19 May 2017
In your guts you know he's nuts
The code of conduct for the American Psychiatric Association includes something called the Goldwater Rule. This rule forbids APA members from making public comments on the mental health of public figures without personally examining them. The rule is named after Barry Goldwater, the former U.S. Senator from Arizona and late-life libertarian whose 1964 presidential campaign, despite its catastrophic failure at the polls, began the Republican party's transformation into its present form. Goldwater's campaign slogan was "In your heart you know he's right," to which critics answered, "In your guts you know he's nuts." Thinking along similar lines, one thousand psychiatrists that year signed a public statement diagnosing Goldwater, who wanted to roll back much of the New Deal and infamously asserted, in a Cold War context, that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," was psychologically unfit for the presidency. Goldwater successfully sued the magazine that published the psychiatrists' statement. More than fifty years later, The New Yorker reports that some APA members want to repeal the Goldwater Rule. You can guess why. If you can't, it's because they want to state publicly that Donald Trump is psychologically unfit for the office he actually holds. At least one interviewed by the magazine argues that his profession has a public duty to warn Americans about Trump's state of mind. This topic has come up before on this blog, after Trump had been diagnosed, without the benefit of a direct professional examination, with a "narcissistic personality disorder." Some psychiatrists argue for retaining the Goldwater Rule on pragmatic grounds, noting that comments on Trump's mental health inevitably will be attributed to a liberal bias in the profession. I'd like to think that some in the profession still remember when the Soviet Union and other communists countries were criticized -- particularly, I presume, by entities like the APA, for treating some of their political dissidents as if they were mental cases. Unfortunately, the history of the Goldwater Rule shows that American handwringing over the Soviet practice was at least partly hypocritical. While it is probably true that no one ever proposed forcing Barry Goldwater into a mental hospital, his political enemies were not above reducing his dissent against the liberal consensus to a psychological problem. The psychiatrists' campaign against Trump suggests that this questioning the sanity of liberalism's critics is typical of liberalism, as opposed to conservatives, who blame criticism of their own worldview on moral failings, and radicals, who often blame criticism of their agenda on stupidity. While some of Trump's behaviors and utterances may be genuinely worrisome, it's just as worrisome that some liberals can't believe that a sane person would disagree with their worldview.