It is poignant that the influential January 6 Committee hearings concluded with the 25th Amendment. We learned that several Cabinet members discussed the possibility of invoking it after the violent, Trump-instigated insurrection, and there is a possibility it may be the topic of the next round of hearings when they resume in September 2022. It is certainly relevant to whether or not Donald Trump should be allowed to run for the presidency again, whether or not he is indicted.
For experts in mental health, there has never been doubt that mental unfitness was the defining problem of the Trump presidency. It is the reason why everything was “fail sure” — not “fail safe” — when it came to dealing with crises such as the Covid pandemic, Russia, the Taliban, white supremacist terrorism, nuclear perils, climate destruction, and the accelerated decline of democracy around the globe. Nothing surprising came out of Trump’s White House and beyond, and everything was foreseeable. The only surprising factor was the nation’s resistance to meeting the challenge for what it was, when all the knowledge, expertise, and know-how to deal with the situation were at its disposal.
Instead, mental health professionals were silenced, and the mental health pandemic was allowed to spread even more rapidly and more unchecked than the Covid pandemic. The American Psychiatric Association rather used its authority to gag the relevant experts, trading its societal duty for a sparkling new building in the center of Washington, DC, and for unprecedented federal funding. Political expediency was not supposed to supersede the medical purpose of a medical organization. In fact, it is in violation of medical neutrality, our oath to protect human life, and our pledge to speak up against oppressive regimes, as in the Declaration of Geneva, instituted in the 1940’s after the experience of Nazism.
One of the most disastrous consequences of this self-serving act was that the public, deprived of mental health knowledge and stripped of the means to intervene with appropriate measures, turned victim to psychological violence as a way of governing. After this, electoral politics and every other means by which attempts were made to tackle the problem could no longer be effective, for it would never address the central matter.
Mental health experts can and should speak up if a president must be removed for public health and safety reasons. Indeed, that is what the 25th Amendment, Section 4, was created for. Thousands of mental health professionals followed suit in these warnings since the start of this presidency, and more than 800 petitioned Congress about the dangers. Before the 2020 election, 100 senior mental health professionals went on video record to declare the then-president too psychologically dangerous and mentally unfit to be a candidate for reelection. We published more than 300 pages of our letters, petitions, and conference transcripts in an attempt to alert the authorities. We also reconvened top experts in the fields of law, history, political science, economics, journalism, social psychology, climate science, and nuclear science at an emergency interdisciplinary conference. This followed a meeting with the same speakers at the National Press Club in early 2019, to discuss the critical situation of a president’s unfitness in our dangerous world, with the full three hours broadcast on C-SPAN. Finally, the continued lack of intervention brought on our town hall on the 25th Amendment.
According to legal scholars, this is the expected approach. I had exchanges with the author of the 25th Amendment, Professor John Feerick, at a 50th-Anniversary conference on the Amendment and at student workshops at Fordham University Law School. He discussed that the intention of the Amendment was that “the data would drive the process, and medical professionals are a source of data.” Professor John Rogan, his close collaborator on the 25th Amendment, clarified on another occasion: “physicians have a supererogatory obligation to share specialized knowledge. This is especially important when discussing psychiatric conditions, which may be hard to apprehend.” The vice president, instead of being the driver of the process, would agree when “leaned upon” by the cabinet or the “other body” that Congress appoints to supplant the cabinet, compelled by the data.
We knew we were in just such a situation leading up to January 6, 2021, through overwhelming data. These data were consistent with the hundreds of years of scientific evidence and many thousands of hours of clinical experience we collectively brought to our warnings about the current president, in accordance with our “responsibility to society,” as outlined in the first paragraph of the preamble of our ethics code. A peer-reviewed panel of independent experts has already performed a standardized assessment of mental capacity, when the right information became available, in which the president failed every criterion. This meant that he would be unfit for any job, let alone president. Our evaluation fully predicted that he would disastrously mismanage a pandemic, as our blow-by-blow account documented.
Constitutional scholar and member of the January 6 Committee, Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) had given a lecture for us on the 25th Amendment at our 2019 conference. He stated: we must make use of the provisions that are available. His lecture reflected his legislation for a commission to oversee presidential capacity, of which physicians and psychiatrists would comprise half. Attorney and professor Richard Painter, former chief White House ethics counsel for the Bush/Cheney Administration and former chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) confirmed that the 25th Amendment needs to be used, with an “other body” to replace the cabinet a critical component.
Their legal assertions align with our therapeutic ones. Politicians needed to do their part, as did mental health professionals. Political bodies needed to consult with mental health experts, the purpose for which we even set up an independent expert panel. We continued to inform the public of the dangers, until political bodies could succeed in removing them. The public is a stakeholder, not to mention a president’s employer, and a president, even a former one trying to run again, should be pointed out for unacceptable levels of abuse and potential, imminent victimization. Mental health professionals do not have the luxury merely to stand by. The Declaration of Geneva clarifies that we must prevent harm and injustice, especially when they arise from a destructive government.