Imperative to Indict

On June 16, 2022, Conservative Former Judge J. Michael Luttig warned publicly in his testimony during a hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol: “Donald Trump and his allies and supporters are a clear and present danger to American democracy.”

Five years since we published the book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, many more are coming on board with us. It should now be clear that the rhetoric of “reaching across the aisle” that Democrats have favored for far too long does not apply in certain situations. Sometimes, the first step to any public health measure is boundaries — in this case, prosecution and indictment.

Mental health professionals knew from the start that Donald Trump would be very dangerous with presidential powers. For this reason, we immediately held a conference at Yale School of Medicine and published our assessment in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump in 2017. We tried to warn the nation, risking our careers to explain how he would grow worse, and that, without intervention, his dangers would spread and erupt.

The nation experienced this most dramatically on January 6, 2021, but there were many preceding signs. In the summer of 2020, I wrote a new book, Profile of a Nation, to help the public understand that “he is truly someone who would do anything,… no matter how destructive, to stay in power” — and would become an even greater danger after the 2020 election, claiming victory regardless of the outcome. The more information we gain from the attempted massacre of vice president and lawmakers he almost caused at the Capitol, and how closely he encouraged an insurrection so that “martial law” could be declared so that he might remain in power, should frighten us all.

This was the kind of explosion I and thousands of my colleagues at the World Mental Health Coalition anticipated, which is why we issued more than 300 pages of letters, petitions, and statements asserting that, if Donald Trump were not restrained via the special counsel’s report, impeachment, or the 25th Amendment, he would become “uncontrollable” over time.

We had advised on psychologically effective ways of approaching the first impeachment. In 2019, we urged early impeachment — ideally during the unprecedented government shutdown — an “encyclopedia of articles” that reflected the actual level of crimes and misdemeanors, and an indefinite delay on the delivery of articles if the Senate did not appear as if it would do its duty. Our advice went unheeded, and the extremely delayed impeachment with only two articles created a very dangerous situation, as we warned in our petition to Congress in October 2019 with more than 250 mental health professional signatories, three days before Donald Trump caused the massacre of our Kurdish allies, and in December 2019 with over 800 mental health professional signatories, one month before he ordered the assassination of a top Iranian general, bringing us to the brink of war.

The speaker proceeded to deliver the articles in a way that allowed for Donald Trump’s triumphal State of the Union address, a vengeful firing spree of those who lawfully testified against him, and a worse situation than if impeachment had not occurred. Indeed, if the articles had been held onto another month, his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic may have led to a greater likelihood of conviction in the Senate, and hundreds of thousands of lives would have been saved.

This is to emphasize that all could have been prevented, and we must not repeat our mistakes in the future. We all saw how his unending lies, abuses, and multiple attempts to rig an election that he lost, eventually led to his fomenting deadly violence and near-loss of our democracy. As we did with the Mueller report, the transcript of his phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, and his “Save America” rally speech, mental health professionals can explain how Donald Trump uses words and directly incites violence. Research on violence, furthermore, places in perspective the power of rhetoric, which can cause epidemics of violence far more effectively than specific orders or direct physical assaults.

The ideal course would have been to have swift conviction; impeachment itself was late, happening a week after the actual incident. We would not allow a serial killer to be on the loose with bombs, ammunition, and assault rifles for days, let alone weeks; to permit a serial mass killer, by the order of hundreds of thousands, with nuclear weapons capable of destroying all civilization, without containment was a bad psychological precedent.

Unless prosecution happens swiftly at this late stage, Donald Trump and his cronies will continue to be a great danger to the country. If he is not held accountable, he will distort the January 6 committee hearings to “vindicate” himself and to claim that this was yet another “hoax” to persecute him and that the fact that he has gotten away even now is proof of his invincibility and eligibility for reelection in 2024. He will continue to hold rallies, harping incessantly that he really won in 2020, threatening civil war and further escalating social and political divisions that would prevent what the rest of us call “healing”. He will blame the long-term misery he set in course on the Biden administration, just as easily as he claimed the long-term benefits of the Obama administration’s economic policies to be his own. Through the manipulation of his followers, he will project himself more than ever as the savior destined to “make America great again.”

Furthermore, continued lack of accountability will have a detrimental effect on the public’s mental health by adding to the psychological trauma that is a consequence of normalizing deadly criminality and severe pathology. His exploitation and abuse of those who support him, who are the most in need of healing, will also not stop.

In sum, not prosecuting Donald Trump in today’s circumstances will ensure that he is a serious continuing danger to our country, with major repercussions behaviorally and historically. For the four years of presidency, we witnessed the perils of permitting a dangerously unfit person in an office he could not handle. Only prosecution, as expediently as possible, would help mitigate the vast harm to the nation’s mental health he has caused and begin to turn our culture around toward sanity and health. Mental health experts are willing to advise on any of this and are standing by.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Bandy X. Lee

Forensic psychiatrist, violence expert, president of the World Mental Health Coalition (worldmhc.org), and editor of "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”