Donald Trump has drawn a lot of criticism for mocking people with disabilities on the campaign trail, but is it possible that his detractors are unwittingly doing the same thing?
A member of one of America's most revered political dynasties thinks that's exactly what many Trump critics are doing and wants to put an end to it. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy, makes the case that using words like 'crazy' and 'psychopath' to describe Donald Trump demeans those who actually suffer from diagnosable mental illness. He writes:
"Crazy” is never uttered with compassion. I have never heard it used in the context of trying to get someone the treatment they need. When that language is commonplace, it becomes that much harder for those experiencing mental illness to openly seek treatment that works. It discriminates, in subtle and overt ways, and extends its reach into schools, workplaces and the health-care system, where we still don’t provide routine mental health exams. When we use that word the way we have, we perpetuate the dangerous, “separate and unequal” treatment of these illnesses, and continue to pretend that the brain isn’t part of the body.
Spend 20 seconds searching on the internet machine and evidence of Kennedy's thesis abounds. Headline after headline, describes Donald Trump as 'crazy,' 'insane,' or 'unhinged,' and the valence of those terms is uniformly negative.
Kennedy's admonition comes less than one week after the American Psychiatric Association warned it's members not to make armchair diagnoses of political candidates. For over 50 years the APA has abided by what it calls "the Goldwater Rule," a prohibition against psychoanalyzing candidates from afar. The rule is named for a famous incident in which more than 2,000 psychiatrists responded to a magazine's survey questioning presidential candidate Barry Goldwater's mental health.
Prior to the APA's reminder, several esteemed medical professionals had already attempted to diagnose Trump through their television sets, including one lengthy analysis written for The Atlantic by a professor at Northwestern University.
Mental health stigma has long played a role in electoral politics, beyond just Trump and Goldwater. In 1972 Sargent Shriver replaced Thomas Eagleton as the vice-presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket after it was revealed that Eagleton had received electroshock therapy as a treatment for depression. Four years prior, Republican presidential primary candidate George Romney, father of Mitt Romney, sank his own candidacy when he suggested that his position on Vietnam was the result of "brainwashing."
Kennedy's op-ed emphasizes that he does not agree with Trump's political agenda and that he believes stopping Trump is a priority. "We can reject Trump without resorting to making baseless diagnoses of his mental health," he writes. "Calling people crazy doesn’t further that goal, and slows our efforts toward equality."