Hara Estroff Marano


A Political Prescription for Donald Trump's Brain

A PAC and two bills take aim at the Trump presidency.

Posted Oct 18, 2017

a katz/Shutterstock
Source: a katz/Shutterstock

In January, a few thousand mental health professionals, led by John Gartner, organized a Facebook petition warning that Donald Trump is psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States. By April, the group, Duty to Warn, at a conference at Yale, agreed that the issue no longer was whether Trump is mentally ill but whether he’s dangerous. This week, Duty to Warn, now 63,000 signatories strong, not only broadcast that message in a wildly successful book—The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by Bandy X. Lee, M.D., debuted near the top of The New York Times best-seller list—but became a political action committee (PAC).

“Riding a tidal wave” of public terror of Trump’s mental instability, the group, says Gartner, a psychologist based in Baltimore and New York, has two immediate goals. The first is to “get the nuclear gun out of Trump’s hands,” by backing H.R. 669, sponsored by Representative Ted Lieu of California, which would prohibit a nuclear strike against an enemy unless Congress first declared war.

The second is to find and win over the 19 Republicans needed for passage of the bill. That, Gartner adds, will enable his group to perfect a program for flipping the 24 seats needed to end Republican control of Congress in 2018 so that Trump can either be reined in or impeached.

The group took its first political step Saturday in a town hall symposium that was held in Washington, D.C., and replicated in 14 cities around the country. It presented a donation to the re-election fund of Jamie Raskin, a professor of constitutional law who is a freshman Representative from Maryland.

Raskin is the sponsor of a bill that seeks to operationalize Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which gives power to the vice president to remove the president if they believe he cannot “discharge the powers and duties” of the office. Raskin’s bill would create an 11-member bipartisan Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity to medically examine the president—any president—and evaluate his mental and physical faculties.

"The majority of the country now knows that Donald Trump is unfit and they’re terrified,” says Gartner. “We have to drive them to the polls.” He envisions mobilizing campaigns of letter-writing to legislators by constituents and—borrowing the view put forth by political psychologist Drew Westen that targeting the limbic system drives people to the polls—airing videos that “fear monger with the truth.” “Instead of scaring people about killer immigrants or sex rings in pizza parlors,” he aims to create videos for candidates that explain the peril posed by Trump’s mental state and “talk about ‘I’m going to keep your children alive.’”

But first comes the campaign for passage of H.R. 669. “That really is the most important thing,” says Gartner. “Even if Trump drives the country into a wall at 60 miles an hour, at least we’ll still have airbags; we’ll be able to walk away from the wreck.”


Dr. Bandy X. Lee, organizer of the Yale ethics conference and editor of the book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, notes that she "is meeting with Congress members at their request to consult and to educate on medical matters, not to advance a particular political action."  

The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation, by Drew Westen. Public Affairs, 2008.