Subscribe for 33¢ / day

I’ve not been shy in my criticism of President Trump’s candidacy or his first year in office. However, I draw the line at the public debate over his mental competence. Some were critical when I said on CNN on Saturday that I find it both unfair and unseemly.

Michael Smerconish

Michael Smerconish

Recently an increasing number feel emboldened to discuss the matter because Michael Wolff’s instant bestseller, “Fire and Fury,” quotes Steve Bannon as saying that Trump has “lost his stuff” and claims that every single person around the president questions his fitness.

Wolff’s words follow the recent release of a book by 27 mental health professionals who expressed their concerns about the president as evidenced by its title, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump.” This sort of thinking is not entirely new. Last week news broke that the book’s editor, Yale University psychiatry professor Bandy Lee, met on Capitol Hill in December with more than a dozen Democratic members of Congress who were concerned about Trump’s recent behavior.

I expect those drumbeats to grow louder this Friday when the president undergoes an annual physical at Walter Reed Medical Center. Still, even if Trump’s behavior is objectionable — and it often is — none of it is sufficient reason to change what has been the 40-year practice of not armchair diagnosing a president’s mental state.

In 1964, a magazine called FACT polled mental health professionals on presidential candidate Sen. Barry Goldwater’s mental fitness to serve as president.

The magazine published a cover story claiming that many found him unfit. After the election, Goldwater sued the editor for libel — and won. The entire ordeal engendered a debate in the mental health community and in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association adopted the “Goldwater rule,” which says:

“It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

Today some psychiatrists say this clause is a gag rule. They claim that they have seen enough of Trump from his public utterances and tweets to decide the state of his health. But such diagnosis is inexact and subjective.

I find it in poor taste and an invasion of privacy — a view I expressed when the subject was Hillary Clinton’s physical health after she appeared unsteady on Sept. 11, 2016, in the midst of the general election.

Abandoning the Goldwater rule would set a dangerous precedent that would allow professionals and lay people to judge others to be mentally ill. With this sort of analysis, why stop with elected officials? Why not speculate about police officers? Or journalists? Or a high school principal? In fact, why not open the floodgates about psychiatrists?

We might discourage some extraordinary people from seeking public office. If people used this approach historically, we would have missed the noble leadership of many fine public servants.

Long before any debate about Donald Trump, in 2011, Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, a Tufts University professor, published a book titled “A First Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness.” In the book, Ghaemi sums up his thesis thusly:

“The best crisis leaders are either mentally ill or mentally abnormal; the worst crisis leaders are mentally healthy.”

Ghaemai applied his expertise to the available medical records of noted leaders and asks a provocative question in his book:

“Why not just exclude the mentally ill from positions of power? As we’ve seen, such a stance would have deprived humanity of Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Kennedy. But there’s an even more fundamental reason not to restrict leadership roles to the mentally healthy: they make bad leaders in times of crisis just when we need good leadership most.”

By the way, Ghaemi does not entirely share my current opinion about Trump. He organized the meeting of the APA last year on the Goldwater rule and argued against it. “I think the problem with the rule is that it’s too absolute, not that it’s completely wrong but it goes too far.”

“On the other hand, absolute censorship doesn’t make sense either and that there are public behaviors and signs as well as documentary evidence like medical records that should allow for a legitimate psychiatric diagnosis to be made in public figures in some situations,” he said.

We both worry about the impact of further stigmatizing those with mental illness by making diagnosis a political football. Ghaemi makes a good point when he says that one of the problems of the Goldwater rule is that it actually enhances the stigma: “We should be willing to make psychiatric diagnoses in our leaders and thereby not necessarily disqualifying them, but maybe even qualifying them in some ways.”

If we as a society wish to impose a standard that any person seeking a particular office must first be evaluated by professionals to be physically and mentally competent, fine, let’s do that. But to arbitrarily impose a post hoc analysis after voters have seen such a person run a campaign is not right.

Winston Churchill, who Ghaemi noted overcame tremendous physical and mental maladies, got it right when he said, “Nothing so tests the character of an individual as the running of an election.”

To which I’d add, not only character, but mental health, too.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Michael Smerconish is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.


(40) comments


Trump was elected by: ne"er do goods, flunkies, old geezers, by and large where Viagra doesn"t work....
and billionaires, Wall Street and top 1% "s.
Pretty simple concept.


Ha, nice try johnnynotsmarti, the majority of white people voted for Trump, to include male college grads, a group you obviously are not part of, and white women. Not only that, but those that make over $50K per year voted for Trump, again another demographic you not included in.

But keep spouting those fantasies if it makes you feel better about voting for the Hildebeast.


tenring, HIllary won the popular vote from humans. Now there is a demographic you didn't mention. Trump won because of the electoral college. Now there is another demographic you didn't mention. Trump won the white uneducated males who belong to the KKK too. Another demographic. OH I could go on and on.


please continue on, kingman. maybe you'll swerve into some sort of point...


Again, Trump won the white male vote of both the college educated and non-college educated. The only "male" votes the Hildebeast won were from beta male libs such as yourself, kingman10.


If tenring was given her way, only rich white males would be allowed to vote.

Rick Czeczok

And yet he is and shall remain the president for three to seven more years. He beat what the democrats said was there best. What does that say?


I dunno, Rick. What DOES "He beat what the democrats said was there best" say?


re: oldhomey (liar) Jan 11, 2018 8:41pm
Pst? Are you, oh great wordsmith, pointing out a typo?

Or are you, too, wondering how Donald Trump defeated what the Democrats considered their best candidate - Hillary Clinton. A candidate who couldn't even beat Donald Trump! LOL



It's Psst, Hey(sob!)19, not Pst. It's "who" the Democrats considered, not "what". I see you are hiding behind the conceit that you are not openly favoring Trump, though you are using his signature (and completely false) slogan to sign off. I am pointing out faulty reasoning, but sometimes that goes hand in hand with bad usage of the language.


re: oldhomey (liar) Jan 12, 2018 9:34pm

pst? old dude? as i have proven, pst is perfectly acceptable as an alternative for psst. you'd realize that if you'd put down your outdated dictionary and see that merriam-webster says so. your hiney* is once again kicked, over 6-point word. too funny...

*variant spelling of heinie, as per mw...

pst? you can pull your elitist king's english on me all day, dude. but clinton will always be a "what" in my book. too funny, you are....

pst? i'm not hiding behind anything, dude. lol. anyone who has been reading these forums over the last year realizes i am open with my support of trump.

the MAGA, however, lets people who aren't familiar with my posts (and reminds people like you, who can't comprehend what I write) know exactly where i stand.


pst? old dude?

psst is worth 6 points, pst is worth 5 (there is only one letter S in pst...)

just thought you'd appreciate the clarification* and the little bonus math lesson for the day...

you can go back to your dick and jane reader now....

*clarification = C (3) + L (1) + A (1) + R (1) + I (1) + F (4) + I (1)+ C (3) + A (1) + T(1) + I (1) O (1) + N (1) = how many points, old dude?


Well, gosh, Hey(Sob!)19, who would imagine you would get so pst and defensive about being called on typos when you are the one who started it? I don't know what the copyright is on Webster's online dictionary. Perhaps they put up an old, out-dated version, but when you consult their online dictionary, it says:

[then shows its pronunciation as] /pst/
"exclamation: psst"

Now try this exclamation for awhile: Shh-hh

"used to attract someone's attention surreptitiously.
"Psst! Want to know a secret?"


re: oldhomey (pst? folks, he's a liar) Jan 13, 2018 5:40pm

Well, gosh, folks, oldhomey tries to turn the tables after I've been mocking him for doing what he's been doing all along - pointing out others' errors... Too funny, old dude. (I realize mockery is too sophisticated for you and goes over your head, but... lol)

pst... Do you want to know a secret? I don't need you to quote Chapter/Verse, dude; I'm well aware of what the various dictionaries (online and hardback) say regarding psst and pst, which is a perfectly acceptable alternative.

pst? Do you want to know another secret? Anyone who consults the link I provided (MW's online Scrabble dictionary - ) will see that I'm right, and you're wrong. As usual. You, of course, won't shhhhh up, though. Ha!

But hey, it was a tough choice - do I go with the all-knowing, pompous, omnipotent, King's English expert named oldhomey (liar)? Or do I go by what Messrs. Merriam and Webster say?

Sorry dude, but I gotta go with MW...


Mmm. I entered the link you suggested, Hey(boohoo!)19, and it doesn't seem clear to me that Merriam Webster is accepting pst as an acceptable spelling for psst. It provides a link to look up the full description of "pst". Clicking on that link, it says the only thing that can be made out of those three letters that has an acceptable meaning is PST, an abbreviation for Pacific Standard Time. Now perhaps you should consider the exclamation SHH-HHH more deeply.


re: oldhomey (liar) Jan 14, 2018 7:46pm
folks, oldhomey has been caught in yet another lie.
See for yourselves: )

Pst? Folks? Even when it is proven that he is lying, he can't take his own advice and SHH-HHH more deeply.

oldhomey 2020*
*He can't man up, put up, or shut up, folks. Especially when he's lying.


I indeed went to the link you provided for Merriam-Webster's Scrabble dictionary, Hey(burbbleburbble!)19, and this is what it said:

See the full definition of pst at »

When you look up Webster's full definition of pst, it says pst is the abbreviation for Pacific Standard Time, and does not mention that it is an interjection, like Psst.


re: oldhomey (liar) Jan 17, 2018 11:54pm
Folks, he's lying again! UNBELIEVABLE!

I have supplied that link at least six times - twice in this thread, and at least four times in the Barnhill column on global warming. I've pointed out that oldhomey is lying about actually opening it up, too, because if he did, he'd see I was right, and he is lying.

pst? Oldhomey? Cut and paste the link you opened, dude. Put it up, or shut up, liar.


Another Russian fake news bot, hung up by the rules of English grammar.


Re: Cassandra, Jan 19, 2018 4:06pm

It's not about me being hung up on the rules of English grammar. It's about the FACT that oldhomey has, yet again, been caught lying. It's been proven in this thread and others.

Pst? But hey, Cassandra, thanks for ignorantly weighing in without knowing the backstory about oldhomey's continuous lies about the interjection pst...


You ignorantly weighed in and assumed I was responding to your childish nonsense. The comment was directed at the Russian bot Rick czerczczczkckzkx.


Actually, I agree with the column. Mental health professionals should not weigh in with their professional opinions unless they have actually sat down with and examined the person they are publicly labeling as mentally ill. On the other hand, the rest of the world is free to comment on Trump's bizarre behavior, even to call him crazy as a loon. It seems obvious that he is, but our own opinions are just that -- opinions that may have solid reasoning and evidence to weight them as serious judgements, but they have no legal weight to them.


I remember when professional mental health people were righting articles in the papers during the watergate mess. They were guessing about Nixon and his state of mind because of the strange ways he was acting back then. Turned out they were right on. There was no Goldwater rule back then, in fact this is the first time I ever heard of that rule. You don't have to be much of a professional in the mental health field to read in to the mind of this president. I am thinking you could take the very same articles written way back about Nixon and substitute Trump name in them, and you would be spot on. Sadly history keeps repeating itself.


I seen Trumps mental impairments right off, like most of you, I could see what the diagnosis was immediately. What I can’t quite figure out is how someone so mentally deficient could beat Hillary Clinton. What a putative she must have been.


I "seen" you asked what a putative she must have been. What does it mean to be a putative?


So, new2, as a retired crack HR man for a Fortune 300 company whose top brass SO valued your esteemed knowledge and input that you had to do little actual work because you had "people" to write your memos and reports, putting your confused thoughts in order and translating your hopeless narratives into understandable English. You, sir, that person, "seen" Trumps (sic) mental impairments? Are you sure you weren't go-fer in the shipping department, or perhaps a forklift driver who wasn't very good at the job but your uncle was vice president for personnel? Let me, however, assure you that most of the country, including Trump himself, are still trying to figure out how someone as mentally deficient as he is could beat Hillary Clinton. And, since you use "putative" as a noun, perhaps you could explain what a putative is?


gawd new2 gets to make up new words now, just like his dear leader. So I'll help him out on this one. Putative can be used as a noun or verb, describing or being in a state of brilliance, or a genius, and a very stable genius at that!


Well, Rick, I would agree with you that kingman hasn't used his dumb yet, either, compared to the dumb you have been exhibiting the past couple of days.

Rick Czeczok

As was once said of comments, and people like you who make those comments;
You sir have dumb you haven't begun to use.


well rick what ever your name is, I would like to respond to your post but I'm trying understand what you wrote. So I guess I'll have to start using my dumb so I can understand it. Gosh I hate sinking to that level, perhaps you could stop using your dumb.


That’s the value of these people in a very large organization, their skills in organizing, translating confused thoughts, most, if not all use of their skills. I’m sure I could do the coffee thing but a forklift driver, maybe not. I see most Trump supporters now see why they supported him and you see it as well. Got to check on the market, what another record.


new2's joy over the current market bubble (which has little to do with the relative strength of the economy) is akin to Buggs Raplin looking out his back window to see the state of the world climate.


Did I mention his compulsive lying? He lies even when there is no need. Cray-cray fo' sure!!


Centuries ago human knew when another human was mentally touched. It was visible in looks and actions. People understood there was something wrong. Later in history new psychology - Jung, Freud et al pointed out that not all defects are so visible. Of course this threw a bit of confusion in the mix. However, the "new" fields of study aren't even needed to see trump as he is. His hair, his gestures among other things proclaim his madness. Then you can go to his immaturity, arrogance, his inability to withstand criticism. A compulsive twitter habit, womanizing, just name the flaw. He is mad as a hatter and we all know it.


Absolutely brilliant column filed with irrefutable observation.


Never forgot the 10 year background check to get hired at Home Depot,not to mention, the subsequent "personality" test,honesty test, situation exam and 6 week waiting period, prior to hire.
It"s easier to become president, by a racketteer, I reckon.


If you are seeking public office, especially state or national public office you should expect people are going to speculate about your mental fitness and ability to lead. Every president, from Washington to the present has gone through this, it should not be of any surprise. If Trump can't handle criticism, and its apparent he cannot, then he should of not run for the office. It comes with the territory. Nobody is perfect, and the term "mentally healthy" can mean a thousand different things. If a leader cannot conduct themselves in a civil and professional manner, and makes outrageous statements, then they should expect blow back. If they can't handle the heat, get out of the kitchen! thank you Truman.


Anyone with 1/2 of a brain knows tRump is mentally unfit to be POTUS. The GOP knew it prior to the election but most decided to run with it, to just use him as a tool. Most of our allies , maybe I should say former allies, have also questioned his mental capacity and fitness. There are hundreds of variables involving mental health, a broad description of one's ability or behaviour to function in various capacities. Some individuals may have a minor affliction of varying degrees, others may pose a danger to themselves and/or others. tRump displays openly, as a narcissistic sociopath, a compulsive liar, lacks empathy or humility, poses a danger to the world and US with his irresponsible Tweets on North Korea, other hot button issues, like a school yard bully. Due to his wealth, he has never been held accountable for his sexual perversions, abuse of financial and tax laws, greed and lust for power, the list is too long to cite here. A man with no high intellect or moral compass that is endorsed by the religious right? I'd say this country is in the midst of a nervous breakdown. tRump is a plague on our country, the world, and humanity. The 25th Amendment, Section 4, states the obvious and what must be done. Review it here, if you need a refresher course:


You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Look and listen to the man: he's a lout. Sane or insane doesn't matter, unless you are prepping an article 25. For the rest of us who are not besotted by AM radio hucksters, we can what he is.


A hearty AMEN, Clari.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe or log in to continue.