President Donald Trump’s “judgment and his motives are putting us all at risk of catastrophic events,” says UNC-Chapel Hill psychiatrist Edwin Fisher, alluding to a possible nuclear war with North Korea. Alex Wong Getty Images
President Donald Trump’s “judgment and his motives are putting us all at risk of catastrophic events,” says UNC-Chapel Hill psychiatrist Edwin Fisher, alluding to a possible nuclear war with North Korea. Alex Wong Getty Images

Orange County

Is President Trump mentally unfit? Saturday forum to weigh the risks

By Ray Gronberg

rgronberg@heraldsun.com

October 13, 2017 08:58 AM

CHAPEL HILL

Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s view that the Trump White House is effectively an “adult day care” is no laughing matter to a UNC-Chapel Hill psychiatrist who’s put together a Saturday forum focusing on the president’s mental state.

Edwin Fisher will speak at the 1 p.m. event in Chapel Hill along with two colleagues from Asheville, psychiatrist Steven Buser and psychologist Richard Smoot. All three are part of a group of mental-health professionals who believe President Donald Trump is dangerously unstable.

Coming at the issue from different perspectives, they’ve converged on the view that the president’s “judgment and his motives are putting us all at risk of catastrophic events,” Fisher said, alluding to a possible nuclear war with North Korea.

Edwin Fisher

The situation, he added, should inspire Congress to place new limits on Trump’s war-making powers or Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to consider invoking the 25th Amendment’s fitness-for-office provisions to begin the process to remove him.

Saturday’s forum will take place at the Chapel Hill Public Library, an off-campus forum chosen because UNC-CH’s football team has a home game against the University of Virginia later in the afternoon.

The timing’s not the best for an event in Chapel Hill, but Fisher said it was out of his hands because the Baltimore-based group he’s part of asked him to schedule it to coincide with similar events across the country the same day.

High-office hazard

Fisher contributed a chapter to a controversial new book, “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” that argues the president is so “mentally compromised” that his presence in high office is a hazard.

The controversy comes because the American Psychiatric Association has twice this year urged practitioners to avoid offering public opinions about the mental health of someone they haven’t personally examined.

Its invocation of the so-called “Goldwater Rule” – named for Barry Goldwater, the late Arizona U.S. senator who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1964 – has drawn return fire from leaders of the “Duty to Warn” group Fisher’s involved with.

One, Yale University psychiatrist Bandy Lee, argued in the book that the association had issued a “radical expansion” of the doctrine “barely two months into the very presidency that has made it controversial.”

Lee and Harvard-affiliated psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman also argued that the group’s move shows even a prestigious professional organization “is not immune to … politically pressured acquiescence.”

Fisher, a professor in UNC-CH’s Gillings School of Global Public Health since 2005, said the book essentially argues there are signs Trump suffers both from narcissism and sociopathy. He said the combination’s a volatile one in high-stakes situations, particularly if supporters and aides begin to abandon the president.

Legally, “if the president decides to launch a nuclear war, there’s nobody who can stop him,” Fisher said, adding that he believes what the group is doing is “educating the public about what those behavior patterns can mean.”

Fisher stressed that in speaking up on the issue, he’s speaking for himself, not for UNC-CH.

Fitness for office

Trump’s fundamental fitness for office, regardless of his views on the political issues of the day, has been questioned since he first sought the presidency, and not just by Democrats.

Locally, Duke political science professor Peter Feaver, in the mid-2000s a national security aide to former President George W. Bush, signed a statement last year that labeled Trump “a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States.”

Feaver at the time said that danger came from the possibility of putting “the power of the presidency in the hands of someone so focused on attacking his critics.”

Corker, a Republican, former mayor of Chattanooga and chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, told the New York Times on Oct. 8 that Trump’s threats to other countries may “put the nation on the path to World War III.”

He saw the major check on that as being aides “around him who are able to talk him down when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision gets made.”

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg