Political abuse of psychiatry has a sordid history. Sadly, history seems to be repeating itself. A group of activist psychiatrists that dubs itself the “World Mental Health Coalition” is planning a July 23 town hall on Capitol Hill at which they intend to present a psychiatric “analysis” of President Trump based on the special counsel report.
At the behest of House Democrats, they will recommend Trump be removed from office. According to an interview with the lead activist in Raw Story, they will also unveil five questions they want members of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees to ask Mueller during his testimony rescheduled for the following day, July 24 (the group also rescheduled to make sure its event immediately precedes Mueller’s testimony.).
The principal leader of the scheme is Yale University psychiatrist Bandy Lee, the editor of a 2017 book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.” She says they have a duty to warn the public that Trump is a menace to society and should be “contained” for an evaluation, and removed from office.
According to Lee, the July 16 meeting will be a prelude to another town hall on the subject. The members of Congress who appear most involved in hosting of a follow-up town hall are John Yarmuth (D–Ky.) and Jamie Raskin (D–Md.) Raskin has been a strong proponent of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump as unfit to serve. The obvious intent of this stunt is to have some credentialed psychiatrists make a case for doing just that.
Resorting to the 25th Amendment is the latest in a long line of Democrats’ plan B to remove Trump from office. But there are a couple of obstacles here. One hurdle is the “Goldwater Rule” laid down in section seven of the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics, which states that psychiatrists should not make professional judgments on public officials without their consent or an in-person examination.
The rule took effect after the presidential election of 1964. During that campaign, the political magazine “Fact” polled all members of the APA on Republican candidate Barry Goldwater’s fitness for office. Many who responded weren’t shy about publicly saying they thought Goldwater was basically insane. The cover of the magazine’s October 1964 issue stated: “1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to be President!” (Goldwater later sued and won.)
Lee says the Goldwater Rule shouldn’t really apply to Trump because of a “duty to warn” about dangers that only informed experts like herself can diagnose. However, partly in response to Lee’s public activism as a psychiatrist, last year, the APA sent out a press release reaffirming its “unwavering” adherence to the Goldwater Rule and calling for “an end to ‘armchair’ psychiatry.”
Another problem for Lee is the backlash she has publicly received on Twitter from former APA president Jeffrey Lieberman, who stated that she was harming the profession of psychiatry. In response, Lee took down her Twitter page. You can find more on the story at psychsearch.net.
Give Us the Power to Determine Who Can Be Elected
What’s going on here is just the tip of a much deeper iceberg. Lee and her associates don’t simply want to evaluate only Trump. They believe psychiatrists should have carte blanche to do psychological evaluations on all candidates. For our own protection, you see.
Since last year, a confidential five-person working group, headed up by Lee (other members anonymous) has been devising a sort of tribunal that in the future would require “regular fitness-for-duty exams on presidential and vice presidential candidates, preferably as a requirement sometime before they take on the job, and even preferably before they run.” The probability of that happening in the foreseeable future is not high, though. According to the Washington Examiner:
‘Lee’s group realizes that Congress won’t enact such a requirement, which would include annual exam every year after winning the election, and instead is looking to demand that candidates voluntarily submit to being examined by the panel.
They plan to publish a proposal and make the case that the medical panel is needed to prevent mentally unfit people from entering high office.
“We would like to keep this entire process as voluntary and confidential as possible, but also in a democracy we believe the public has a right to know if a dangerous person is pursuing the presidency,’ Lee said.
I think it’s fair to say that most candidates, including Democrats, can see the risks of putting their careers at the mercy of a supposedly independent group of shrinks.
The greater danger here is that controversy has already been brewing among psychiatrists over whether to dispense with the Goldwater Rule. Even if the APA adheres to it, for now, the temptation to pass judgment on who can hold political power is obviously difficult for many of them to resist. (Lee, by the way, is not a member of the APA.) No doubt it is especially hard to resist if you feel you have the expertise that others lack, see a danger that others can’t, and that the fate of the entire world hangs on your shoulders.
Another thing to keep in mind going forward is that the APA is known to give in to political pressure from activist members as well as from outside lobbies. So if it ends up dispensing with Goldwater Rule in the future, a Pandora’s Box of sorts would open, and psychiatrists and psychologists across the land would opine about the mental fitness of candidates for offices high and low.
Indeed, psychiatric judgments could trickle down to ordinary employment. One rationalization might be that we already evaluate airline pilots and military officers. So why not all school teachers, lawyers, judges, and even priests? And so on. For our safety, you know, and that of the children. The disastrous effects of such a scenario aren’t hard to picture. And, if you throw into this mix a single-payer health care system run entirely by the state, presto! The state pronounces on the fitness of those challenging the state.
(Lastly, we should also note that the American Psychological Association, unlike the American Psychiatric Association, does not enforce a Goldwater Rule for its members, as this review of Bandy’s book on the American Psychological Association’s website might indicate.)
Political Psychiatry Rife in Socialist-Oriented Regimes
The political abuse of psychiatry has always been most widespread in totalitarian societies. While the United States has had some tragic and unsavory chapters in psychiatry, such as the practice of pre-frontal lobotomies in the 1940s and ’50s, it has never approached the massive scale of abuse that happened in the Soviet Union and continues today in China and other repressive nations.
In the Soviet Union, political dissenters were often diagnosed on the fly and imprisoned in psychiatric wards where they were subject to confinement, interrogation, narcotic injections, and various other forms of torture and humiliation. According to Robert Van Voren, a well-known Dutch human rights activist and Sovietologist, “using psychiatry as a means of repression has been a particular favorite of Socialist-oriented regimes.” The reason for this, he concludes, “is a combination of expedience and ideology.”
It is expedient because “people can be locked away forever or as long as they continue to have views that are considered politically or socially dangerous,” and because dictatorial regimes can simply follow their own rules without concerns about public trials or having to answer grievances. Ideologically, it provides a rationalization for socialism as the best and most just form of government.
In Soviet society, it was a given that you’d have to be mentally ill to oppose socialism. So psychiatry there quite easily became “molded into total subjugation to the needs of the existing political order.”
Soviet authorities also claimed that dissidents who appeared to be mentally stable and fully functional were actually in the early stages of mental illness. Hence the Soviet invention of the diagnosis “sluggish schizophrenia” which the regime bestowed upon Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Zhores Medvedev, Vladimir Bukovsky, Andrey Sakharov, and other prominent political figures who happened to express independent thoughts. Although abuse may have subsided since the fall of the Soviet Union, there is little reason to believe it has totally disappeared in the regime of old KGB hand Vladimir Putin.
The largest-scale offender these days is the government in Beijing. The political abuse of psychiatry in China has deep roots in the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong, with the official view that politically deviant thoughts cause mental illness. The regime today continues to hold people against their will for deviating from its requirements of behavior.
This includes religious minorities such as Falun Gong members and Uighur Muslims in Xingjian Province. It includes whistleblowers on every level of government, as well as political dissenters and anybody who complains about political persecution. Today “Ankang” (translated as “peace and health”) hospitals administered by the police are psychiatric institutions in China where political prisoners and simple petitioners of workplace grievances are often abused and kept in inhumane conditions.
Politicized Psychiatry in the United States
It’s a good idea to keep all of the above in mind if the call for socialism in the United States gains traction. Socialism has always served as the path to totalitarianism because it requires that power be concentrated into the hands of the very few who manage society from the top down. It’s also an ideology that relies heavily on social conformity, with proponents eager to enforce groupthink. In the hands of statists, psychiatry is a convenient weapon for social engineering.
The temptation to use psychiatry to condemn perceived political enemies can become irresistible among those in power. And if power is centralized—as is required in socialist systems—that only makes matters worse. Sadly, psychiatry has a capacity for abuse that’s basically built in. According to the late psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, the whole field is so susceptible to being used as a means of social control that it does people far more harm than good.
An attitude of psychiatrist-knows-best definitely infects the profession. Our social instincts to trust avowed experts only causes the infection to spread. Consider how pre-frontal lobotomies were all the rage during the 1940s and 1950s. The surgery, which severs the connections in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, was believed to be a solution for managing erratic behaviors. But it usually resulted in worse conditions, including emotional and intellectual blunting, a loss of spontaneity and personality, as well as loss of self-control.
Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, underwent a lobotomy at age 23. Their father, Joseph Kennedy, arranged for it because of her mood swings. Rosemary, who was previously a lively young woman, was left completely incapacitated and was institutionalized for the rest of her life. About 40,000 lobotomies were performed in the United States. In the early 1970s, there was a move afoot to restore the practice, but psychiatrist Peter Breggin heroically successfully prevented that from happening.
Manipulation of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that the APA puts out has also become a serious concern. It seems to be more of a political document with a sexual revolution agenda than a manual for understanding human behavior.
Whether or not you believe homosexuality should have been removed from the manual in 1974, there can be no argument that doing so was a purely political act in response to political protests rather than due to a process of scientific debate. Likewise, self-defeating personality disorder was deleted from the DSM due to feminist opposition. Gender identity disorder was delisted in 2013 due to heavy lobbying by transgender activists and their supporters.
In light of this, the DSM really looks a lot more like a tool of political correctness and social engineering than anything else. I personally think the whole rag is useless at best. If it were simply abolished in its entirety, maybe people could start having real conversations again. In fact, a July 5, 2019 article in the journal Psychiatric Research pretty much declared the DSM scientifically meaningless.
Other Red Flags for Abuse of Psychiatry
Yet another warning sign of political abuse of psychiatry is the punishment meted out to conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, who pled guilty to a single count of making an illegal campaign contribution to a candidate running for state senate in New York. In a 2014 ruling, Judge Richard M. Berman sentenced D’Souza to undergo psychological counseling in addition to a $30,000 fine, five months’ probation, eight months in a halfway house, and years of community service.
At a hearing the following year to clarify the sentencing, D’Souza’s counsel submitted evidence that the court-ordered psychiatrist found no reason for medication or continued counseling, and another psychiatrist concurred. Berman insisted that counseling should nevertheless continue. He said it wasn’t punishment. He only “wanted to be helpful.”
Berman added that he required psychological counseling in cases “where I find it hard to understand why someone did what they did.” This should strike any ordinary person as a bridge too far and if it catches on we are in real hot water. Ditto the political use of solitary confinement—i.e., psychological torture—as it is being used against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The psychiatric handwriting is also all over the wall in what passes these days as common political discourse. We can see it in the over-usage of stigmatizing terms from psychiatry whenever a politically incorrect view is expressed. The use of the term “phobia” —which is defined as a fear so irrational and intense that it is diagnosed as a mental condition—is commonly used by the politically correct to avoid conversation about real issues.
If, for example, you express concerns about being exposed to or getting naked in front of the opposite sex in a public facility, you are liable to be accused of “transphobia.” If you believe massive illegal immigration can cause problems in a society, you are immediately labeled “xenophobic.” And so on. Other commonly used terms used to stifle debate are “paranoid” and “conspiracy theorist.” Or, as David Letterman recently called Trump, “psychotic.”
One last point, which I think is perhaps most troubling of all: the deliberate hush-hushing of information that would help everybody avoid being psychologically manipulated by bad actors. This stifling of information happened in 1987, when the American Psychological Association (the APA of psychologists rather than psychiatrists) suppressed a report that was originally intended to help average Americans understand methods of psychological manipulation and undue influence so that could build up defenses.
After the horrors of cult activity in the 1960s and ’70s—which culminated in the mass cult suicide of 918 people in Jonestown, Guyana—the APA assigned psychiatrist and cult expert Margaret Thaler Singer to head a task force that would assess and report on the various methods and processes of psychological and emotional manipulation used by cults and other bad actors. With such a resource, people could better detect those methods and learn to avoid becoming victims.
But just before the expected approval of that report, entitled “Deceptive and Indirect Methods of Persuasion and Control” (DIMPAC,) the APA’s Board of Ethical and Social Responsibility for Psychology (BESRP), along with a couple of outside experts, ridiculed Singer’s expertise and claimed that “brainwashing” (i.e., coercive persuasion) never really happens, and that there’s “not enough data” to support its existence. On the basis of BESRP’s sham, the American Psychological Association made sure that average Americans would never see the playbook of cultists and propagandists.
Singer, author of “Cults in Our Midst,” was a defamed hero. She warned us that “the psycho-technology of thought reform is not going to go away…Education, information, and vigilance are constantly needed if we are to keep us, and our minds, free.” We desperately need to heed her words. A good first step is to challenge the political abuse of psychiatry whenever it rears its ugly head.