The Goldwater rule was established in 1973 by the American Psychoanalytic Association after the 1964 controversy regarding Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. The rule prevents psychiatrists from giving diagnoses to those who they have not personally evaluated, especially public figures. Could the rule still be available in the Trump era taking into consideration all the public evidence?
Speaking About The President’s Mental Health
In 1964, over a thousand psychiatrists deemed Republican candidate Barry Goldwater unfit to serve as president of the United States. They called him “emotionally unstable” with one psychiatrist going as far as naming Goldwater a “dangerous lunatic.” He lost the presidency to Lyndon B. Johnson but won the lawsuit against the magazine that published the report. Since then, the Goldwater rule has been in effect.
It re-emerged in the public eye this week. The State News website published an article stating that the APA told 3,500 of its members not to feel “bound” by the rule. Many interpreted it as a lift of the rule so that psychiatrists can speak on President Trump’s mental health. However, the director of APA’s public affairs stated that there had been no change to the policy.
One psychiatrist, Dr. Leonard Glass, has been speaking against the rule and condemned the new limitations imposed by the Trump administration. In an article for Psychiatric Times, Glass wrote:
This February, 33 psychiatrists signed a letter to the New York Times that decried the silence from mental health professionals caused by the Goldwater Rule. While it refrained from diagnosis, the letter concluded the “grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” Notably, none of us had interviewed the President nor had we obtained his permission to speak out.
As a protest to the limitations, Glass resigned. He also wrote in indignation:
In this way, a significant shift was made from the decades-long common understanding that psychiatrists should refrain from making diagnoses or interpretations about the unobservable inner life of public figure to prohibiting all comments about easily observable phenomena.
Is Trump Unstable?
While the Goldwater Rule is valid for psychiatry, it does not cover psychology. Psychologists can express their opinions on Trump’s fitness to serve and have been doing so. Moreover, Change.org has a petition with over 50,000 supporters who ask for psychiatrists to diagnose Trump and remove him from office.
Professionals have spoken about President Trump suffering from a narcissistic disorder, according to his reactions and lack of empathy. However, there is no official diagnosis. The Goldwater Rule is still in place. The question is, should it be lifted, given the potential public dangers Trump’s behavior poses? While it does not help with the stigma that comes with mental issues, Trump’s decisions affect the lives of others to a significant degree.
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