Years ago my colleague, Stanley Renshon, a professor of political science at the City University of New York, wrote a book titled, The Psychological Assessment of Presidential Candidates (Routledge, 1998). Most of the time the book seems more academic exercise than anything else, not exactly mandatory reading when the choice of presidential candidates is between, say, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Whatever the political and ideological differences between the two men, they seemed at every juncture – not only during their presidential campaigns but during their entire adult lives – psychologically healthy enough to assume the American presidency.
Now, though, the situation is different. Now one of the candidates of one of the major parties, Donald Trump, raises questions about his psychological suitability for the nation’s highest office.
Until recently those who took issue with Trump’s candidacy raised questions about his ideological consistency and political reliability. But now I think it behooves us to confront a different issue. For Trump’s behavior all along, but especially in the last few weeks, has raised questions about no less than his mental health. Is this man psychologically healthy enough, mentally stable enough, to become chief executive and commander in chief?
In his book, Renshon recommends that we ask certain questions about all presidential candidates. Regarding Trump these five particularly apply:
- What evidence emerges from the campaign regarding the candidate’s temperament?
- Is the candidate easily excitable?
- Does he have trouble maintaining psychological balance and equilibrium?
- Does it take a lot or a little to throw him off balance?
- Are there specific things that throw the candidate off balance, such as questions regarding his integrity, his competence, his grasp of the issues, his record?
These are by no means the only relevant questions. Here’s another: Did the candidate make decisions only after consulting with a wide range of others – or did he tend to decide on his own? And another: What can be said about the candidate’s judgment?
In my lifetime Donald Trump is the only candidate for president representing one of the major parties that raises real concerns about psychological suitability. To dismiss these concerns as somehow inappropriate, or impossible adequately to address because Trump, like nearly every other leader, is unavailable for psychological scrutiny, is a dereliction of civic duty.