Psychologist John Gartner: Why the Mueller probe makes Trump dangerous

The co-founder of Duty to Warn says "there is an 80 percent chance [Trump is] going to push that nuclear button"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published November 18, 2017 10:30AM (EST)

 (Salon/Ilana Lidagoster)
(Salon/Ilana Lidagoster)

The Duty to Warn political advocacy group is deeply alarmed by Donald Trump's behavior -- almost pathological and continual lying, detachment from reality, mood swings, violent behavior, extreme narcissism, bullying and boasts about committing sexual assault — and what it suggests about his mental health.

In February of 2017, the group's co-founder, psychologist John Gartner, submitted an open letter to The New York Times which suggested that Donald Trump is mentally unfit to be president of the United States.

Gartner has also circulated a petition online about the perils posed by Donald Trump and his mental health. This petition now has more than 68,000 signatures from concerned people around the world.

Duty to Warn is now convening meetings across the United States and sponsoring political candidates who promise to rein in Donald Trump's power to use nuclear weapons as well as work to remove him from office under the 25th amendment.

How do Trump's moods impact his ability to be a responsible leader? Why are Trump's voters so attracted to his violent, ignorant and crass behavior? How does Trump's malignant narcissism increase the likelihood that he could initiate a conventional, or perhaps even, a nuclear war? In what ways is Donald Trump and his administration damaging the mental health of the American people?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with Gartner. He is a former assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School and also a contributing writer to the new book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President."

In our conversation, Gartner explains his worries about how Donald Trump's moods and temperament may actually spark a war.

"I don’t think people have any idea how close we are the point of no return," he told me. "I think that there is an 80 percent chance he’s going to push that nuclear button. Why? Number one, Trump is a malignant narcissist. As far as I know, I cannot recall a single malignant narcissist in history who did not start a major war."

"Now add one more factor, that under the surface, this Mueller investigation is turning him and his family into cornered animals," Gartner continued. "They are guilty of treason, guilty of money laundering, guilty of collusion, guilty of obstruction of justice. They are guilty as sin and they know it. The noose is tightening around their necks and unlike Richard Nixon Trump and his cabal are not going to leave gracefully. Donald Trump is going to be really like Bonnie and Clyde; he’s going to shoot his way out. The best way for him to shoot his way out is to start a war and distract from his misdeeds, rally the country behind him, and most importantly from a psychological perspective, to transform the feeling of being a weak victim of a massive criminal investigation into that of an omnipotent destructive and powerful leader by destroying and killing millions of people."

Trump's authoritarian behavior and political agenda are only made worse by his mental health, dysfunctional personality and other problematic behavior. Gartner warns that "Trump is a narcissist, paranoid and demonizes anyone who opposes him. Trump has an antisocial personality — otherwise known as sociopathy. Sadism is another part of this dynamic. These are people who truly get pleasure from harming and hurting and degrading other people. Trump feels powerful when he destroys and degrades and bullies other people. It's a rush for him, it’s exciting, it’s gratifying, he gets off on it. That kind of dark energy is also infectious. We saw this at Trump's rallies when he would encourage violence against protesters and other people."

During this episode of the podcast, I also speak with Naveed Jamali, author of the book "How to Catch a Russian Spy," about special counsel Robert Mueller's recent indictments related to Donald Trump and collusion with Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Journalist and writer Jared Yates Sexton, author of "The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore," a book about Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign, is also a guest on this week's episode of the podcast. He shares his thoughts on Mueller's indictments and Trump's strategy going forward.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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