Along the Way: The Root Problem

​I agree with those who point out that social media can be a place where rage overtakes reason, where emotions overrule education. And I confess my own failures along this line in some of the things I have posted. It is difficult to maintain your senses in a storm—particularly a sustained one. Wisdom is hard to come by in a whirlwind.

That’s why I must be clear that this writing is not a reaction to what’s going on, but rather a response to it—a considered response that I have been developing for quite a while by observing a growing mountain of  information. I am writing in the spirit which John Wesley sometimes used to signal his sobriety, substance, and seriousness about a given subject—what he called, “A Calm Address…” I offer you the following in this spirit, even though I know (as Wesley knew) that some will disagree with this post and criticize it. Yet, what follows is not driven by my emotions, but rather by the reading and research I have done. It is my considered opinion of Donald Trump–and one that I would never have expected to make about any President of the United States.

In a word, the root problem we are facing in Donald Trump is this: we are being ruled by a madman. This has happened in history (e.g. Herod, Caligula, Henry VI, to name a few), and it is happening again in Donald Trump. [1] We are being ruled by a madman. Let me unpack this conviction. 

First, we are being ruled. By his own words the past several years, he admires despotic rulers, and he does all he can to behave like one. In doing this, he exhibits his fundamental disregard for our system of government. He acts like a monarch, not a president—going against the documented determination by our nation’s founders not to replicate the demagogueries from which many of them had literally escaped. Donald Trump’s words and actions render his “Make America Great Again” slogan meaningless, because they show he does not know (or care) what the word “America” means politically. His words and actions are also dangerous because they reveal he is attempting to make “America” something it was not intended to be—a system in which one person operates with too much power.

This attempt demonstrates Donald Trump’s toxic leadership as described in an article written by Dr. Jean Kim before he was elected. [2] Dr. Kim’s article was written to describe toxic bosses in the workplace. Sadly, Donald Trump personifies them all…

(1) Unwilling to listen to feedback

(2) Excessive self-promotion and self-interest

(3) Lying and inconsistency

(4) Lack of personal morality or ethical base for their leadership

(5) Rewards incompetence

(6) Operates independently out of a perceived “expertise”

(7) Surround themselves with a cadre of “yes” people, and removes critics

(8) Bullying and harassment

We are being ruled.

Second, by a madman. When this concern surfaced (even prior to his election) Donald Trump’s supporters not surprisingly cried, “foul ball.” Apart from their disagreement was their allegation you may remember. His supporters rejoined the phrase, “He is a political rookie; cut him some slack.” And because it was so early in his presidency, that was difficult to deny. He has never held a public office. So, many of us did that—we backed off and gave him the benefit of the doubt– hoping  for better things from him, while continuing to wonder if we would ever see them.

But now, enough time has elapsed to see that our initial concerns about Donald Trump’s mental health were valid. The concerns have been expressed  by a host of behavioral professionals. Here are a few examples…

(1) 2018—a little more than year into Trump’s presidency, 27 mental health professionals expressed their concerns about his mental health in a book entitled, ‘The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.’ The book’s author and organizer was Dr. Bandy Lee, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University. In the second edition ten more weighed in and the number in the title was changed to 37. [3]  This book is considered the standard for a professional assessment of Trump’s mental health.

(2) Also in 2018—Justin Frank, former Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at George Washington University School of Medicine. wrote ‘Trump on the Couch,’ in which he notes that Trump’s personality is riddled with mental health issues.

(3) 2019—During the impeachment process 350 mental health professionals signed and sent a letter to Congress citing Donald Trump’s increasingly delusional behavior as evidence of his mental illness and their opinion that he was not fit to serve as President.

(4) 2020—Two detailed accounts have continued to document Trump’s mental illness: ‘A Very Stable Genius,’ and ‘Too Much and Never Enough: My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.’ The former volume was co-authored by award-winning journalists  Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. The latter is by Trump’s niece Mary L. Trump, who holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

These four illustrations provide a “Mount Everest” of evidence that Donald Trump is mentally ill, far more evidence than is normally solicited to confirm such in an individual. In addition to these (and other) sobering accounts, we can add the statements made by other of Trump’s family members, business associates, former attorneys, military and political leaders, and White House staff members. When the professional assessments are combined with the accounts of people who have known Donald Trump and worked closely with him, the case that he is mentally ill is persuasive. [4]

We are passed the time when the evidence of Donald Trump’s toxic leadership and mental illness can be ignored, and certainly not dismissed as being partisan. I remind you once again that I am a political independent. I write as a concerned citizen. I have been developing my opinion for some time, and it has only strengthened by what I have seen and heard from him in the past week. [5] We are being ruled by a madman.

[1] To be clear, even madmen do some good things, and Donald Trump’s supporters are quick to defend him, citing “ the goods things he has  done.”  Sadly, this defense avoids the fact that madness can exist in the midst of some positive behaviors. The failure of Trump’s supporters to recognize this, makes his  madness even more insidious, as it did with leaders in the past. The most dangerous leader possible is the one people do not recognize as such.

[2] Dr. Jean Kim, “8 Traits of Toxic Leadership,” Psychology Today, July 6, 2016.

[3] Dr. Lee is careful to distinguish between a professional assessment and a clinical diagnosis. She also notes that mental health professionals are asked to provide both, and that assessments (based on reviews of large amounts of evidence) are considered credible.  In sum, the 37 people who contribute to the book believe that Donald Trump manifests what is called “extreme persistent hedonism” and “sociopathic behavior” which render him mentally unfit to be President. The fact that 37 behavioral scientists were willing to publicly express their concerns is an indication of how serious they consider this to be.

[4] Among the more indicting non-professional assessments is the book by John W. Dean and Bob Altemeyer, ‘Authoritarian Nightmare.’ As you will remember, John Dean saw authoritarianism up close and personal in Richard Nixon. He knows despotic behavior when he sees it. But the book is not based in personal experience but in results provided  by analytical instruments that add objectivity to observation.  

[5] Dr. Bandy Lee has voiced her ongoing concerns in an interview just three days ago on the Salon website, an interview conducted with her by Igor Derysh entitled, “Sociopathy: Psychiatrist says Trump’s behavior meets criteria for a locked psychiatric facility” (10/06/2020).

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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