Amy Wilentz is a long-time contributing editor at The Nation and the former Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker. She’s best known for her award-winning books on Haiti, most recently Farewell, Fred Voodoo. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jon Wiener: Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee got the punditocracy going a couple of weeks ago by comparing the White House to an adult day-care center, and, after some particularly crazy tweets from Trump, commenting, “Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” Since then, we’ve seen news reports quoting people close to the president saying in private that he is “unstable,” “losing a step,” and “unraveling.” Now we have a new book where psychiatrists express their professional judgments about The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump—that’s the book’s title; it’s edited by Bandy Lee and it has spent three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list since debuting at number four. What exactly is this book?
Amy Wilentz: It’s a collection of essays by 27 well-known psychiatrists and mental-health specialists looking at Trump’s behavior during the campaign, before the campaign, and, now, since he’s been president. Obviously, he’s not their patient, so they haven’t been in therapy sessions with him. They do know about his background and his family. In the first section they try to assess his mental health. In the second they take up the question, Should psychiatrists be talking about Trump when he is not their patient? Is that an ethical violation, or do they have a duty to warn the public? The last section asks what’s wrong with us that we elected this man President.
JW: The question of Trump’s mental state is relevant because of the 25th Amendment, the other way a president can be removed from office. It says that, if a majority of the cabinet, or of some other body created by Congress, determines that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,” he can be removed and replaced by the vice -president. The psychiatrists here argue that they have a professional responsibility to tell us about Trump—and that they are qualified because they are professionals. It’s their job to recognize craziness.
AW: The second section disturbs me most. Can they really diagnose him? Although I found all the essays about his diagnosis very interesting, they’re not that far from what we already thought—for example, from what the Los Times wrote five months after he took office, when they said he was unfit to be president: hedonistic, lost in the present moment, incurious, and narcissistic. One of the essays says he is the most dangerous man in the world today. I think that’s true. But do we really need a psychiatrist to tell us that?