Debate over Trump's Mental Health Takes Off

By Jayne O'Donnell Updated at 2017-08-24 19:15:37 +0000


When Republican Sen. Bob Corker said last week that President Trump hasn't "been able to demonstrate the stability" needed for success and recommended he "move way beyond himself," it was news mostly because Corker has been one of Trump's key supporters in Congress.

Then James Clapper, who served in top intelligence jobs under former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Wednesday morning questioned Trump's "fitness to be in this office" and said he was worried about the president's access to the nuclear codes. Clapper, who had a long military career, is a close friend and longtime colleague of Trump's Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, a former Marine Corps general.

"If in a fit of pique he decides to do something about Kim Jong Un, there's actually very little to stop him," Clapper, former head of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said on CNN. "The whole system is built to ensure rapid response if necessary. So there's very little in the way of controls over exercising a nuclear option, which is pretty damn scary."

Until now, talk of Trump's erratic behavior and alleged narcissism was common on social media, late-night talk shows and among political opponents. But Trump's "fire and fury" comments about North Korea, a raucous rally in Arizona Tuesday and changing response to the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., crossed a line for some Republicans and brought the conversation into the mainstream, even among some supporters.

A poll by the media and technology company Morning Consult over the weekend showed 55% of respondents said Trump was not stable.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor at American University, sponsored legislation in April that would set up an independent commission to determine if any president no longer has the physical or mental capacity to perform the duties of the office. The 25th Amendment to the constitution was ratified 50 years ago and calls for such a body but it was never set up.

The bill now has 28 co-sponsors and while more can't be added until Congress goes back into session Sept. 5, Raskin says there's been "a sudden spike after every acute episode" involving Trump's behavior.

"We need every tool in the constitutional tool kit to be able to deal with the unfolding and accelerating crisis of presidential power in America today," says Raskin.

Raskin notes the commission would also be in place if future presidents can no longer serve, but former New Hampshire Republican Sen. Gordon Humphrey urged the New Hampshire congressional delegation this month to support it because Trump is "impaired by a seriously sick psyche."

Speculation about the president’s mental health has also spawned a cottage industry of psychiatrists and authors opining on his fitness for office.

Yale forensic psychiatrist Bandy Lee is consulting with Democratic members of Congress and other psychiatrists about setting up an expert panel to advise Congress about Trump’s mental health. Lee, who said she is speaking out because of Trump's "dangerousness," edited the upcoming book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, to which 27 mental health professionals contributed.

Psychiatrist Allen Frances, meanwhile, who conceived of the diagnostic definition of narcissistic personality disorder, is coming out next month with his own book, Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump.

"Narcissistic personality disorder describes a debilitating need to project grandiosity so as to fight the inner feelings of low self-worth," says Lee, who works internationally on predictors and prevention of violence. "In extreme forms, narcissistic personality disorder is one of the disorders most associated with violence and is sometimes considered to be on the same spectrum as antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy."