Last week, in a Bloomberg op-ed, attorney Noah Feldman proclaimed that “Trump’s Judgment Is Debatable. His Sanity Is Not,” comprising repeated ad hominem attacks, primarily against the 27 mental health professionals, many who are leaders in the field, who contributed chapters to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. I am one of those authors and I will speak for myself in responding to Feldman’s astonishing, gratuitous hostility.
His deeply cynical and openly disparaging thesis is that mental health professionals disingenuously engage in “pseudo-scientific name calling” to obfuscate our hidden partisan politics and pursue a “political imperative.” He attacks the authors for addressing Trump’s underlying personality make-up without ever having met the president personally or having done a formal assessment.
Yet, in a breathtaking somersault of illogic, Feldman fancies himself as an expert in discerning our underlying motivations, even invoking Shakespeare, completely out of context, in a flourish of his erudition. Speaking of never having met Trump, has Feldman ever met one of us? Has he read one single page of Dangerous Case? Does he have an iota of evidence to support his outrageous accusations of lying, obliviousness, and fraudulence?
I have indeed met Donald Trump. Unlike the 1964 Goldwater presidential candidacy, when we barely had color TV and little more than an hour of news coverage each day, we now have instantaneous tweets and live video news coverage 24/7/365 as Trump breaks china bulling his way through each day—primary source material for research. Since Trump declared his candidacy in 2015—riding down the escalator waving and reveling in the attention, with Melania four stairs below, like some wooden ornamental figurehead from an ancient sailing ship—I have been with Trump for hours virtually every day, trying to make sense of his personality make-up.
I have coffee with him every morning over his tweets. During the primaries, I had front row seats at his red-meat rallies where he urged violence against protesters, working the crowd to a fever pitch of vile threats against his opponents. In the general election, I was with him when he suggested that “the Second Amendment people” might be able to stop Hillary; when he said he’d love “to hit and hit and hit” members of the DNC so that they’d never recover. I was in the cabinet meeting when he threatened North Korea with ”fire and fury” etc., accompanied by innumerable tweets to the same effect. I listened when he insisted recently that the Central Park Five are still guilty of a 1989 crime, and bellowed that thousands and thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were celebrating on 911, despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary in both instances. I traveled with him to Europe and saw him shove aside President Filip Vujanovic of Montenegro to obtain center stage for a photo op. I heard his lengthy claim that he was THE best baseball player in New York during high school. And I listened to him say he could grab women by their genitals with impunity anytime he chooses. In today’s news, he is walking back his initial apology, stating he’s not sure that was really his voice on the tape.
In the course of a mere two minutes near the end of his speech to the CIA following his inaugural, I had a front and center seat, jammed between the 40 raucous staffers he brought to cheer and jeer before the sacred Memorial Wall of Stars memorializing fallen agents, as he insisted that the Fake News Media created a “feud” between himself and the intelligence community when he’s “1000%” behind them; I heard him brag that god stopped the rain for his speech and that it poured right after he finished; I saw him bleat about his victimization by fake media because he saw for himself that his crowd “was packed all the way to the Washington monument.” Irrefutable evidence to the contrary regarding all three assertions. In two minutes. Not a single word of truth. Lies? Delusions? Would he have passed a lie-detector test? I believe he would have passed with flying colors.
Where does strategic lying end and delusional falsehood begin? In my view, that is the single most important diagnostic question and there is mounting evidence to substantiate the latter. Feldman might familiarize himself with the DSM-5 diagnosis of Delusional Disorder, for which Trump arguably meets each and every criterion before he compares him to “perfectly sane, mentally healthy people who commit rash or mistaken actions all the time..get angry and say foolish things...sometimes endanger themselves and others.” I’m not making this up. Feldman actually wrote that.
Threatening to start WWIII? Meh, everyone has a bad day.
Through the primary sources of tweets, video and audio tapes, we’ve all had the opportunity to study Trump. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5 bases each of its categories on observable words and actions. I know his words and actions more vividly than those of any of the roughly thousand people I’ve worked with in over 70,000 sessions during a 40-year career of writing, speaking, teaching, and above all engaging in psychotherapy.
Feldman very explicitly denounces, with ringing conviction, that psychologists “are [not ‘might be’] leveraging their professional knowledge and status to ‘assess’ Trump’s mental health for the purpose of political criticism…whose claims… raise the possibility that the unwashed public might look down on or pity Trump for his purported illness.”
Staggering. Unwashed public? Why not little people? “Assess” in quotes? Why not gobbledygook? Who’s looking down on others with whom he differs? With zero evidence, Feldman appears to follow his own principle, “I think it, therefore it is!” Like an attorney sauntering into court, declaring to the judge, “My client is innocent! I rest my case,” then strolling back out.
To take just one example, has Feldman even bothered to glance at the life and work of the legendary psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, a contributing author, now age 91 and still going very strong? If so, he would understand that Lifton has written monumentally influential books, following years of meticulous research, on the psychology of Nazi doctors, Hiroshima survivors, traumatized Vietnam vets and much, much more. But somehow Feldman knows—just because—that Lifton is a poseur along with the rest of us.
Feldman’s ideas are not presented as plausible hypotheticals that psychologists need always to be vigilant to the influence of personal partisanship to which they may be blind. I enthusiastically agree with that caveat. It is no different than trying to fathom the underlying meaning of any strong emotional response to any patient. Of course we have blind spots. But no, Feldman issues unequivocal blanket indictments against 27 authors who have spent their careers passionately seeking to understand human motivation. Again, has he met a single one of us? Has he read one single page of Dangerous Case?
Let me be clear. I have no intention of blaming or criticizing Trump. I have every intention of providing responsible, authoritative psychological education and guidance, supported by substantial evidence in actual words and actions, to a bewildered public craving counsel, as attested to by our book immediately skyrocketing to the top of best-seller lists.
I have no intention to engender condescension or pity for Trump. I have every intention of alerting the public to his extreme psychological instability and the horrifying dangerousness that Feldman mocks. I am not interested in stopping political debate because I have no interest in starting or participating in one. Trump is not Republican, nor is he Democrat or Independent. Trump is Trump, a unique entity unto himself. I care only about formulating an authoritative assessment of who this man is and what he is capable of. The public and politicians can do or not do what they choose with it.
Trump has the ability to launch nuclear missiles unopposed in five minutes. Since the primaries, I have written that the presidential election was about “apocalypse, not politics.” The charge of alarmist partisanship has crumbled in the face of Trump’s shocking threats to North Korea and beyond. Indeed, there are now legislative initiatives to prevent such unilateral, catastrophic action.
Is there an axe to grind here against shrinks that drives all the glib derision? If Feldman were actually interested in arriving at informed conclusions, I would welcome the opportunity for respectful dialogue, as would any of the other 26 authors. In the meantime, Attorney Feldman would be well advised to stick to his area of expertise, which does not include spewing armchair psychoanalysis regarding the putative motivations of others—”lest ye be judged in return,” to quote the last words in his own article.