Should we criticize Trump if we think he is deranged?

Just recently, after the fiasco of the first presidential debate, I got an email from an old friend of mine whom I had not heard from in years. In it, he gently chided me for ‘Trump bashing’ (his words). It is not that he is a Trump supporter. His reason is different and because it was so thoughtful and raised an important question, I am bringing it up here for discussion.

My friend wrote:

I don’t think that all the Trump bashing is warranted. It’s pretty obvious that he has a mental disorder. It’s not fair nor reasonable to have a go at the behavior of a person whose behaviour is due to a mental condition. Will anyone criticize the behaviour of a person who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia or even a person who is bipolar?

I am no psychiatrist but I think Trump suffers from a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

I replied as follows:

As for Trump, there is so much to say. It would take a whole platoon of psychoanalysts to diagnose all his pathologies. Narcissistic Personality Disorder comes up a lot in discussions but I suspect that there are more. What is clear is that he is dishonest in multiple ways and a sociopath.

As to whether criticizing him harshly (which is what I think you mean by bashing) is warranted, the answer would be no if he were a private citizen. Of course we would not criticize a private individual who has Alzheimers or other forms of dementia. But Trump is the president of the US and has caused great harm to many people and is in a position to cause even more harm. Hence he must be criticized  There is a provision in the constitution for the cabinet to remove a president they think is unfit to serve but they are not only not using that provision to remove him, they are actively enabling his pathological behavior. If he were to resign and get psychiatric help, that would be a different matter. But until then, I will continue to criticize him harshly because he is dangerous and deserves it. What do you suggest should be done instead? 

I then got the following reply.

I don’t understand your logic. In my humble opinion a sick person is a sick person, no matter their station in life. What should be done instead is to emphasize that he is sick and as such not in control of his behaviour. Get eminent psychiatrists to give their opinion. If these guys diagnose him with NPD or schizophrenia, then it’s pretty obvious that he is not fit to be the President of the USA. If his Cabinet will not perform their Constitutional obligations by deeming him unfit, the voters can do so in the upcoming elections.

The point I wish to make is, it does not make any sense bashing a NPD, schizophrenic or other deranged person for behaviour that he cannot control.

Of course, there are eminent psychiatrists who have said that Trump suffers from psychological impairment.

A Yale psychiatrist who has repeatedly raised questions about President Trump’s mental health argued that Tuesday’s debate against Joe Biden should never have been allowed to go forward.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and the president of the World Mental Health Coalition, said in an interview with Salon that Trump lacked the basic “mental health” to participate in a presidential debate.

What we see is a “bulldozing effect” of mental pathology. The drive for psychic survival ingeniously senses what it needs to get ahead, through illegitimate means. This primitive and destructive force is a form of disorder that has no place in politics.

My friend does make a good point, though. If someone were a private citizen, then we should not publicly attack them if they are suffering from some mental issue that causes them to act erratically. But at what station in life does their behavior become fair game for harsh criticism? Even if they are a public person, say a celebrity of some sort, if they are not in a position of power over others, we should also refrain from criticizing. But Trump is in a different category. As long Trump remains in office and continues to do great damage, my feeling is that criticizing his actions harshly is justifiable even if I think he is not quite all there.

But the point is debatable and I am curious as to what this blog’s readers think about where and if one should draw the line.


  1. Chris J says

    So, the way I see it, it’s never good to bash mental illness in anyone. There’s always a splash effect of harming everyone with that mental illness.

    That being said, it should always be good to bash the harmful things a person does. If we have a formal diagnosis of a mental illness that might lead someone to do harmful things, we can maybe be sympathetic and advocate for them getting help. But none of that should be an excuse to not continue to point out those harmful acts. The difference between Trump and a private citizen, in my mind, isn’t that he’s a public citizen, but that his harmful actions cause way more harm than any private citizen could manage. If a private citizen were causing great harm in their personal lives, people who know them should be able to criticize that harmful behavior (again with sympathy if there’s a formal diagnosis).

    One difference is that a private citizen can’t really become less “private citizen” as a result of criticism. Trump can be removed from the presidency, though, at which point his capacity for harm would be decreased and continuing to bash him his actions would be less warranted due to the harm he can cause becoming less severe.

    That’s my take anyway.

  2. johnson catman says

    I agree with your assessment. He seems obviously deranged. He has done harm, continues to do harm, and will continue to harm the country every day he is in office. When there is a decision to be made, he almost invariably makes the worst possible choice. I really fear what he will do in the lame duck period if he does indeed lose the election, even if, or especially if, the result is overwhelmingly in Biden’s favor. I have no doubt that he would burn the world in nuclear fire if cornered and given the chance to push the button. The fact that NO ONE will rise up and use the 25th amendment to challenge him is reason enough to criticize him mercilessly and to criticize those who continue to enable him. The problem is that unless he is involuntarily committed to a mental facility, he will NEVER agree to admit himself because he would never think he has done anything wrong.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    It would help if your friend was less bloody vague. What specific instances or types of “bashing” are they referring to?

    The only arguably gratuitous criticisms I’ve seen have to do with Trump’s appearance.

  4. Sam N says

    Your friend is one hell of a concern troll.

    The mentally ill that deserve special consideration are the ones that acknowledge they are mentally ill and/or have had their freedoms abrogated to account for the societal impact of their mental illness.

    You don’t watch some schizophrenic start murdering people, and stand back, and say, whoa whoa. Now let’s not criticize. They’re clearly schizophrenic. So we’ll wait around until the problem goes away on its own.

    Your friend is an idiot. You do what you can when someone, sane or not, in power decides to do harm.

  5. raven says

    In my humble opinion a sick person is a sick person, no matter their station in life.

    That is true but ignores a critical point.
    We have the right and obligation to defend ourselves from destructive people who threaten us!!!

    It doesn’t matter whether they are sick or not.
    Being mentally ill is one thing, destroying us and our society is another thing entirely.

  6. raven says

    Being mentally ill is one thing, destroying us and our society is another thing entirely.

    This is commonly recognized by our society.

    People who are mentally ill sometimes commit crimes up to and including murder.
    In my state, they are convicted anyway, guilty but insane.
    We still lock them up for our own protection (and sometimes theirs), just not in a prison but in a secure psychiatric facility.

  7. Bruce says

    When my dad was 89, he almost crashed his car into cars at an intersection. We persuaded him to donate his car and stop driving. When someone is a danger to themselves and the community, it is irresponsible NOT to act. In three weeks, it will be too late. If Ivanka and Don Jr were to speak up to protect their dad by withdrawing, this would not be an issue. Your friend is misapplying private acts to public issues. Does your friend know he is advocating crashing the national car into traffic? Is he asking for intervention on his own attack in America? “Just asking out of love.”

  8. kestrel says

    I see a bit of a disconnect here. If one says in public, “The president has a mental disorder” one is immediately told that only a doctor can make that determination and that someone in the general public does not have the expertise to do so. Yet your friend is saying “The president has a mental disorder”. I mean, I actually agree with him, I just think it’s odd no one has brought up this point yet.

    Anyway. I personally have not seen anyone criticize Trump for having a mental disorder, I’ve seen them criticizing what he **does**. His actions, in other words. Killing people is still bad, and something we should criticize, even if the person who did the killing has a mental disorder. Now, just criticizing someone for having a mental disorder -- wow, no, that is not cool in any way, shape or form. The person clearly needs help, and we as a society should try to provide that help if we can.

  9. says


    Regardless to what pathologies our president may suffer from—and since I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the Interwebs I’ll defer to those that are on any diagnosis—those challenges are not bugs, but rather features, to those who have grown even marginally more wealthy since he took office. We have only to list the Republicans who have NOT flocked to the Trump ban to see how well he is working for them. Even if he is voted out in November, the Republicans will come out as winners for the next couple of decades as a result of their transformation of the federal judiciary.

  10. says

    Not being trained in the area of mental health, I really don’t know if Trump has a bona fide mental illness or not. I’ve certainly read commentary by those in the field who claim that he does, but that’s been a diagnosis at arm’s length. It may be, quite simply, that Trump is just what we used to call “a gold-plated asshole”. Is that a mental condition? Perhaps, but whether it is or not misses the larger point; namely that he is the head of the country and literally hundreds of millions of lives are at stake (not to mention ripple effects to other countries). It is in no way a problem to criticize the things he says or the policies he promotes. That’s entirely different from making fun of (or criticizing) a person because they have a mental or physical condition. You critique the idea, not the person. That’s one of the problems with modern politics in the US, it’s all ‘cult of personality’ BS. The sides attack the person and we never talk about policy. Thus, politics degrades to a form of armchair spectator sport.

  11. KG says

    I think Trump suffers from a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

    It’s not the person with NPD who suffers from it, it’s those they deceive, gaslight and exploit. In Trump’s case, that means everyone except his cronies and the very rich.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    What does your friend say about Trump’s explicitly ableist (and demonstrably untrue) Biden-bashing?

  13. Shanti says

    Trump has always been in the public eye even before he became President so how come the American people did not see that he has a mental problem and voted him as President?
    For Americans it seems like Hobson’s choice as in my opinion both candidates are unsuitable for the job.

  14. says

    If he was standing on the corner yelling at bats under the streetlight, he’d be pitiful. But he is actively malicious, which makes him a threat and unworthy of pity. If he leaves the whitehouse and winds up in a sanitarium I’ll feel bad for him if he winds up living under a bridge because of his prior condition.

    I’d ask your friend if he pities poor Hitler for being a meth-head with a medical condition of paranoid psychosis?

  15. Deepak Shetty says

    My opinion is
    a. Far too much time is spent on Trump as opposed to the things that have actually got us here . In no particular order, people who voted trump, Facebook, Fox news, the Republican party etc.
    b. The jury is still out on whether he has a genuine disorder so the arm chair medical professionals should cease their hypothesis. We would not tolerate this with other people. In many cases Trump does seem aware of what he is doing -- he just doesnt care about the consequences as long as he benefits. Thats not the same as someone with mental issues.
    c. The damage being caused far outweighs any moral imperative to not criticise a mentally ill person, even were it true

    NPD, schizophrenic or other deranged person for behaviour that he cannot control.

    Im surprised that you as a free will incompatibilist does not have a rejoinder for the above. Something along the lines of All of my criticisms are for behaviors that people don’t control! Why should mentally ill be any different?_ /s

  16. John Morales says

    kestrel beat me to it, but I shall be even more direct.

    “I don’t think that all the Trump bashing is warranted. It’s pretty obvious that he has a mental disorder. […] I am no psychiatrist but I think Trump suffers from a form of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

    Way to not bash Trump: just call him deranged, instead.


  17. Ridana says

    If Bunko is “suffering” from anything it’s affluenza. He’s been like this almost his entire life and he’s never had to face any consequences for his actions. He was taught to be this way, encouraged to be this way, enabled to be this way. He’s lazy, avoided learning how to read, or think beyond transactionalism, and vindictive. He’s been told he’s the son who matters, and he believes it. This is not a mental disorder. It’s a despicable farce of a human being. The only thing that will change my mind on this is if an autopsy shows he’s had worms eating into his brain for 60 years. Maybe then I’ll cut him some slack.

  18. DrVanNostrand says

    I’m deeply skeptical about all of this armchair diagnosis of mental illness. The vast majority of mental health experts I’ve read say that this kind of diagnosis is completely inappropriate. From an outside perspective, the difference between a garden variety selfish asshole and someone with a clinical case of “narcissism” or “psychopathy” is almost impossible to distinguish. And in the case of someone who is doing massive harm to the world, the difference doesn’t even matter. An alcoholic who drives drunk all the time is pitiable, but also a menace that has to be stopped. Trump is no different, and the only way to stop him is to bash him constantly and hope that people wake up to the fact that he’s incompetent (which is working, by the way). It’s likely that he’s committed a variety of crimes related to the way he’s run his businesses and “charities”. I’ll be happy to let him serve his time in a psychiatric institution if he can demonstrate legitimate mental incapacity. That’s the most compassion I can muster for his level of anti-social behavior.

  19. lanir says

    I feel like this is divided along different lines than have been presented. The truth is I don’t think any of us are really offended and lash out at Donald Trump over ideas he has and says just to himself and those closest to him. They might be concerning, yes. They might be ugly or wrong-headed or any number of negative qualities. But that’s generally not what anyone is criticizing him for. The vast majority of what I see isn’t really making fun of his haircut, for example. It’s disagreement with his actions while fulfilling the role of president.

    Trump himself deliberately courts this sort of criticism with his actions so we aren’t picking on him when we acknowledge that he’s done something awful to get his name in the press for another day. To put it another way, foregoing criticism he actively seeks would not be more respectful of him as a person. It would be ignoring his efforts. This is frankly one of his more effective political tools which is at least part of why he has depended upon it so much. It also feeds his need for constant attention. Having everyone talk about him, whether they criticism him or not, isn’t an unintended side effect of this. It’s the result he’s actively seeking.

  20. brucegee1962 says

    To escape from politics for a moment — Problica has an article about a judge who came down with Alzheimer’s and made several shockingly bad decisions before she announced she was retiring. You could send your friend the article and ask if it was “bashing” to point out her failings as they became apparent.

    And back to Trump — he was a ***hole long before he became president and before he began his decline. Remember the Central Park Five — a campaign he undertook while he was presumably still in control of his faculties? Just because someone starts losing their faculties doesn’t stop them from being a jerk.

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