Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 218

Psychiatrists and the 2024 Presidential Race

Donald Trump announced his intention to run for President again in 2024.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

“We warned about Mr Trump’s character in 2016 . . . and he had many policy successes . . . but his character flaws—narcissism, lack of self-control, abusive treatment of advisers, his puerile vendettas—interfered with that success.”1

Doesn’t this sound like it was written by a psychiatrist? Or some psychiatric professional? But it was not, at least as far as I know. It was signed off by the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and published online on November 14, 2022.

If it was written by a psychiatrist, it would have broken the ethical Goldwater Rule for members of the American Psychiatric Association, which prohibits using our professional knowledge in any public comments about public figures. Who now knows? Maybe psychiatrists were silently and confidentially consulted by the Editorial Board.

Perhaps we do not need to comment now that past President Trump has entered the 2024 race, as he announced Tuesday evening. Others, even those without psychiatric expertise, can do so instead.

My own prior ethical decision in regard to Mr Trump came in a chapter on the environmental consequences of his administration, for which I was the coauthor.2 I conveyed I would not comment on his character in the chapter and did not. I am not yet sure what I will do this time around.

Other psychiatric disciplines do not have the same Goldwater Rule prohibition. Certainly, journalists and pundits do not, but the Goldwater Rule even prevents psychiatrists from commenting on their comments! Do we really not want to prominently use and display our unique and relevant collection of education, skills, and knowledge?

Can you imagine not being able to communicate certain concerns to patients? Yes, we will be wrong at times. That will be inevitable. But we can learn from our mistakes.

There may be renewed calls to reevaluate the Goldwater Rule as the election race moves on. Whether that happens or not, I would also imagine that some psychiatrists will ignore the prohibition. At the very least, whenever or wherever this race is discussed in our field, I hope the full political spectrum of psychiatrists will finally be represented.

To avoid the “wild analysis” of the Goldwater presidential race, a cadre of psychiatrist experts in political psychiatry could also be developed. We can also comment on relevant topics, as I try to do in today’s weekly video on the LEAD model of leadership, and let the applications be up to the listener.

The stakes nationally and globally seem too high to willingly limit the freedom of thought and speech of psychiatrists.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board. Donald Trump’s presidential rerun. The Wall Street Journal. November 14, 2022. Accessed November 16, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-presidential-rerun-2024-ron-desantis-glenn-youngkin-gop-11668454286

2. Van Susteren L, Moffic HS. The age of Thanatos: environmental consequences of the Trump presidency. In: Lee B, ed. The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. Thomas Dunne Books; 2019.