Scorn and A Deep Distaste For Trump Is No Excuse For the MSM To Engage In Ableism
Multiple media organizations have re-published or referenced pieces in which psychologists, in effect, diagnose President Donald J. Trump with a variety of personality disorders.
The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article, “A Challenge for Mental-Health Experts: Should They Weigh In on Trump?,” where exactly this issue is debated:
“Mr. Kilmartin is among those mental-health experts who believe such professional assessments should be shared publicly. “If we have reliable, evidence-based knowledge that is important for people to know, then I don’t think we should be withholding it,” he said.
Others in his extended field, however, aren’t so sure. Some argue that professional diagnoses of a subject’s mental health should be made only by experts who have personally examined that individual. Discussing a psychological evaluation in public, they say, is never appropriate without the subject’s consent.”
The diagnosing of public figures and private persons in the media is not condoned by the American Psychiatric Association. Susan H. McDaniel, President of the American Psychological Association, in a letter to the editor, points out:
“The American Psychological Association does not have a Goldwater Rule per se, but our Code of Ethics clearly warns psychologists against diagnosing any person, including public figures, whom they have not personally examined. Specifically, it states: “When psychologists provide public advice or comment via print, Internet or other electronic transmission, they take precautions to ensure that statements (1) are based on their professional knowledge, training or experience in accord with appropriate psychological literature and practice; (2) are otherwise consistent with this Ethics Code; and (3) do not indicate that a professional relationship has been established with the recipient.””
The media should restrict itself to these guidelines, particularly as it employs mental health professionals as journalists, rather than find ways to engage in the discriminatory behavior called ableism. Ableism, no matter who engages in it, is ethically-wrong.
To give readers an idea as to the rigor of our standards, our nation’s legal system has a very high standard for deeming a citizen criminally insane and forcibly medicates citizens it refers to mental health professionals for medical observation and diagnosis prior to court trials for criminal offenses, and then holds those diagnosed defendants responsible for their behavior during psychotic or other mental breakdowns. Even then, the legal system doesn’t rely on public hearsay about a person’s mental condition, but performs its own set of rigorous testing before deeming a person too mentally-unstable.
The Atlantic has several articles on this topic. In, The Mind of Donald Trump, psychologist, Dan P. McAdams draws several parallels, including comparisons of Trump and Andrew Jackson, a figure President Trump greatly admires, in order to draw a psychological portrait of our president. Trump chose to hang Jackson’s portrait in the Oval Office.
“The similarities between Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump do not end with their aggressive temperaments and their respective positions as Washington outsiders. The similarities extend to the dynamic created between these dominant social actors and their adoring audiences—or, to be fairer to Jackson, what Jackson’s political opponents consistently feared that dynamic to be. They named Jackson “King Mob” for what they perceived as his demagoguery. Jackson was an angry populist, they believed—a wild-haired mountain man who channeled the crude sensibilities of the masses.”
McAdams’ article is an appropriate character analysis that is not written in the style or manner a diagnosis would be written up. Atlantic journalist Clare Foran published a follow-up interview with McAdams to elicit post-election comments:
“Clare Foran: Now that Trump has taken office, is there anything you’d revise in your original analysis of who he is and what he might do as president?
Dan P. McAdams: I have to admit that when I wrote the piece I did not think he would win the election. If I were writing it today, though, I would stick pretty much with what I wrote, but I would emphasize two things more than I did.
The first is that I would double down even more on the idea that what you see is what you get when it comes to Trump. The piece starts off with this uneasy sense that Donald Trump is playing a role. I wanted to get behind the mask, but by the end I’m frustrated because there’s a lot less behind the mask than you expect. You expect there to be some kind of deeper philosophy that might explain what he will do as president, and that’s very difficult to find. So I end the piece by arguing that he’s always fighting to win, even when it’s not clear why.”
There is plenty wrong with President Donald J. Trump, and all of it can be properly described, analyzed and freely discussed on the merit of each issue and in ways that leave it up to readers and listeners to make up their minds as to the underlying causes for his beliefs and behaviors. There is absolutely no need to resort to public diagnoses of Mr. Trump.
When he lies, call him on his lies – call him a habitual liar, even – and mention how many lies he’s told. When President Trump’s assertions are illogical, call him on his illogic and do, by all means, point out how often he engages in that behavior. When President Trump engages in cruelty, call him on it. When Trump engages in impulsive behaviors, as he does on Twitter, inform the public! When President Trump resorts to ableism, as he did when he mimicked a New York Times reporter with a disability, call him on it and criticize him roundly.
In a recent appearance on CNN, Professor John McWhorter of NYU made some very astute observations about the linguistic properties of Donald J. Trump’s patterns of speech:
This type of linguistic analysis informs the public in a way that is completely proper and appropriate.
The constitution does not require presidential candidates to undergo psychiatric or psychological testing before running for office. The media should not circumvent medical ethics and the law by publishing psychological or psychiatric diagnoses. Psychology Today should remove blogger Nigel Barber’s post. It is unethical and in contravention to the APA’s code of ethics.
Do not, however, engage in ableism by diagnosing Trump with some mental disorder as a basis to delegitimize him from. That behavior normalizes the public shaming of people with mental disorders and that is just plain wrong.
We can expose Trump for who he is using his words and actions and describe those in ways that leave nothing to the imagination – without sacrificing the hard earned respect people with disabilities are still trying to earn, and without using the same dirty tactics he himself has used against people with a disability. We are better than that and we can run circles around him without lowering ourselves to his level of moral depravity.
The same ethical standard we apply must extend to people we don’t like, whether or not they are in high office, and whether or not we like the way they got there. Two wrongs never make a right, and we must, in this day and age, remain faithful to that.
Blog#42 is reader-supported thanks to the donations of readers like you. Please subscribing or making a one-time donation. Thank you.