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Monday, February 8, 2021

Why Trump Must Be Convicted

As the Senate prepares to try him again, the mental health pandemic he unleashed rages on

By Bandy X. Lee

The Trump presidency may be over, but Donald Trump’s dangers continue.  This is because we have yet to contain the number one emergency, which is the spread of mental pathology.

Without addressing this mental health pandemic, even the Biden administration’s admirable efforts to contain the viral pandemic may meet with obstacles.  Similarly, without conviction and prosecution, which is the first step to containing this mental health pandemic, hopes for “reconciliation” and “unity” may also be for naught.

Mental health professionals knew from the start that Donald Trump had the psychological makeup to become very dangerous with presidential powers.  Following our 2017 assessment, I and thousands of my colleagues at the World Mental Health Coalition issued more than 300 pages of letters, petitions, and statements asserting that Donald Trump’s dangers would spread and erupt. 

In March 2020, we issued a “Prescription for Survival,” stating that the president’s removal through the 25th Amendment, impeachment, or resignation—or at least removal of influence—was essential to avoiding widespread unnecessary deaths.

Trump uses words and directly incites violence.  Research on violence shows that rhetoric can be more efficient than specific orders or direct assaults in causing epidemics of violence.

A failure to contain led to a most dramatic demonstration of dangers on Jan. 6, but it was long in coming.  Over the summer of 2020, I wrote a new public-service book, Profile of a Nation, to warn that, “he is truly someone who would do anything,… no matter how destructive, to stay in power.” 

Indeed, the near-massacre of lawmakers he caused at the Capitol, save for a few heroes, proves how close he came to causing the kind of chaos that may have permitted him to remain.

Donald Trump’s campaign to rig an election that he lost through endless lies, abuses and verbal attacks eventually led to his fomenting deadly violence and near-loss of our democracy. 

As we did with the Mueller report, his recent phone call with Georgia’s secretary of state, and his “Save America” rally speech, mental health professionals can explain how Donald Trump uses words and directly incites violence.  

Research on violence shows that rhetoric can be more efficient than specific orders or direct assaults in causing epidemics of violence.

The ideal course would have been swift impeachment and conviction.  Impeachment happening a week after the actual incident was already a poor precedent, prompting us to write to the speaker of the House: we would not allow a serial killer to be on the loose with bombs, ammunition, and assault rifles for days—and yet we permitted a serial mass killer, by the order of hundreds of thousands, for weeks with access to nuclear weapons capable of destroying all civilization. 

We urged clear and speedy actions, given that each day of delay had an adverse effect on the population’s demoralization and trauma without justice, and on Trump enablers’ opportunities to subvert the momentum for impeachment.

Impeachment Backfire

As we know from past experience, tepid impeachment proceedings could even backfire and boost Donald Trump’s standing.  As we have repeatedly emphasized, once with over 800 mental health professional signatories, even the most impeccable political calculations, without consideration of psychological factors in his case, would likely also fail politically.

Given a recalcitrant Senate, psychological influences are especially critical.  Some of this might have been mobilized to advantage had impeachment occurred the day after violent insurrection and sedition, and conviction as soon as the following day, with amplification of public outcry if the Senate refused.

Since this did not happen, the next best course would be to have a complete trial with as much evidence and testimonies as possible, including those of Capitol police officers who were injured during the incident, to maximize pressure on the Senate to convict.

More High Crimes

Additional articles of impeachment would also be helpful, including his role in the soon-to-be half-million Americans who perished from the pandemic; the economic misery while he and his cronies profited; the human rights abuses as he kidnapped and placed children in concentration camps; and the aid and comfort he gave to neo-Nazi and white supremacist terrorist groups throughout his presidency, to compose an “encyclopedia of articles” more commensurate with reality that we recommended since the first impeachment.

Unless conviction promptly removes former presidential privileges and sets restrictions on future campaigns for political office, Donald Trump will likely use the acquittal to claim that he is innocent of all charges. 

He will claim that the second impeachment was another “hoax” intended to victimize him, using it to discredit all subsequent indictments and prosecutions.

Back on the Stump

He will resume holding rallies, continually pushing the narrative that he was the real victor in 2020, threatening further social and political divisions.  He will blame the poor state of the country he created on the Biden administration, just as easily as he claimed credit for the long-term benefits that the Obama administration’s policies generated, as he aims to return to power as the savior who will “make America great again.” 

As long as positive reinforcement through a lack of accountability persists, he will not stop.

A failure to convict will, furthermore, have a devastating effect on the public’s mental health.  The country is already traumatized from four years of normalizing, legitimizing, and even glorifying deadly criminality, abusive behavior, and severe pathology. 

Members of Congress who experienced normal emotional distress as happens after a life-threatening event will not be able to have closure, as will the American people after the violation and desecration of their seat of government.

Unhealthy Bonds

A failure to convict will continue to entrap those who support him, whose unhealthy emotional bonds prevent them from seeing the damage that is being done to their personhood, livelihood, health, and even lives.  It is a disservice to collude with their psychological defenses against the pain of disappointment, further entrenching them in potential future trauma upon learning the truth.

Clear boundaries need to be set that a leader should not abuse, let alone kill, the people he has sworn to serve.

The first step to healing a massive mental health pandemic is to convict, set limits, return to reality, and restore the standards of lawfulness, order, and safety.  We should not continue to permit a dangerously unfit person who held high office to spread unmitigated violence, trauma, and mental pathology.  Mental health professionals who routinely manage dangerous personalities have vital knowledge to contribute to society and should be consulted.