In 1964, Fact Magazine ran a story called “The Unconscious of a Conservative: A Special Issue on the Mind of Barry Goldwater” in which the magazine polled psychiatrists about Senator Barry Goldwater, asking whether or not he was mentally fit to be president. Over 1,000 experts said that they believed Goldwater was unfit for the office. After winning the Republican nomination, Goldwater successfully sued the magazine for libel. This incident led the American Psychiatric Association to issue what is commonly known as the Goldwater Rule, which forbids physicians from publicly commenting on the mental health of public officials they have not personally examined.
The rule, officially known as section 7.3 of The Principles of Medical Ethics With Annotations Especially Applicable to Psychiatry, states the following.
‘On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement’
For the past several decades, the rule has held firm, but Donald Trump’s presidency is testing the boundaries of the rule, as many mental health experts feel compelled to speak out regarding Trump’s mental state. In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, a group of experts denounced the Goldwater rule, saying that it had “resulted in a failure to lend our expertise to worried journalists and members of Congress at this critical time. We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer.”
The letter’s authors went a step farther, warning that Trump was mentally unfit to hold office.
‘Mr. Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behavior suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).
‘In a powerful leader, these attacks are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed. We believe that the grave emotional instability indicated by Mr. Trump’s speech and actions makes him incapable of serving safely as president.’
Another mental health expert, Dr. John Gartner, even helped write a book analyzing Trump’s mental state, based on on the president’s tweets. In All I Ever Wanted to Know about Donald Trump I Learned From His Tweets, Gartner warns of the dangers presented by a Trump presidency.
‘Donald Trump’s manic dark energy drives him to vaunt himself and denigrate his fellow human beings relentlessly: all day, all night, every day, and every night.
‘…He is a malignant narcissist who is also on the bipolar spectrum. From a psychiatric perspective, the prognosis could not be more dire—for us.’
Despite this, the APA insists that the Goldwater Rule remains in effect arguing that ” breaking the Goldwater Rule is irresponsible, potentially stigmatizing, and definitely unethical.”
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