Trump, the 25th Amendment and The Demise of “The Goldwater Rule”

Barry_Goldwater_photo1962donald_trump_president-elect_portrait_croppedBelow is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the effort to remove President Donald Trump through Section 4 of the 25th Amendment.  I ran a column a couple days ago in the Washington on the constitutional and procedural issues of a 25th Amendment attempt.  This column looks at the medical and historical aspects of the controversy.  The effort appears to have picked up steam this week with reports of Democrats reaching out to psychologists — just as they did against Barry Goldwater.  The demise of the “Goldwater Rule” is a dangerous development.  I have no more idea of Trump’s mental state than I do other leaders.  What I do know is that claims of narcissism or other conditions are unfounded absent an evaluation and far more serious evidence of mental illness to justify a 25th Amendment effort.

Here is the column:

After years of quiet existence, the 25th Amendment is suddenly all the rage. In many ways, it is not surprising. The 25th Amendment would seem like an ideal fit in our age of rage. Rather than find the still elusive “high crimes and misdemeanors” against President Trump for impeachment, many demand that he simply be declared as mentally ill and thus unfit to hold office. This growing “25 and over” club has rallied around the amendment as a way to prematurely bring an end to the Trump administration. However, this argument ignores not simply the language but the implications of such a removal. A declaration of Trump as unfit on these facts would set a dangerous precedent, not just in constitutional law, but areas like health care. Indeed, the failure of politicians and advocates to even acknowledge such implications of their 25th amendment campaign can only be described as mania itself.

160px-Mike_PenceAt the outset, it is important to note that the removal of Trump under Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is just about as likely as his election to the College of Cardinals. Such action would require the support of Vice President Mike Pence. Even if he were inclined to Trump’s “et tu Pencus” moment, Pence would have to be joined by a majority of the cabinet to just get the matter before Congress. If Trump objected, which would seem likely, Pence would have to secure a second declaration with the cabinet and then secure a two-thirds vote from not one but both houses. An alternative course using a congressional commission requires the same vote and the cooperation of Pence.

The concern is not that such an effort would succeed but that so many are willing to discard any ethical or constitutional concerns in pursuing a 25th Amendment removal. The use of alleged mental unfitness is a common avenue for attacking one’s opponents in authoritarian countries like Iran, Russia and China. It is also nothing new in the area of presidential politics. The most serious such abuse occurred in 1964 when Republican Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona ran against Lyndon Johnson.With the help of the media, Goldwater was portrayed as a war monger hell bent on nuclear war, a claim powerfully depicted in the “daisy countdown” commercial showing a child counting down to an atomic explosion with flower petals. Such commercials, however, were not enough for Fact Magazine, which decided to issue a special hit job on Goldwater. The magazine sent out 12,356 letters to psychiatrists asking if they thought Goldwater was mentally ill. Only 2,417 responded, but a majority of those responding stated categorically that Goldwater was unfit due to mental illness, a manifestly unethical conclusion reached without evaluating Goldwater personally.


Goldwater was diagnosed as a “megalomaniac,” paranoid,” “grossly psychotic,” and, in what is now being raised against Trump, someone suffering from “narcissistic personality disorder.” Some doctors reached incredible insights into a man who they never spoke to, including one who said that “inwardly a frightened person who sees himself as weak and threatened by strong virile power around him.” That is all the magazine needed to proclaim across the front page, “Fact: 1,189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!” Goldwater lost by a landslide, despite the fact that there is no evidence that he actually suffered from such mental illness. In response, the American Psychiatric Association adopted the “Goldwater Rule” to bar doctors from making such unethical diagnoses of individuals without evaluating them. It appears that ethics, like constitutional principles, are more often honored in the breach in both politics and psychology.

Faced with unpopular president, various mental health professionals have publicly declared Trump to be mentally unfit. One group, Duty to Warn, recently marched in Washington, D.C., to call for a 25th Amendment removal on the grounds that Trump “suffers from an incurable malignant narcissism that makes him incapable of carrying out his presidential duties and poses a danger to the nation.” Of course, if we actually removed narcissists from Washington, the empty streets and cafes would look like a scene from a 1950s post-apocalyptic movie. Narcissistic personality disorder is defined as “grandiosity, a lack of empathy for other people, and a need for admiration. People with this condition are frequently described as arrogant, self centered, manipulative and demanding.” Sound familiar? The question in Washington is not who fits that definition, but who does not.

220px-Abraham_LincolnThere is no evidence that Trump is mentally ill. However, if he did suffer from narcissism, it would pale in comparison to prior presidents, including some of our most celebrated. Various presidents suffered from depression and other mental ailments. Indeed, one study of the first 37 presidents found evidence that half of them exhibited signs of mental illness. Presidents like Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln exhibited symptoms of clinical depression. Dwight Eisenhower was formally diagnosed with depression. Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, the very president responsible for the Goldwater “countdown” ad, are viewed by some experts as bipolar. Calvin Coolidge could barely function after the death of his son and would have angry and unstable outbursts. Edith Wilson effectively took over the presidency for Woodrow Wilson.

440px-John_F._Kennedy,_White_House_photo_portrait,_looking_upJohn Kennedy not only suffered from severe physical ailments, but he took a cocktail of drugs that would have made Michael Jackson gasp. Prescribed by a doctor later known as “Dr. Feelgood” for his liberal dispensing of narcotics, Kennedy regularly took both uppers such as amphetamines and downers such as phenobarbital, as well as a mix of pain killers, sleeping pills, testosterone and cortisone shots. From John Tyler to Donald Trump, the critics have challenged the legitimacy of unpopular presidents to serve as a convenient alternative to elections. However, many of us had hoped that we had transcended such stereotypes of mental illness. The vast majority of mental illnesses are treatable, and people can have successful personal and professional lives under treatment.

Indeed, in O’Connor v. Davidson in 1977, the Supreme Court ordered the deinstitutionalization of thousands of citizens who were wrongly deemed incapable or unfit to live in society. For that reason, the American Disability Act generally prohibits discrimination against those who suffer from mental illnesses absent narrowly defined exceptions. Many of us in teaching have strived for years to assure students that they can be open about depression and other illnesses without fear of professional repercussions. Some of our most famous lawyers, judges, reporters and others have diagnosed mental illness. One in five people in the United States suffer from some form mental illness.

Even if Trump were a narcissist, it would not constitute the suggested prima facie case for removal under the 25th Amendment, which requires a showing that a president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” The standard is not whether he is discharging those powers well but whether he is capable of discharging them. None of this will quell the “25 and over” club in desperately seeking an end to the Trump administration. However, the increasing call for a Section 4 removal under the 25th Amendment is what these same pseudo-psychiatrists might call a collective “mood congruent delusion,” a condition reflecting the manic mood of critics drawn out by every new Trump tweet.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

157 thoughts on “Trump, the 25th Amendment and The Demise of “The Goldwater Rule””

  1. I believe the real mental illness is in those who think it is appropriate to oust the president using the 25th amendment. I think some call it Trump Derangement Syndrome.

  2. Obama was a sociopath who enjoyed golf right after beheading of an American by isis , if which he was the founder , in addition to be a clueless narcissist , no one raised 25th amendment then ? Clinton laughs about the rape of a minor and brutal murder of Qaddafi and she was not a sociopath but the “most qualified person to run for the presidency”?

  3. When the Goldwater family came into this country their name was Goldwasser. Kind of like Debbie Wasserman Schultz. A gold wasser is a person who cleans gold and sells it. Dis goldwasser was a haberdasher.

  4. Jay s, if the NRA why wouldn’t any special interest group have to go under analysis . The United Auto workers Union, the NEA, Acorn. Any of George Soros’s organizations. I wouldn’t want to leave anybody out.

  5. SIDEBAR –

    Mueller was FBI Director during the Obama/Clinton machinations, including Hillary’s pay-for-play, Comey’s non-investigation of Hillary, Uranium One and “unmasking” and “wiretapping” by The Obama Gang.

    The FBI should conduct a pre-dawn raid on, Special Counsel and Obama/Clinton co-conspirator, Robert Mueller’s house before sunrise, while he is still in bed with his wife, and ransack the entire premises in search of evidence of a crime; any crime.

    What did Mueller know and when did he know it?

    There’s a cancer growing on the “Swamp” and its malignancy has a putrid stench.

    1. George, the FBI counterintelligence division is extremely tight-lipped, highly independent and zealously protective of its intelligence assets–especially undercover informants. The head of the FBI’s criminal division didn’t find out about the Mikerin investigation until they were ready to indict Mikerin in 2014–four years after the sale of Uranium One to Rosatom. And even then the criminal division was given only enough information to secure a plea agreement with Mikerin in 2015.

      There may very well have been legitimate national-security reasons for the FBI’s counterintelligence division withholding even vital national-security information from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in 2010, four years before the conclusion of the Mikerin investigation. For instance, the counterintelligence division may have been deeply interested in discovering all it could about Russian money-laundering networks in Cyprus, Latvia, Switzerland and Seychelles.

      Besides, George, if the so-called deep-state is out to get Trump, then why would that same deep-state suddenly switch sides and help Trump lock Hillary up? To cover their own keisters? Sounds like desperation to me, George.

  6. Let’s face it. Being president is a high-pressure job. For all we know, presidents have already been seeing psychiatrists or psychoanalysts. There’s even a still funny movie about that called “The President’s Analyst,” which is also a 1960s culture time capsule:

    1. Ralph Adamo – The President’s Analyst with James Coburn is a cult classic. Very camp, very funny. Should be in everyone’s collection. 🙂 And makes so much sense today.

      1. Totally agree. The guy who created that, Ted Flicker, was certainly a creative force. In some ways, it was ahead of its time. Even though the “Telephone Company” plays a key role in the story and the phone booth is. of course, no longer part of the cultural landscape, the master scheme to implant a miniaturized telecommunications device in the brain doesn’t seem quite so far-fetched now.

        Just for the heck of it, here’s the hilarious scene with Pat Harrington and James Coburn:

  7. “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

    That one disagrees with the “discharges” he executes

    is not the same as he being unable to execute those “discharges.”

  8. “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists” Hannah Arendt…The origins of Totalitarianism…..1951.

  9. Simple rule to follow. If it stems from the left it’s suspect. From the far left it’s PCrap. From the extremist far left juist remember that Progressive is anotheer word for incremental socialist fascism. Do not forget RINOs are the right wing of the left.

  10. Let’s see, now. According to JT, the “problem” is we are living in the “age of rage” so that people who want get rid of the fat, mentally ill slob who is stinking up the White House are ignoring “ethical or constitutional concerns” that would result from removing him from office Also, this is just another hack job, like what occurred with Barry Goldwater, so it can’t be the case that The Donald is unfit for office. Just politics, as usual.

    No, JT, you are wrong. Whatever else Barry Goldwater was or wasn’t, he was not a chronic, habitual liar. On average, the fat slob has lied 5 times every single day since he took office. Goldwater was excessively hawkish to a degree that people found disturbing, but his beliefs were not the product of mental illness or personal aggrandizement. People disagreed with his beliefs, strongly sometimes, but no one ever said he was a malignant narcissist. Jon: there’s no “if” about it: Chump is a malignant narcissist, and people with this disorder are dangerous, because their entire lives are based on promoting themselves, looking powerful, pushing people around, getting their way, no empathy for anyone: all about me, me, me. They are driven by selfishness, ego, flattery, self-aggrandizement. They are the last ones who should have access to nuclear weapons because their need to appear to be “winning” takes precedence over anything else, and the usual boundaries that would stop someone from deploying a nuclear weapon aren’t there. He is quoted as saying: “we have nuclear weapons, why don’t we use them?” He doesn’t respect or follow the advice of people more knowledgeable, because in his mind, he is superior to everyone. Yesterday, he was extolling his education and alleged intelligence. Anyone who crosses him will get attacked. Every single day, Chump proves he doesn’t belong in the White House. This is not a case where someone makes a misstep, as every President has done. This is not a case where there are strong differences of opinion about the right course of action on an issue. This is a person who isn’t growing into the job, because he only wanted to be President for what he perceived as the power and prestige of the office. He can’t learn what is necessary to succeed, because he sees no need to. He’ll never develop a conscience or empathy because his mentally illness conflicts with these attributes. He’ll never stop lying or ever admit he’s wrong for the same reasons. Chump is not an honorable man. For all these reasons, he is not Presidential material. He is not someone children, or adults for that matter, can admire or look up to. He needs to go.

    1. guess he must be because um…he is indeed apparently a whole lot of people found him competent.cant remove him because you dont like him,doesnt work that way.accept and carry on.

      1. Jerry: do you have reading comprehension issues? No, I don’t like him, don’t approve of him and neither do the majority of this country, but that’s not why people want him removed from office–it’s his lack of morality, lack of temperament, lack of patriotism, lack of empathy, inability to lead, and constant need for attention to a degree that is pathological. He is dangerous, because he toys with unstable people, like Kim Jong Un. It’s the hurt and pain he’s caused to Gold Star families. Anyone serving in government should be patriotic, they should put the country first, ahead of their political party, and certainly ahead of their own ego. This, he cannot do.

        1. Natacha, do you realize all your assertions are merely your own opinion? It’s fine to have opinions, but you seem to believe that your own opinions are facts. They’re not.

          1. Well, FFS, I am far from alone. Even some Republican Senators agree publicly. Who knows what they believe privately. They’re hanging in there so that millionaires and billionaires can stick the middle class with their tax bill.

        2. Natacha – you are talking about the hurt and pain to Gold Star families. So far, it is only one, who had a Congresswoman who hates Trump in the car with her when the call came through. By the time the Congresswoman got done talking to her, she probably didn’t know which way was up.

          1. Paul,
            It takes a special form of idiocy to believe ANY President would call the grieving families of our veterans to cause them additional harm. Furthermore, for a member of congress to politicize a constituents grief is as contemptible as it gets.

            1. Olly,
              I think Natasha’s brand of idiocy is fairly common with narcissistic and megalomania overtones.
              Hey, this diagnosing without meeting the patient is fun. See, natacha’s good for something, especially proving her opposition’s point with her every syllable.

        3. Everything you wrote is objectively true and verifiable. However, conspiratorial wackjobs aren’t amenable to reason, logic, evidence, or facts. I’m afraid that in the drafting of your factual recitation of the buffoon’s inadequacies, you’ve lost time from your life which you can never get back. Crazy gonna do crazy, and won’t be persuaded otherwise. On the bright side, they are harmless here, though, and usually good for a chuckle. But, it’ll be quiet around here when the perp-walks resulting from the indictments begin; at least until Pravda Faux News issues the talking points to the zombies.

          This is to Natacha

          1. Markie Mark Mark – it is a long way from a grand jury indictment to a conviction. Ask O.J.

    2. “But no one ever said he was a malignant narcissist”.
      You may be correct, Natacha, that none of the 1189 psychiatrists who declared that Goldwater was mentally unfit to be president called him that.
      They just said things like “I believe that Goldwater has the same pathological make-up as Hitler, Castro, Stalin, and othe schizophrenic leaders”.

    3. Natacha, I think you’ve discovered an objective test for determining whether or not Trump is truly deranged.

      If Trump orders the use of nuclear weapons contrary to the best advise of our military and diplomatic officials, then Trump might very well have become truly deranged.

      If so, then I’m reasonably confident that our military leaders would refuse to obey such an order and resign in protest, one after another, until Section 4 of the 25th Amendment would have to be invoked.

      Of course, the extreme brinksmanship involved in that scenario would be . . . terrifying.

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