Poster for #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump (2020), dir. Dan Partland (all images courtesy The 2050 Group)

For years now, professional psychologists and armchair pundits alike have been diagnosing Donald Trump with a variety of mental illnesses, all from afar. This has proven roughly as effective at stopping him as the Democrats’ impeachment efforts. Yet, such impotence has not impeded A Duty to Warn, an organization of mental health professionals who still seem to think they can make a difference by pointing out that Trump is anything but “a very stable genius.” Their crowning effort, the crowdfunded documentary #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump (yes, the hashtag is part of the title), is now available on VOD.

Here’s a wild idea: What if being a giant asshole isn’t a sign of mental illness? What if you can’t easily wave away all the troubling questions raised by Trump’s ascendancy with that label? What if all the shitty, glib discourse about Trump’s mental state actually functions less like attacks on him and more like attacks on people with confirmed mental illnesses? You know, people who aren’t in positions of considerable power, who are far more likely than Trump to be harmed by furthering the stigma around their conditions. (Adding literal insult to the injury of his administration cutting funding for mental healthcare.)

YouTube video

Does Donald Trump have some form of mental illness? Possibly. I, not being a professional psychologist and having never met the man, am not qualified to make a judgment there. One would think that others could abide by this very basic guideline, and yet now we have a whole-ass movie proving otherwise. #Unfit brings together a variety of experts and “experts” to attest to its “official” diagnosis of Trump as someone with malignant narcissism, and how this makes him unfit for the presidency. What precisely they would like to be done about this is unclear. Vote? That didn’t exactly work out so well the last time. As last-ditch efforts to sway public opinion before a presidential election go, this one actually manages to be even less persuasive or relevant than Michael Moore’s Trumpland (2016).

Curiously, most of the film isn’t even devoted to Trump’s mental health, but rather to reiterating all the terrible things he’s done over the course of his presidency, from separating and caging immigrant families to attacking the press. I suppose this might be useful if you’ve been completely ignoring the news for the past five years, or if for some reason you want a few solid hits of rage-nostalgia. This could be a side effect of the documentary making the mental health element a hook when it’s really just generic anti-Trump agitprop. Or the point may in fact be to pathologize Trump’s destructive policies, while ignoring the fact that they’re the natural result of the Republican Party’s evolution over the past few decades.

From #Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump

It’s astonishing how poorly this film constructs and positions its arguments. It denies that diagnosing Trump from afar violates the “Goldwater rule” of the American Psychiatric Association’s ethical guidelines by essentially saying “Nuh-uh, it doesn’t,” citing the “duty to warn” concept as justification. It tries to head off criticism around stigmatizing mental illness by claiming that other presidents have performed the job just fine with their own psychological issues, in the process again violating the Goldwater rule! (One talking head, John Gartner, has made it his whole thing to try to convince people that Bill Clinton has hypomania.) It furthers the aggravating conflation of politicians lying with the phenomenon of gaslighting.

Best (read: worst) of all, a sizable segment is devoted to an old golfing buddy of Trump’s discussing how he cheats at the game. This sequence is more in-depth and detailed than anything the film delves into about his racism, misogyny, or authoritarianism. Now, if I were of the same inclination as the makers of this #Unfit, I might hypothesize that this suggests they are more offended and disgusted by someone cheating at golf than they are by concentration camps, rape, or the restriction of civil liberties. It’s almost as if to them, decorum and tone matter more than actions. And it doesn’t seem to matter to them if they throw mentally ill people under the bus when calling Trump out.

#Unfit: The Psychology of Donald Trump is now available to stream.

Dan Schindel is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Brooklyn, and a former associate editor at Hyperallergic. His portfolio and links are here.

5 replies on “Donald Trump Is a Bad President. Let’s Leave Mental Illness Out of It.”

  1. I disagree completely. There are some indifferent, distracted and ambivalent voters that will be dissuaded from voting for Trump with this film. The base that follows him blindly suffer from epochal transitions that they cannot handle and perhaps one or two among them may wake up. Trump is not the only one who is ill. Social groups can also suffer from mass delusion. The ability of some politicians to manipulate the emotions for evil goals is the malaise of our time. Read Erich Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom” as he explains what happened to Germany under Hitler. Anything and everything must be done to avoid the destruction of the American democracy.

  2. Jonathan is right. Trump’s mental unfitness for the Presidency (or any position of authority over anyone, including his own family) needs to be called out. Because there are infinite variables, as for any individual diagnosis–physical or mental–there is no equivalence to any other individual with mental health problems. Identifying Trump’s underlying, and frankly dangerous mental condition, belongs to him alone and bears only on the insanity of allowing him to continue in the unique position of power and public trust that he occupies. He carries around the nuclear codes, for Christ’s sake!

  3. There is something to be said about giving energy to stigma that we’ve been trying to break for years, but mental illness is an important factor to acknowledge in this presidency. Not only is this something that possibly affects Trump himself and the policies that he has backed, but the sheer number of people who follow him blindly. As someone else commented, “Trump is not the only one who is ill.” We can’t just ignore the possibility of mental illness in our president just because it makes us feel uncomfy. It needs to be addressed and it needs to be addressed in the right way, which may be uncharted territory (I’m not sure).

  4. Dear Dan-

    I haven’t seen the film you are critiquing, I know nothing about that.
    I do know something about Mental Illness. I have had disabling mental illness since childhood.
    I want you to know: people who fight mental illness are not fragile.
    I am not afraid that articles, films, TV interviews, and books about Donald Trump’s mental illness will negatively effect me. I am glad when professionals and his relatives speak out about his mental illness.

    – Cintra

  5. I am no doctor. Just an ordinary person observing Trump know that something is wrong with him based on what he did and how he behave. One thing I am sure, the World cannot be worst off without him.

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