NPR loves to imagine itself as an oasis of civility compared to nasty commercial talk radio. NPR host Diane Rehm has written haughty op-eds about how Rush Limbaugh et al are a blight on the radio. But wondering if Donald Trump is mentally ill? Apparently, that's civil and educational.
Rehm launched an hour-long discussion of Trump's dysfunctional mental state on Thursday based on a Tuesday New York Times article about psychologists breaking the "Goldwater Rule" and diagnosing a dangerous presidential aspirant as nuts. Rehm began by declaring this subject was a fertile topic for debate: “In a break with professional protocol, some psychiatrists have offered public negative views on Donald Trump's mental fitness to be president. Others in the field say diagnosing from afar is unethical and usually inaccurate.”
Washington Post science writer Amy Ellis Nutt was eager to please her NPR hostess:
NUTT: Narcissistic personality disorder, of course, is something that’s in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders put out by The American Psychiatric Association. And really highlights people with narcissistic personality traits that lie far outside the norm. So it's, like many things in life, it's a spectrum, but it is a lens through which we can look and analyze what people say and how they think and how they behave.
And, as it turns out, it seemed to be, for many people, a particularly well-defined way of looking at the kinds of remarks that Donald Trump would make. That a belief in being special, this apparent need for excessive admiration, a sense of self-entitlement, and, you know, arrogance, haughtiness. Again, something that many politicians show evidence of, but I think it's the constellation of these characteristics in Donald Trump that made it particularly acute.
Rehm talked to Dr. Paul Applebaum, who doesn’t approve of long-distance psychoanalysis of Trump. Then she turned to Dr. William Doherty (a star of the New York Times article) to let him uncork on Trump as very similar to the ascent of the Nazis, to which Rehm acquiesced:
REHM: So what motivated you to speak out about what's been called Trumpism?
DOHERTY: Like many people that -- in the field that I know, when Donald Trump first went on the campaign trail, I laughed. I thought that he was clownish. I thought he would crash and burn. And then I grow -- I grew increasingly concerned about his popularity. And then in May I visited Eastern Europe and saw uniformed young neo-Nazi youth on the streets of a small town in Austria. And was aware that in Austria the most prominent fascist since the '30s, the '40s nearly got elected to president of Austria. I subsequently visited a concentration camp and saw -- visited Freud's home and saw videos of him fleeing the Nazis.
And so I -- and when I became aware of it, as I looked into it is that mental health professionals were silent during the rise of fascism in Eastern Europe. And some, in fact, collaborated. And so I decided I had a responsibility as a therapist, as a mental health professional to speak out and see if others would like to join me about a threat to the public mental health, which I think is what we're seeing…
REHM: All right.
DOHERTY…with the denigration of minorities.
DOHERTY: And a threat to our democracy.
REHM: All right. We'll have to take a short break here.
In a demonstration of a complete lack of self-awareness, Rehm returned to question why Sean Hannity is questioning Hillary Clinton’s physical health: “Amy, I want to turn back to you because I know that Sean Hannity on Fox News recently ran a segment questioning Hillary Clinton's medical fitness for office. Based on what?”
Before long, Rehm was back to prompting Doherty to trash Trump some more with open-ended softballs:
REHM: Bill Doherty, you're talking about behaviors that we are all seeing, language that we are all hearing, which is, I gather, why 2,200 mental health professionals have joined you in this whole document that you've signed. What is it that concerns you most about Donald Trump?
DOHERTY: There -- he is projecting an image of hyper-masculinity, demeaning critics, brittle -- brittleness in the face of criticism and the strongman idea that trust me, I won't be very specific, trust me, and I will take care of all your problems. And we are seeing in our -- in our therapy offices particularly members of minority groups who are very troubled by what they're hearing and seeing. And so this strongman, brittle ego, hyper-masculinity needs to be named, called out, and I think that the public can decide how much credibility they want to give to mental health professionals talking about these things.
But I think this is a much bigger issue than exactly what is the role of mental health professionals in our society. I think lots of people need to speak out, and I think therapists need to be speaking out, as well, about the unhealthy approach to interpersonal relationships we're seeing in Donald Trump and what's behind him.
Later on, Doherty threw in a reference to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, and how both he and Trump displayed "a brittleness in the face of criticism, which is a terrible thing in a public figure, a counterattack, and this is a kind of a leadership image that he is portraying that I think is deeply unhealthy and needs to be called out."
Nutt played Doherty Helper again, adding about Trump "one thing he has made clear on several occasions is that he has said his greatest thrill in life is getting even. So without obviously even referring, you know, to narcissism, I think many people see that obviously as a troubling characteristic."
Near the end of the hour, Doherty went back to the Nazi smear: "Whipping the whole country around as occurs in some very dysfunctional, interpersonal relationships. It's quite striking. I also want to mention, go back to what Paulette said, the caller, that from what I understand, and I use this cautiously here, but in the rise of Hitler in Germany, he pushed the envelope to see what people would tolerate in his anti-Semitic remarks. And apparently, according to his story is he found acceptance, and then he kept ratcheting it up."
Dr. Appelbaum was in the minority insisting this sounded more political than scientific:
APPLEBAUM: ...even trained mental health professionals, when they form judgments about people, those judgments are influenced by their pre-existing biases, including their political biases. And I would actually be quite surprised to know how many mental health professionals, who are lifelong Republicans, have been among those speaking out with concern about Trump. And how many lifelong Democrats have been expressing concern about Hillary Clinton's mental state. I think we're too easily influenced by our political judgments here.