Does Donald Trump's mental state present a threat to the human species? Yale forensic psychiatrist Bandy Lee thinks so.
"As more time passes, we come closer to the greatest risk of danger, one that could even mean the extinction of the human species," she told Newsweek. "This is not hyperbole. This is the reality." She also insisted, according to Newsweek, that vehement denial was a sure sign of illness.
Politico reports that Lee "briefed" about a dozen Democratic members of Congress, and one Republican senator she would not identify, about Trump's mental health. Last year Lee edited a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, collecting 27 essays from "mental health professionals."
Reason's Jacob Sullum—no Trump fan—recently debunked the pseudoscience behind Lee et al's criticisms. "The argument about Trump has nothing to do with mental illness and everything to do with his abilities and temperament (as well as his policies, an unspoken motivation for many, if not most, of the critics who worry about his mental health)," Sullum concluded.
Lee's comments have fueled yet more chatter about the 25th Amendment, Section Four of which offers a mechanism for the vice president and the Cabinet to declare a president "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
But in that scenario, the president can declare himself fit for office again. If the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet then again declare him unfit, the matter goes to Congress, which has 21 days to decide. A two-thirds majority in both houses is required to declare the president unfit; otherwise he remains. The whole thing has even more procedural hurdles than impeachment, and therefore is even less likely to happen.
Long-distance psychoanalysis is not new in presidential politics. A rule forbidding the practice takes its name from Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican nominee who critics claimed was, as Sullum recounted, "'a dangerous lunatic,' a repressed homosexual, a self-hating half-Jew, a paranoid schizophrenic, and 'a mass-murderer at heart,' just like 'Hitler, Castro, Stalin and other known schizophrenic leaders.'
And it's not just Goldwater. In 2004, a George Washington University psychologist, Justin Frank, released a book called Bush on the Couch that suggested then-president George W. Bush was psychologically unfit to hold office. Fringe sites claimed former president Barack Obama was mentally ill. Sean Penn said the same thing about one of Trump's rivals for the 2016 Republican nomination, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
But this round of partisan fantasizing has been propelled into the mainstream, in part by reporters inclined to believe anything about Trump and in part by a president more than happy to play along in the show-bizification of politics. It'll all make good fodder for his fake news media awards.