Ellis: The Mental State of the Union

President Donald Trump's mental fitness does not disqualify him from office.

by Simon Ellis | 1/18/18 1:00am

President Donald Trump’s mental fitness has come into question more than once. With his “bigly” vocabulary and “stable genius” behind the trigger of Twitter 24/7, individuals skeptical of the president feel that they have ample evidence to raise concerns. While many of my peers and I disapprove of the president’s actions and demeanor, is mental illness a just reason to remove Trump from office? The careless imprecision and accusatory tone we use surrounding the president’s supposed mental illness is frightening and further excludes those with mental illness from “normal society.” While one may not agree with or even disdain Trump, the reason for that opposition should not be his mental fitness.

Considering the president’s unusual behavior, inconsistent policy directions and inflammatory statements, it’s no surprise that citizens and politicians have questioned his mental fitness. From misogynistic statements degrading women, racist allusions and most recently his comments on Africa and Haiti, Trump’s remarks have been unacceptable and disgusting. In questioning his statements and actions, some opponents of the president seek to invoke the fourth paragraph of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution as a vehicle for impeachment. This amendment allows for the vice president and a majority of the president’s cabinet to remove the president when he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

While many medical professionals have not given a specific diagnosis to confirm any supposed mental illness, one need not look much further than the president’s own outlet — Twitter — for an extensive discussion. A quick search reveals thousands of tweets accusing Trump of having dementia, bipolar disorder, psychosis and a host of other conditions. While discussing the mental or physical fitness of our president is not forbidden, and is in fact encouraged by the existence of the 25th Amendment, the candor we are going about it with Trump is different. In looking for another reason to dislike him or to impeach him we have come across a false and toxic conclusion: mental disability.

To say that someone should not serve as president due to a mental illness is not only derogatory toward individuals who are actually diagnosed with mental illnesses, it creates and further perpetuates a notion that those individuals are not good enough; that those with bipolar disorder, psychosis and even depression could never reach the highest office. Our carelessness and glee in labeling Trump with a mental illness is a sad excuse to get him out of office. Moreover, it is one that comes at the cost of “othering” and excluding mentally disabled individuals. We need to separate our feelings of anger and frustration with the president from our conceptions of mental illness or risk backtracking on the social and cultural reality surrounding this issue.

Several former U.S presidents have been speculated to have had mental illnesses. In a 2006 study by Duke University, researchers suggested that as many as 18 of the first 37 U.S. presidents could have suffered from a psychiatric disorder. So Trump would certainly not be the first and likely not the last either. Oprah Winfrey, who some would like to see run for president in 2020, has discussed her depression at length, a fact that has not once brought into question her mental fitness to lead the nation. When choosing future leaders, we must be conscious of whether we are simply considering their overall mental fitness in making our decisions or whether we are instead being exclusionary and judgmental.

If you are looking for a reason to impeach the president, look to potential obstruction of justice or the rarely mentioned emoluments clause, which forbids government officials from receiving gifts from other countries. Trump may be crude, impulsive and easily dislikable, but the vast majority of us lack the medical qualifications to diagnose his mental fitness and cannot reasonably use vague suppositions to argue for his impeachment. In blurring the lines between criticism of the president’s behavior and allegations about his mental fitness, Trump’s opponents risk becoming as alienating and intolerant as the president himself. More importantly, they risk being hurtful and exclusive toward those struggling with real conditions who make a genuine effort to function as equal members of society despite the obstacles they face.