Steve Bannon, the zealot who was the White House chief strategist until August, believes that Donald Trump has only a 30 percent chance of completing his term. According to a Vanity Fair article, Bannon told the president several months ago that his greatest risk wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. And, by that same account, Trump responded: “What’s that?”
It behooves him to know the answer. The 25th Amendment, Section Four, states that the vice president, with the majority of the cabinet – or a body specifically appointed by Congress – can remove the president from the Oval Office if they determine that he “is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” And currently, there is an ongoing campaign launched by mental health professionals in the United States who are trying to demonstrate his inability.
“It’s like the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. Essentially, we all see the same thing, that he is dangerously mentally ill, but it remains to be seen who has the courage to say it out loud,” said Dr. John Gartner in a telephone interview. In January, this psychotherapist launched Duty to Warn, a petition that has collected 56,000 signatures. He is one of the 27 professional signatories of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” a book that has been on The New York Times best-seller list for two weeks. And Duty to Warn has become a movement, with a political action committee included.
The ‘Goldwater Rule’
According to the American Psychiatric Association code, professionals should not offer a diagnosis or assessment of public figures if they have not examined them in person. This is known as the “Goldwater rule,” which was adopted after the 1964 campaign, when what was actual political commentary about the Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s mental health became surrounded by a medical aura. With Trump, however, mental health professionals are calling upon another of their obligations: warning of a potential danger. Moreover, Gartner denounces the professional association’s attempt to pose an obstacle, claiming it is driven by “selfish economic interests” – specifically, the fear that the Trump administration will retaliate and reduce reimbursements for treatments.
According to Gartner’s diagnosis, Trump suffers from “malignant narcissism,” a disorder which becomes “flagrantly worse” when the the person “gain[s] power.” And the danger is that, in his opinion, Trump “is still deteriorating and will continue doing so.” Others, who are without professional training, also believe that something is not working. Months before Sen. Bob Corker painted a disturbing picture of Trump, Republican Sen. Susan Collins was caught by a hot mic saying: “Yes, I think he’s crazy. I’m worried.”* And according to a poll published last month by Quinnipiac, most Americans (56 percent) believe that Trump is unfit to carry out his duties.
The effort of Duty to Warn is now to transform the president’s mental health into a campaign issue, although Gartner is aware that “we’ll never persuade the 35 percent that voted for him.” And his group is now supporting two legislative proposals submitted in Congress that address the issue. For Gartner, the most important one seeks to establish that the president will not be able to decide on the use of nuclear weapons without the prior authorization of Congress. The other one would create an independent, nonpartisan commission that would include mental health professionals, who would be able to determine the incapacitation of the president, and lead the way to the 25th Amendment. For Gartner, who identifies himself with Don Quixote, there is hope. “It is no longer seen as impossible, but as improbable.”
*Editor’s note: It was Sen. Jack Reed who said, referring to Trump, “I think he’s crazy,” to which Sen. Collins replied, “I’m worried.”