The problem lies in trying to locate the essence of Mr. Trump’s unfitness in the unknowable reaches of his mind, as opposed to where we can all openly see it and address it in political terms. As the psychiatrist Allen Frances told The Times: “You can’t say enough about how incompetent and unqualified he is to be leader of the free world. But that does not make him mentally ill.”
Unfortunately, a number of psychiatrists, politicians and others who should know better have increasingly taken up the Trump-is-crazy line. In “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” released last October, more than two dozen contributors, most mental-health professionals, concluded that Mr. Trump presents a grave and immediate danger to the safety of America and the world. No argument there, but why do we need to hear it from psychiatrists relying on their professional credentials? Dr. Bandy Lee, one of the book’s editors, said the authors are “assessing dangerousness, not making a diagnosis.” Anyone with access to newspapers or Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed can do the same.
The psychiatrists say they have a duty to warn the public about what they see as a serious threat to the nation. That’s commendable, but they should consider how their comments will be taken by the vast majority of Americans, particularly in a highly politically polarized time. The language of mental health and illness is widely used yet poorly understood, and it comes loaded with unwarranted assumptions and harmful stereotypes. There’s a good reason the profession established an ethical guideline in 1973, known as the Goldwater Rule, that prohibits psychiatrists from offering professional judgment on public figures they have not personally examined.
In the future, it would be a good idea if presidential candidates voluntarily submitted to a mental-health evaluation, just as they often do a physical one — and in that case, psychiatrists would have a critical role to play. But you don’t need to put Mr. Trump on a couch now to discover who he is.
So what’s the right way to deal with Mr. Trump’s evident unfitness?
Not the 25th Amendment, despite the sudden fashion for it. Ratified in the wake of President John Kennedy’s assassination, the amendment authorizes the temporary removal of a president who is unable to do the job. Its final section, which has never been invoked, was meant to clarify what should happen if the president becomes clearly incapacitated. One of the…