Cards on the table: I preferred Bernie Sanders’ leftist economics but am content to vote for Hillary Clinton this fall. Neither the persona nor the politics of Donald Trump hold any appeal for me. That decision made, I’ve skipped most of the election coverage that clutters my newsfeed. But I haven’t been able to ignore the slew of headlines labelling The Donald with various mental illnesses and personality disorders, culminating in the Twitter hashtag #DiagnoseTrump. This level of ableism from my supposed progressive allies scares me almost as much as a Republican president’s Supreme Court picks.
Speculative diagnosis of public figures is a common, yet basically unethical, tactic in modern journalism. The trend has gotten so out of hand in this election that the American Psychiatric Association had to issue a warning, as reported in yesterday’s Washington Post. The APA publicly reminded its members of the “Goldwater Rule” it issued in 1964 in response to a similar feeding frenzy around another GOP presidential candidate:
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.
Simply put, it’s inappropriate to diagnose someone you haven’t treated as a patient, or to share that diagnosis without their permission.
My concern is not so much for Trump’s feelings or privacy, as for the climate of fear and shame this diagnosis-mania creates for ordinary people with mental health conditions. “Nothing about us without us” is the guiding principle of disability activism. To make better policies that protect the mentally ill and support their recovery, we need elected officials who’ve experienced the problems firsthand and are motivated to prioritize them. This can’t happen when we think it’s fair game to mock and disqualify any candidate with a diagnosis.
Moreover, there’s a huge difference between diagnosing someone in order to help them heal, and diagnosing in order to humiliate or silence them, which is what #DiagnoseTrump is all about. The latter is an abuse of power, plain and simple, which many of us have already encountered in our brushes with the psychiatric profession. Sometimes I think social workers should be required to give Miranda warnings. The current political discourse reinforces our fear of seeking professional help.
It gives me great anxiety to see my liberal friends on social media happily sharing bullshit from wellness guru Deepak Chopra about how Trump is “emotionally retarded”, and to have them push back when I explain how this language makes life harder for the non-neurotypical. Is Trump a narcissist? Maybe, but for what it’s worth, I was once diagnosed with narcissism for talking faster than the clinician could take notes, needing hourly bathroom breaks, being a virgin when I got married, and not being able to take a multiple-choice test when the radio was on. If the GOP is looking for a replacement candidate, I’m ready to serve.
For additional disability-informed perspectives on politics and daily life, follow @thisisableism, @riotheatherr, @crippledscholar, @theoriesofminds, @punkinonwheels, and @rsocialskills on Twitter.