mental health professionals to screen Trump for his fitness to serve. Such a panel would also screen all future candidates for president and vice president.
And who counts as mentally fit? According to one of the authors, revolutionary socialists are not among the healthy, because having a vision of socialist transformation spreading across the globe is just another pathologic, grandiose idea. What are the limits of this dangerous logic? Should we condemn women, LGBTQ folk, and people of color as delusional if their anger and pain over social injustice leads them to imagine a world without oppression and class exploitation?
The revolutionary solution recognizes that the causes of mental illness as a social disease began with the emergence of class society, which rips apart healthy human harmony. Capitalism goads race and gender antagonisms to block that solidarity. But fighting back by building broad alliances of the working class, the world’s overwhelming majority, can finally replace capitalism with a consciously egalitarian world.
Now that’s good for your health — and it’s the real antidote to Trump.
Dr. Steven Strauss is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He practices in Baltimore, Md., and serves on the Freedom Socialist Party National Committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.