Witch doctors are not necessarily more skilled than psychiatrists and psychologists, but they’re sometimes harder on the pocketbook. A group of “mental-health professionals” have offered to resolve the Donald Trump “problem” for free. In the learned and precise professional language of their trade, they think he’s “nuts.”
Dr. John Gartner of Baltimore is the leader of a small group of psychiatrists and psychologists who have set out to prove that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”
Dr. Gartner, working from a small office rented at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Charm City, is the leader of a Trump-is-nuts coalition of mental-health professionals they call Duty to Warn. (They’re only doing it for our own good.) They have circulated a petition to encourage whoever reads internet petitions to help remove Mr. Trump as president under the 25th Amendment, which lays out how to remove a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” So far they’ve collected 62,000 signatures, which would be a lot if we were talking about removing a mayor or a state auditor or state land commissioner, but for a president, not so many.
Dr. Gartner and his like-minded are plotting conferences across the country late this week, to draw established psychologists and psychiatrists to the sessions, much like the teach-ins that stirred up sentiment against the war in Vietnam a generation ago. They’re writing a book, to be published next month, with the title “The Strange Case of Donald Trump.”
Dr. Gartner is a Princeton man, and a former assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, who specializes in “borderline personality disorder and depression.” He has diagnosed the president as a “malignant narcissist,” which includes paranoia, anti-social behavior, sadism and other traits, probably including the heartbreak of psoriasis. The doc thinks he might be guilty of all that, perhaps excluding the heartbreak of psoriasis, but with a caveat of considerable size: “Unless he doesn’t believe a word he’s saying.”
In fairness to Dr. Gartner, his colleagues and whatever witch doctors might be monitoring the temperature of Trump critics in the United States, some mental-health professionals think it’s the doc who’s all wet. One of them is Allen Francis, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at Duke University who wrote the book — a set of guidelines, actually — on how to diagnose narcissistic personality disorder. He rejects any claim that the president has it, he tells the Baltimore Sun.
“I think that [Dr. Gartner] and other people like him mean well and are sincere and believe that somehow they have a professional responsibility to warn America about the horrors of [Mr.] Trump. But I don’t see them as knowing much about diagnoses.” He calls the president “the biggest threat to democracy since the Civil War,” but he doesn’t think the president is nuts.
Some mental-health professionals are at least a little embarrassed by the attempt to diagnose the president by remote control. Even Dr. Gartner agrees that it’s generally a good idea for a doctor to examine a patient before he diagnoses him for whatever ails him, but he tells the Sun that in cases where it’s not possible it shouldn’t be a requirement. After all, never have so many been so distraught by the results of a presidential election. Don’t they have rights, too?
But the mind-bending trade has been down this road before, and not happily. Sen. Barry Goldwater had the temerity to run for president as a conservative with a conscience a half-century ago, and Fact magazine, which is no longer with us, asked a bunch of psychiatrists whether they thought Mr. Goldwater was a candidate for the loony bin, and not to anyone’s surprise, most of them said yes, of course he was. The American Psychiatric Association, however, said afterward that diagnosing from afar is never a good idea. Even witch doctors don’t do that. The association of psychologists has a similar rule, though Dr. Gartner thinks it doesn’t apply to him. (He’s only doing the Lord’s work.)
Some other professionals are skeptical of the Goldwater rule, too. One of them is Justin A. Frank, a clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical Center, who has written books analyzing George W. Bush and Barack Obama and is working on one about the Donald. “It’s true that I don’t get them to my office,” he says, “and that’s a serious issue, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”
He hasn’t yet offered an expert diagnosis of the president. “He’s Donald Trump,” he says. “I really think that he’s a fairly unique person.”
Does anybody here want to argue with that?
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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