The pro-Trump mob attack on the Capitol Wednesday has exposed the danger that Donald Trump’s presidency holds for our country. It is no longer possible to ascribe his behavior to puckish idiosyncrasy or creative disruption: He is clearly mentally unbalanced and unable to grapple with a reality that threatens his inflated and fragile ego.
As we stated in our 2017 book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President,” and have argued since, Trump’s emotional problems would not be our concern if he were a private citizen. But as president, his unfitness and dangerousness have constituted an existential threat to the nation and has compelled us as mental health professionals to alert the public.
We all recognize that the president’s primary responsibility is to uphold the Constitution and protect the country. Trump not only unequivocally failed to meet this responsibility, but he also actively fomented insurrection among his angry supporters Wednesday.
This behavior is the unmistakable outgrowth of his self-absorption, impulsivity, need for vengeance, and total lack of empathy for those who differ from or oppose him. None of his recent actions are a surprise. His unscrupulous pressuring of the secretary of state of Georgia to “find” enough votes to overturn the election is a virtual duplication of his call to the president of Ukraine that led to his impeachment. His promulgation of lies about the election is reminiscent of his instructing former White House counsel Don McGahn to lie, as exposed in the Mueller report. His exhortation of the crowd of agitated soon-to-be insurrectionists to go to the Capitol and “be strong” in confronting opposing congressmen echoes his invitation to violence at his campaign rallies.
The difference now is that Trump’s unhinged provocations are taken as empowering justification by thousands of his blindly obedient followers, who have taken on his deluded beliefs and translated his deranged wishes and impulses into concrete assaults on legislators, the revered halls of Congress, and democracy itself.
Trump has asserted his false beliefs with great conviction. In fact, one of his advisers reportedly told CNN’s Jim Acosta, “Trump is out of his mind; it’s impossible to talk to him about anything other than the ‘stolen election.’” Apparently, officials have been dealing with Vice President Mike Pence; it was Pence, not the president, who reportedly called out the National Guard on Wednesday.
Trump’s dangerousness arises from his disordered psychology. He asserts his false beliefs with rigid conviction. He cannot be mollified, and insufficient restraint will only inflame him. His continued provocation will invite mayhem in our streets and state capitals, especially as right-wing media continue to amplify his lies.
Trump needs to be removed or insulated from the powers of the presidency. While the 25th Amendment would be appropriate, its practical weaknesses have also been exposed. We have no way of knowing if an informal circle of advisers with sufficient influence and control exists within the White House or if they even recognize the need or have the will to contain the president. Indeed, as more aides desert him, his accelerating isolation will only increase his desperation.
The remaining days of his presidency mark a period of extreme danger for our country: A man who is obviously unable to parse reality and is prone to impulsive action out of “injured pride,” as Senator Mitt Romney of Utah stated, remains the most powerful person in our land.
While we have learned a great deal about the inadequacies of our guardrails against demagoguery and lawless malignancy in our chief executive, we are exposed to all the dangers that circumstance implies for the next couple of weeks. Facing this crisis squarely will require more honest recognition of this danger and courage to address it than our politicians have shown so far.
Blood has already been shed, and our Capitol has been overrun and desecrated. The urgency of the moment, rooted in Trump’s impairment, require his removal from office for the safety of the country and its capacity to continue as a functioning democracy.
Dr. Leonard L. Glass is associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a senior attending psychiatrist at McLean Hospital. Edwin B. Fisher is a clinical psychologist at the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Dr. Bandy X. Lee is a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.”