‘At the Bottom, All Tragedies are Stupid’
So are the words of Stephen King. Hence, perhaps even I could write a tragedy without any literary talent. For when comic absurdity becomes reality, that is tragedy enough, and one need only recount it.
The only mental health professionals I know of to have publicists are Jeffrey L— and John G—. Both have done everything they could to destroy the efforts of conscientious professionals, one from without and the other from within. One worked from a clever conniving that effectively got him posts he obviously little measured up to, and the other from a clumsy clownishness that assumed position with top professionals only to discredit them all. Both have obvious personality pathologies that echo those of Donald Trump, whether for or against him. Both rode on the unexpected success and influence of the book I edited, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, whether by opposing it or by claiming it to be his.
The book was an unprecedented New York Times bestseller of its type, being a collection of specialized knowledge by multiple authors, made accessible to the public as a service. We donated all revenues so as to remove conflicts of interest, and it became a phenomenon in the publishing world.
It was an attempt to meet an unprecedented national situation. If the president were any less buffoon-like, people may have taken the dangers he posed more seriously. But the public did not recognize that it was precisely this level of obvious incompetence that was to be feared and underestimated the threat of allowing such psychological pathology to be in charge of the most powerful government, military, and weaponry on the planet. We were trying to address the greatest emergency the nation, if not the human species, had ever faced. Expert authority is not — and should not be — a given in the public sphere, and hence education and delicate persuasion were urgently necessary on matters of mental health, so that the people might accept our participation in helping to deal with this public health crisis. We made great headway after a year-long buildup when we became the number one topic of national conversation and were interviewing all day, every day. The U.S. Congress was actively looking to us to help make political action feasible: “You do your part [educating], and we will do ours [acting],” some members said.
Then entered L— and G—. Perhaps befitting of a farcical presidency, the blockage of solutions had to come from sheer stupidity, nothing else. The actions of L—, including his version of a “White House Correspondents’ Association dinner” response, apparently out of revenge for his humiliation while trying to push his own “birther” narrative (essentially, that the efforts our book represented were illegitimate, born not of psychiatric principles and ethics but of politics and self-promotion), are described elsewhere. His crusade included recruiting the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which echoed his unique assumptions that we were acting out of “political or self-aggrandizing purposes,” and the New York Times, which parroted his (non-)reading of our book as “taking up the Trump-is-crazy line,” when we never diagnosed, but in fact L— had! Maybe L— did read our book before writing his numerous articles and making television appearances to double down on the false argument that humiliated him at the Weill Cornell Medical Center symposium (his “White House Correspondents’ Association dinner” revenge). If so, he probably did the way Trump receives intelligence briefings: “I’m, like, a smart person. I don’t have to [read] every single [page].”
While L— mobilized the opposition, G— mobilized sabotage from within. At the beginning of my journey, a Washington insider warned of all the ways we could be infiltrated, thwarted, and countered by our opponents. Taking his advice, we were diligently screening every one of the thousands of professionals who eventually joined with us, checking every license background. But it turned out infiltration was not necessary if we have stupidity.
G— had his own appearance at a symposium, this one at Yale, an ethics conference I organized before deciding to edit the book. I invited four eminent psychiatrists as panelists, all of whom I had personally known for at least fifteen years. They were carefully chosen for their renown, knowing I could trust them to address a serious topic rigorously and with the highest ethical standards. Those who doubted my decision to hold this conference paused before the reputation of my invitees. The title of the conference took the form of a question: “Does professional responsibility include a duty to warn?”
Although I invited G— as an attendee, I had never previously imagined that what he would do was even possible. After the panel completed discussion, I concluded the conference and mentioned that there was a group forming of mental health professionals that would meet for lunch. It was a collective that G— previously called the “25th Amendment” group, which he renamed as “Duty to Warn” after the conference. While I expected him to describe the group from the audience, if at all, he proceeded to do the unthinkable: in the same manner that L— took over a symposium he was not invited to, during which audaciously called us “Nazi psychiatrists,” G— hopped onstage uninvited and audaciously took over the podium to give a longer speech than any of the panelists! Senior colleagues in the audience were horrified and later shared with me: “It was a fine conference except the end — it was an unfortunate ending, a very unfortunate ending.” Others were more explicit: “Why, he’s just like Trump! How can someone oppose Trump if he’s just like Trump!” I overheard my department chair say to another faculty member: “This is going to backfire,” referring to G—.
That was only the beginning. Several members of the media were waiting outside, as I had forbidden their entry in the auditorium. While I was busy wrapping up the conference, and the panelists had yet to make their way outside, G— grabbed all the media and proceeded to claim that the conference was his, that he was a panelist, and that I had merely organized the conference in service of him!! In the ensuing days, when about two dozen articles were issued about the conference, I spent hours contacting each of the agencies putting them out to add an addendum clarifying that G— was not a panelist, that the conference had nothing to do with him, and that none of the panelists crudely diagnosed the president as G— did in his interviews. If outlets failed or took their time to add the addendum, I followed up until every one of them posted the correction, which took about a month. Of course, all this is without going into the field day that right-wing outlets had in making fun of the conference, since G— had done most of the work for them — and whatever concerns the APA might have had about our diagnosing public figures or politicizing mental health, G— was only too excessively proving them right.
This behavior effectively ended my personal exchanges with him, but there was the dilemma of whether or not to include his manuscript in the book. About half the authors who were already in the book objected to his inclusion, and my instincts told me the same. I should have listened to them, but I was uncertain on many levels. I reasoned to myself: in this difficult endeavor, we needed as many allies as possible; I was in part recording history, and after all he organized a historic petition, which was my reason for reaching out to him; he was once on the faculty of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and surely he cannot be that bad; I may be overreacting because he embarrassed me before my fellow faculty, and this was not about myself; and it was only a chapter in a book, which I had control over and could edit to make appropriate. In other words, I rationalized. But a month had passed since the conference, and without any more dealings with him, I forgot much of the experience and overrode objections to including him in the book. But it would not take long for everything to come back to bite me: his “historic” petition, of over 70,000 “mental health professionals,” was exposed as being not of all mental health professionals but mostly of laypersons, despite his claim at the time of submission. It had turned out that Johns Hopkins, after many years of trying to get him to change his behavior, finally fired him, far before Trump came along. He would mislead that all the authors belonged to his group of “mental health professionals,” when in fact most of us objected to his even using our names. In this manner, he would go on to become my nemesis, mortifying me in many more ways that would make the conference incident pale in comparison. And he would use the inclusion of his chapter to claim that the entire book was his commission, which I edited only as a service to him and his organization!
Unfortunately, he had scheduled “Duty to Warn” marches around the country only four days after publication of the book, which gave him ample opportunity to capitalize on the book’s success and to claim it as his own work. I again had to do the rounds with the media, asking that they include an addendum that he only wrote a chapter for the book, which was heavily edited to keep with ethics guidelines, and that the rest of us did not share his disregard of ethics but deliberated greatly before concluding that keeping with ethics involved protecting society. His reckless use of “duty to warn,” distorting and corrupting the theme of my conference, without any of the careful articulation we formulated, caused the APA roundly to denounce the use of “duty to warn” outside the specific Tarasoff instance of a patient-provider relationship, three days after release of the book. Without his open caricaturization of the phrase, I doubt that this would have happened, when even some of the most distinguished life fellows of the APA were praising the reasoning in our book.
At this time, chairs of psychiatry from around the country were in touch with me, and I believe it would have been powerful for all of them to come forth concertedly, just as the book had brought multiple voices in unison. In the midst of low public awareness of mental health issues, their open statement would lend credence to what we wished to explain, allowing a chance gently to nudge the public forward. G—’s public actions and statements surrounding the book’s publication, however, caused this group to recoil — like a bull in a china shop, or a man bringing a bludgeon to a glass sculpture, a single swing blew ten months of effort into smithereens. No amount of my appeal that I had no relation to him would bring them back, for whether or not it was true, public perception was what mattered. Again, if the collective statement by the chairs of psychiatry had taken place, I doubt that the APA would have been able to target us with press releases as it twice did, as above and again in January 2018, which effectively ended all major media coverage.
G—’s bending of the truth whichever way that would help his hustling, marketing, and self-aggrandizing, and his assumed entitlement, allowed him to erect an entire organization on my reputation and my activities. For years he would use my name to recruit members and to raise funds, since he himself had no credibility. One hundred percent of professionals and the public would come to believe I belonged to his organization, unless I clarified it with them. “He did not seem very professional to me, but when I heard you were involved, I thought he must be legitimate,” was what people routinely said to me. In spite of this, his condescension toward me was striking; he would never speak to me directly or answer my messages, and finally I engaged three lawyers to try to make him take my name off his web site. When the situation became legally tenuous for him, he removed the explanation that I was servicing him but kept my name, so that visitors on their own would reach a conclusion that we were associated. When authors in my book found out they were all listed as members, they, outraged, made him remove their names. Still, he would leave in pictures of them for people to draw their own inference that these well-known mental health professionals were a part of his group. At one point, pressure from both myself and my attorney friends got him to take my name off his web site — but when I checked a month later, it was back! He could not do without it, for it was his lifeline.
“Toxic masculinity” may explain how G— has believed he could own and exploit everything I do, for his mistreatment of women did not stop with me. A group of women defected from his organization, complaining of “misogyny” (much like L—, grievances poured in once people learned of my conflict with him), and proceeded to form “Duty to Protect,” asking me to lead it. This exponentially grew into “the National Coalition” and then “the World Mental Health Coalition” when international members joined. Indeed, thousands of mental health professionals had contacted me since the Yale conference, and while I resisted forming an organization, we felt it was necessary to have a credible, professional organization as an alternative to the APA. We created a home for all those who resigned from the APA in protest of its protecting a president over public health, our actual duty. A resigned officer of the APA became our founding vice president. Meanwhile, we were receiving dozens, and then hundreds, of defectors from Duty to Warn. First, they told us that G—’s group was mostly of laypersons, not mental health professionals. Second, they found its activities to be unprofessional and, at times, unethical, while he remained unresponsive to their concerns. Third, G— had converted the group, without informing its members, into a political action committee (PAC), which effectively disqualifies all members from speaking as professionals. This is when he lost most of his membership, to the point where I know of no respectable mental health professional remaining. This occurred in 2017, and yet G— hid from the public that his organization was a PAC until late 2019, exploiting fully his status as a “mental health professional” and often “professor of psychiatry” (he is a psychologist) at Johns Hopkins, years after his ousting.
His parasitic style extended to his public interviews: I would come to learn that he was co-opting other people’s analyses as his own, essentially plagiarizing, from the first moment of his public appearance. The list of those who brought their complaints to me would only grow. Eventually, it became clear that not a single phrase was his, but he was ingenious at stealing and marketing others’ careful analyses into sensational sound bites — truly the opposite of what we were trying to do! This also explained to me why he often threw in big terms or phrases when he had very little understanding, and with time his interviews only made his lack of knowledge more apparent. From renowned psychiatrists to typical members of my Coalition, he was absorbing and parroting back an almost complete collection of their quotes — except presenting them as his own. This included almost everything I said as well; I would say something in public, and inevitably he would say it back within a week or a month, caricaturizing it into “catch phrases” that substituted thought for publicity and made a mockery of expert knowledge. Never had I witnessed such apparent professional thievery. After years of this, I can now trace back virtually every statement he has made to its original source. This shallow caricaturization of the field no doubt contributed to George Conway, a lawyer and celebrity, being able to present himself an expert in mental health for summarizing pop psychology.
Is the public still better off for having some of this information, even if tainted and watered down to second-rate? I have asked myself. My final answer is no, since I know the alternative is not nothing. Without G—, we would have had at least a dozen chairs of psychiatry who, together with the renowned authors in the book, would have been a powerhouse. We ourselves could have been an awesome, growing force, not discredited for his pouncing ahead of us and using our efforts to publicize himself. He thus replicated and confirmed the shallow, celebrity culture that Trump fostered, reinforced prejudices, where even expertise turns out to be nothing but a show. Conway still got it wrong, even after I tried to educate him on the correct, not popular, focus on things (which I did with the expectation that he might extend co-authorship, but he went ahead and published his flawed interpretation without me and without crediting me), and the public ended up with the “expertise-lite” version. The end result is that the dangers continued to be underestimated and normalized, and no intervention would ensue until we became the proverbial frogs trapped in slow-boiling water.
G—’s film is a cardinal example of how shallowness replaces substance. In the fall of 2017, just before the release of our book, Bill Moyers approached me with the desire to do a documentary. It would be made for release in early 2018, or at the latest in the spring. At this time, another pair of unknown “filmmakers”, who turned out to be reality TV producers with no documentary experience, had convinced my book agent to go with them, that they would pay for film rights, whereas Moyers stated honestly he did not have the funds. Neither did the other group, but they lied to my agent and tried to seduce me with executive producership and an absurdly large salary. They even promised to pay the authors for appearances. When I hesitated, they went behind my back and sent out contracts to each of the authors, enticing them to break with the book to appear on their film. This act flabbergasted me, and I was ready immediately to fire them. But by this time the genteel Moyers backed down, my agent continued to pressure me to go with this group, and to make a long story short, we decided to give the filmmakers a chance by bringing forth their proposal. This became the last straw: it revealed their vulgarity, absence of understanding, and previous deception about monies they turned out not to have — they would have to resort to crowdsourcing! Now furious at having lost the opportunity with Moyers, I fired them on the spot. Even though I never signed a contract, they threatened to sue and vowed no other group would make this film. We had to obtain a lawyer and asked how this was possible; we were told, “It’s impression that counts,” not the truth. This might still have been their end except for G—, who found a perfect opportunity if not matching methods — and so these filmmakers were back in business. This became the origin of the film, “Unfit”.
Finding an appropriate filmmaker for our topic would take time, but by early 2019 we found a highly experienced, principled group that had made over one hundred documentaries and had won many awards for bringing awareness to mental health issues. The group immediately got to work, hoping to have a film ready for release by the fall, which would have been perfect timing for the impeachment proceedings. After several months into planning and getting ready to start filming, however, one of the documentarians came back with a “near-heart attack.” He had seen the advertisements of “Unfit” by G—’s group. I told them that they had been fundraising for a year without apparently getting very far, and that it was unclear what their advertising meant, since they frequently promised much more than they could deliver. After doing some research, however, the documentarians said to me: “These ‘filmmakers’ are street fighters, and we do not wish to get in a situation with them. We’re very sorry, this breaks our heart — but we have to let go.”
In the fall of 2019, a two-time Oscar winner approached us without solicitation. I told him about the “street fighter” filmmakers and how the other documentarians had to back away. He seemed undaunted, apparently considering himself of an entirely different league, and he was: his filming was swift, easy, and highly professional. His work was ready by early 2020. Then he had an experience he had never encountered before: the networks and other outlets loved the film, but none of them would air it. It seemed that the general censorship that began with the APA and the New York Times, which had spread to all the major media, had also come to encompass film. The situation seemed to be reproducing itself with another celebrated filmmaker, known as “the Michael Moore of France,” who also approached us unsolicited shortly thereafter and rapidly finished his film — only to have similar difficulty distributing in the U.S.
The atmosphere thus seemed to have changed to make it harder for genteel professionals, while “weasels” survived. Word came out that “Unfit”, after two-and-a-half years of fundraising and using advertising as a weapon to prevent competition, would finally be released by Netflix in September 2020. I was puzzled that this seedy, low-level group was able to find an outlet when famous filmmakers could not. I have written about the patterns of a seemingly orchestrated censorship of our efforts elsewhere; the above Washington insider said to me, in addition to trying to silence and discredit (such as through L—), opponents may support and groom an obvious candidate to “mislead” a movement (such as through G—). Someone without charisma, without many followers, and with psychological problems of his own may have been just such a candidate. Otherwise, how could someone almost universally regarded as “awful” in person, who abused women, rise as much as he did in the public sphere? I believe I know the answer: even if such grooming did not happen, no conspiracy would be necessary if one had a psychological stooge — indeed, it is the exact situation in the White House.
His renegade ways were apparent already: “I gave an interview assuming you were involved with ‘Unfit’, but later I learned you are not!” people returned to tell me. A frequent description was how “unprofessional” the filming was — the filming occurring in filthy apartments, not even in studios, with half-eaten food stuffs on the floor that caused one of the interviewees to wish to vomit. Few respectable mental health professionals, if any, participated as far as I know. None of the authors were involved, except perhaps one. Members of the public said they donated money believing I was a part of it, and felt swindled for the length of time the film took to be made, broken promises along the way, including undelivered gifts for bigger donations (G— is also the only one in my book I cannot trust to have donated his author share, as agreed, but suspect has pocketed it for himself). There was a brief preview of his film over the Fourth of July weekend, and many who watched it wondered about the absence of mental health professionals. Others thought the use of cartoons trivialized the theme. While I have not seen it, I do not have to to know the damage it has already done: any of the other films this one replaced would have been more influential, and all but one would have been released months if not years earlier. When time is of the essence, their unprofessional territoriality has had life-or-death consequences — but what do they care, when they could be the ones to make the film, so that they could monopolize the theme, and he could be the hero of a movement.
Just yesterday, while Germany registered 330 new coronavirus cases, Switzerland 70, and Finland 1; South Korea 33, Vietnam 1, and New Zealand 1; and Canada 331, the United States registered 65,594 cases. Our population is less than four times that of Germany. Daily deaths are averaging 1000 a day, when many countries are in the single digits if not zero. Economic consequences showed a similarly stark difference last month, when the Euro zone saw an increase in unemployment by 0.2 percentage points, Japan 0.1 percent, and Canada 4.2 percent, while the United States saw a 10.3 percent rise, to an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent.
No Russian agent was necessary if an American president would willingly extend the greatest mayhem while railroading his way to autocracy. Similarly, no infiltration was necessary with us if an insider would gladly wreak the greatest havoc while bulldozing his way into the spotlight. Both make ideal tools for our enemies, and the result is the same: we are defeated.
As I have told G—, there is no end to justify the means if the means destroy the end. Dishonesty, fraud, opportunism, exploitation, and abuse are never okay, and a relentless drive to do whatever it takes to get his way, intoxicated by the accolades the public gives him for “speaking up” when no one else seemed to be, does not accidentally “help” the cause he purports to speak for. Indeed, how is this different from Trump posing as a champion for “the little guy”? But I know language like this makes no sense to a guy who seems to make cheating and stealing a way of life. Nor will it to L—. Coming to think of it, L—, who so easily insulted legendary figures within our movement as practicing “tawdry, indulgent, fatuous, tabloid psychiatry,” has not spoken one negative word about G—. They know they are twins.
So it all comes down to this: we know from Dr. Mary Trump’s new book, Too Much and Never Enough, that a man who would destroy the nation, if not the world, out of a pathological drive to “win” as his poll numbers, just like his inauguration size, fall intolerably low, comes from a two-year-old who was not held, loved, and soothed as he needed to be. So stupidity ends up being what destroys the world. The stupidity of being unable to tolerate a junior colleague with more book sales, for instance (L—’s book, after all, reveals more about his psychology than the history he purports to tell). Or the stupidity of assuming himself bigger and better than the giants of psychiatry and psychology because he does not know the difference. All could have been resolved when either was two years old.
Unsent “Tweets” upon Seeing the Film, “Unfit” (9/1/2020):
“Instead of a film festival-level documentary that might have had real-life influence, we have a home movie that is, frankly, too little too late, as its priority is bringing in accolades (not to mention public donations!) to exploiters of an opportunity to make themselves ‘heroes’ — not doing the deed.”
“The film turned out reasonably well, which was my desire given the situation, but the tragic note behind it is that this was not the only film in the works, the best film, or the timeliest film. When filmmakers act like gangsters for territoriality and profit, casualties result.”
“These filmmakers were a perfect match for John G—, who attained his goal of stardom, as well as no small amount of profit! However, bringing dishonesty, lack of principle, and malignant narcissism to a movement that is trying to counter these things, does not help the movement.”
“Tragedy describes well the story of mental health in the era of Donald Trump. Pathology in society, lack of access to education, and rejection of experts such that a showman like G— should rise alongside the Dr. Phil’s and Dr. Oz’s of pop culture, not only to claim to represent the field but to abuse it for their purposes.”
Am I surprised that G— has now risen to prominence, usurping and grifting on the conference, book, and (truly) mental health professional group that I organized, by lying and grabbing the spotlight while others were busy with the work, only to replace them with his false publicity machinery? By now, some have called me “naïve” for not recognizing that these are “the ways of the world.” Well, if that is the case — if these are the only forces that triumph — then the fate of our world and humanity is sealed. And that’s a real tragedy.