Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump, "the Goldwater Rule," and presidential mental health

Since I've been revisiting Schelling and the "Political science and craziness" series, it might be a good idea to address this one.  For those who aren't familiar with the jargon, "the Goldwater Rule" is a reference to the ethical standard that psychiatric professionals aren't supposed to diagnose public officials and candidates without examining them personally.  It dates, obviously, to Barry Goldwater, and to fears that he might, um, blow up the planet with nuclear weapons because he might have been coo-coo for cocoa puffs.



We're back.  The problem is that diagnosing mental health problems requires more than watching someone on tv, hence "the Goldwater Rule."

Now that Trump has managed to get elected President despite worries that he is far crazier than Goldwater, if you read around, you will see suggestions that candidates submit to mental health screenings the same way they do for physical health screenings to get around the problem of the Goldwater Rule.

If you have already guessed that I'm going to call bullshit on this, then congratulations!

The obvious point is that you shouldn't expect a mental health screening to produce anything other than this:

But it's worse than that.  You think the psychological and psychiatric professionals of the world aren't deeply influenced by the political and social norms of their era?

Try this.  If you are reading a political science blog, there is a pretty high likelihood that you think that being gay is not a mental illness.  Until pretty recently, in historical terms, being gay was considered a form of mental illness.  So, what, mental health professionals used to be influenced by political and social norms, but thank the flying spaghetti monster that all that nonsense is behind us and everything is pure, objective science now?!  If people can have their psychological and psychiatric assessments influenced by political and social norms, then such influences do and will occur, now and forever because that's how cognitive psychology works.  (That's the part of psychology I actually know).

Which kinds of mental health assessments are influenced by political and social norms of the day right now?  That's not the right question for me or this post.  The point is that once you accept the premise that mental health assessments can be and frequently are influenced by political and social norms, formalizing assessments of candidates as a process of qualification the way the ABA evaluates judicial nominees looks... kind of sketchy.

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