I have repeatedly objected to the dubious diagnosis offered freely by Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy Lee of President Trump, including recent statements that seemed to combine her political and professional views of the subject. As I discussed in a prior column on the demise of the Goldwater rule, these efforts to diagnose Trump from a distance raise highly disturbing ethical issues. Now Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz has reportedly complained to Yale University after Lee suggested that he, and Trump supporters, display a “shared psychosis” with the president. Dershowitz triggered commentary when, in defense of allegations that he had sex with underaged girls during his association with child molester Jeffrey Epstein, he insisted that he had a “perfect sex life.” (Dershowitz is being sued by a woman who said she was forced by Epstein to have sex with him. It is one of a number of lawsuits currently pending against Dershowitz who has always maintained his innocence). As shown in dozens of prior columns, I oppose efforts to get academics punished or fired at their institutions out of concern for free speech and academic freedom. However, I agree with Dershowitz that Lee’s weaponizing psychiatric evaluations in this political debate is inimical to her school and her profession.
This controversy began with a statement on January 2 by University of Minnesota Law Professor Richard Painter. Painter is the former chief White House ethics lawyer in George W. Bush administration and I have been critical of his views on professed crimes and impeachable offenses by Trump as unsupported and unreasonable. It is not surprising to find an alliance with Lee in such comments so, when Painter noted that Dershowitz sounded quite Trumpian in claiming that he has “a perfect, perfect sex Life.”
Just like @realDonaldTrump‘s “perfect phone call” ….https://www.thecut.com/2019/07/epstein-lawyer-alan-dershowitz-says-he-has-perfect-sex-life.html …Alan Dershowitz Insists He Has a ‘Perfect, Perfect’ Sex LifeThe former Epstein lawyer is being sued by a woman who says he forced her into sex.thecut.com4,1846:16 PM – Jan 2, 2020Twitter Ads info and privacy2,133 people are talking about this
That triggered Lee who promptly gave her signature shoot-from-the-hip psychiatric analysis:
“Alan Dershowitz’s employing the odd use of ‘perfect’—not even a synonym—might be dismissed as ordinary influence in most contexts. However, given the severity and spread of ‘shared psychosis’ among just about all of Donald Trump’s followers, a different scenario is more likely. There is even proof: his bravado toward his opponent with a question about his own sex life—in a way that is irrelevant to the actual lawsuit—shows the same grandiosity and delusional-level impunity . . . Also identical is the level of lack of empathy, of remorse, and of consideration of consequences (until some accountability comes from the outside—at which time he is likely to lash out equally).”
Dershowitz understandably objected to that outrageous and unprofessional analysis. He said that Lee was declaring “me as psychotic for defending Trump’s constitutional rights.” Dershowitz correctly points out that Lee’s “diagnosis” was based on his use of one of the most commonly words used in the English language:
“Publicly offering “professional opinions” or diagnoses in the absence of a psychiatric examination, is a violation of psychiatric ethics and the rules of the American Psychiatric Association,” he argued. “Dr. Lee has a history of such unethical conduct. She previously diagnosed President Trump as being psychotic. Now she is doubling down accusing me of having a ‘shared psychosis’ with President Trump, and having ‘wholly taken on Trump’s symptoms by contagion . . . She also believes that my use of the word ‘perfect’ — the same word used by Donald Trump in describing his phone call to the Ukrainian President — is evidence of a ‘shared’ psychosis. She does not mention that I used the word ‘perfect’ in the context of rebutting the false accusations against me and proclaiming, quite truthfully, that I have never had sex with any woman other than my wife, since the day I met Jeffrey Epstein . . . I used the word ‘perfect’ in reference to my fidelity during the period in which I was falsely accused, just as someone might say she had a ‘perfect’ attendance record. Moreover, Dr. Lee neglects to mention that the interview during which I used that word took place months before President Trump used it. I guess she believes he caught the contagion from me.”
That response was complete and unassailable in my view. That is where I would have left it rather than go to the school. I have disagreed with Dershowitz in the past about such responses (here and here and here). It is not that I disagree with his position in such disputes but the response itself can undermine free speech protections, particularly for academics who are speaking not in their classrooms but the public forum.