There has been quite a bit of discussion around whether it is appropriate to speculate about whether Donald Trump has a mental illness. The rhetoric and armchair diagnosis of Trump is already happening and it’s important to look at the arguments for why people are doing that and perhaps more importantly whether people should.
I am basing this post on an expansion of a comment I posted on David Perry‘s blog post on whether it is appropriate to speculate on Trump’s mental health.
Full disclosure. I am a Canadian and while my life may be impacted by a Trump presidency. I am unlikely to be directly impacted by any of the racist or harmful policies he’s suggested. He is after all only proposing to build a wall along the Mexico border.
Ultimately, though I am looking at the ethics and possible repercussions of pathologizing Donald Trump in terms of what it means for the rights of people with mental health diagnoses.
As I mentioned, people are already doing it but it’s important to question why.
Keith Olbermann made a 20 minute video applying a psychopathy test to Donald Trump. Olbermann did pay lip service to whether doing so was ok but rationalized it thusly “Trump started it” which is true. Trump has applied stigmatizing mental health language to many of his political opponents.
The problem with this justification beyond it’s childishness is that it forgets that pathologizing Trump doesn’t just impact Donald Trump. It also has implications on a broader level to how discourse around mental health stigmatizes people with mental illness. People who haven’t been armchair diagnosed by a public just seeking to discredit a candidate that they dislike.
People have argued however that silence on mental health can be stigmatizing. Which is true but this actually assumes that Donald Trump has a mental illness. Which we do not and cannot know unless he tells us (and considering his propensity for lies, backs it up with evidence).
There is something to be said for there needing to be a discussion on people living without a diagnosis but I don’t think that a productive conversation on that is going to happen by speculating about the health of a public figure.
Particularly because of why people want to speculate about Trump’s mental health. Because let’s face it, it’s not out of a genuine concern for his well being. It’s because people want to discredit him.
Which brings us to the big issue. People are using mental health speculation as a way to discredit Trump and make him appear incompetent. This is deeply stigmatizing to people with mental health diagnoses.
If the logic is that by framing Trump as having a mental illness makes him unfit for the presidency then the message is that mental illness is equated with incompetence and that is a dangerous thing to not only assert but to advocate which is exactly what anyone saying “Trump is [insert usually bigoted term for mental illness here] are doing.
There is also the fact that much of the “evidence” people are using in their speculation is based on Trump’s bigotry. Finn has a great piece how “Wrong Does Not Mean Crazy” which focuses on how problematic it is to equate ideas we disagree with as evidence of the idea holder’s mental instability.
I cannot say strongly enough that bigotry is not a mental illness. It is also important to remind you that Trump doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He didn’t reach where he is by donning the guise of a supervillain (mo matter how abhorrent many of his ideas are) and threatening his way to the nomination.
No. He was supporters. Lots of them. People who see sense in the lies of his rhetoric.
Are we going to speculate on their mental health as well? Remember these people very likely number in the millions.
I honestly find it disheartening that people are so willing to perceive people who hold different ideals (regardless of how horrific they are) as rock hard evidence of mental illness. It buys into the “Mad=Bad” stereotype so people assume that if all bigots have mental illness then all people with mental illness must be at a bare minimum be frightening.
I refuse to believe that Donald Trump and his supporters are a case of mass hysteria. It is lazy thinking that seeks to erase the fact that humanity in large groups has rationalized the committing of atrocities.
When it comes to pathologizing Donald Trump, particularly in public forums. The goal isn’t really to have a substantive discussion on mental health. It’s a tool use to discredit him.
So no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate on Donald Trump’s (or anyone else’s) mental health in a public forum.
If you want to make a point about Donald Trump being unfit to be president may I suggest pointing out,
He wants to build a wall on the Mexico border
He thinks that Mexico should pay for it
He has suggested banning Muslim immigration to the United States
He has suggested that Muslims be registered
Go after his policies. Go after his words. Go after his actions both past and present.
Speculating about his health with the intent to discredit him only stigmatizes others.
There more than enough material to suggest that Trump is unqualified to be president without supporting the existing stigma around mental illness by capitalizing on it by trying to attach that stigma to Trump.