Bandy Lee to Robert Mueller: Time to stop "enabling Trump's disease"

Yale psychiatrist hopes Mueller can tell us more about a damaged president driven by "insecurity and emptiness"

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published July 24, 2019 7:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump; Dr. Bandy Lee (Getty/Nicholas Kamm/Yale)
Donald Trump; Dr. Bandy Lee (Getty/Nicholas Kamm/Yale)

On Wednesday, former Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller will finally testify before Congress about his findings regarding Donald Trump and his campaign's apparent collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, his extensive obstruction of justice and other alleged crimes.

Democrats in Congress may be hoping for some type of revelation that will further undermine Trump's credibility with the American people and make it easier — or at least conceivable — to impeach Trump and remove him from office.

Republicans are hoping, on the other hand, that Mueller's testimony is anticlimactic and adds no new information about the panoply of horrible things that are already publicly known about Trump and his authoritarian regime.

Regardless of today's hearings the fact remains that Robert Mueller's official report, even in redacted form, is damning.

Beyond clear and repeated examples of Trump's obstruction justice and de facto collusion with Russia to undermine the 2016 presidential election, the Mueller report shows a president who is paranoid, a chronic liar, seriously detached from reality and in total mentally unwell.

The Mueller teport is not the only official government report or document to reveal such facts about Donald Trump's state of mind and other behavior. Several weeks ago confidential internal diplomatic communications between Sir Kim Darroch, the former British ambassador to the U.S., and his superiors were leaked to the public. In many ways, Darroch echoes Mueller's findings: Donald Trump is described as a dishonest person, presiding over a chaotic White House full of backbiting and infighting.

Darroch also told his British government that Trump was insecure and easily manipulated. The British diplomatic cables also warn that there is likely more to the Trump-Russia scandal than is publicly known and suggest that Trump's presidency could end in disgrace and disaster.

How is Donald Trump's behavior, both in public and private, continuing to spiral out of control? Did his recent Fourth of July political stunt offer further evidence of his apparent mental decline? Why are Donald Trump and his allies and supporters so overtly sadistic toward nonwhite migrants and refugees? And why have so many Americans either surrendered to Trump's sadism or, in the worst cases, even decided to support it?

I recently spoke once again with Dr. Bandy Lee, whom I have interviewed numerous times before. Lee is a professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine and editor of the bestselling book "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump."

On Tuesday, Lee and other leading mental health professionals, working in conjunction with the World Mental Health Organization, convened an online town hall meeting in anticipation of Mueller's congressional testimony. During that meeting they shared five questions they believe that Mueller should be asked regarding Trump's mental health and, by implication, his ability to properly serve as president.

This meeting is one of many efforts during the three years of Trump's presidency by Lee and other mental health professionals to alert the American people and the world to the extreme threat to public health and safety posed by Donald Trump.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. You can also listen to my full conversation with Dr. Bandy Lee through the player embedded below.

You have predicted so much of Trump's behavior and the level of increasing danger that he represents to America and the world. How does it feel to make these predictions about Donald Trump and then watch it all come true?

Many people have compared me to Cassandra. I believe that there is no weapon as powerful as the truth. Even at the bleakest moment there could be a moment when the tide turns. One never knows what will happen when the dam breaks.

In Donald Trump's concentration camps, children are being abused, people are forced to drink out of toilets, there are sexual assaults, violence and general cruelty. The American people seem numb. Where are the mass protests? Moreover, a significant percentage of Americans seem to enjoy Trump's cruelty.

That is exactly what has been happening. The spread of pathology in a society is very dangerous. Malignancy seeps in and manifests by creating a condition of exhaustion. This creates a new way of conceptualizing and experiencing reality — and in a very unhealthy way.

And you're absolutely right: What we already know about the sadism and cruelty in Trump's concentration camps will only be a small fraction of what the world will eventually discover about what is really going on there. The entire picture will be terrible. There is a psychological disposition among some people to inflict as much cruelty as possible because there's pleasure to be derived from it.

It is no accident that Donald Trump is enacting dangerous policies. This is exactly what is to be expected. This is all like an infectious disease in America's body politic. Unless it is controlled it will spread.

What of the other Americans, those who do not enjoy seeing such cruelty and sadism inflicted on nonwhite migrants and refugees, yet are not resisting or otherwise standing up for what is right. Is it possible to reach people who just decide to look the other way, or who otherwise convince themselves that if they ignore evil it will somehow cease?

There is a great deal of cynicism at work in such a reaction. But there is also despair and a feeling of helplessness and a feeling that nothing can be done to change things for the better. Hearing about bad news, for people with a certain degree of mental strength and emotional health, means that they will then do something about the situation. But for those people who do not have such strength, it is easier to cope by denying or minimizing the problems because the situation seems insurmountable. America will see more and more of the latter as American society succumbs to despair because the problems created by Donald Trump will keep getting worse.

There are internal diplomatic communications from the British government which do not paint a flattering picture of Donald Trump and his administration. Trump is described there as being a liar, insecure, incompetent and easily manipulated by others. How does this information fit with your ongoing analysis of Trump's mental health and behavior?

The world is coming to a consensus that Donald Trump's presidency is uniquely dysfunctional and is likely to end in disgrace. British ambassador Kim Darroch said that the United States is actually very dysfunctional because of the ineptitude of Trump's presidency. There are likely many such conversations happening at the highest levels of other governments all over the world. Other countries most certainly have a dossier evaluating Donald Trump's behavior and mental as well as emotional health.

As the world witnessed at the recent G20 meeting in Japan, Donald Trump praises almost every dictator and by doing so undermines democracies and intelligent, capable leaders. That is not a coincidence. Trump has a deep emotional hunger to be an authoritarian, a strongman type of leader. This is actually a disability more than a strength. Trump's admiration of dictators comes from the narcissistic wounds he suffers from.

Donald Trump's ability to praise any leader, no matter what their record of atrocities or human rights abuses, shows that Trump does not despise authoritarians and tyrants for such behavior. In fact he admires such leaders for that behavior. This is one of the reasons among many that my colleagues and I — a group of some of the country's and world's most accomplished mental health experts — evaluated Donald Trump based on his public behavior and found that he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of the office of the president. Donald Trump's emotional needs are so overwhelming that he cannot properly weigh his choices and responsibilities relative to America's national interests.

You and other mental health professionals have diagnosed Donald Trump as being a malignant narcissist. Given Trump's mental condition and apparent personality disorders, how should we assess and understand his Fourth of July political stunt several weeks ago?

The American people were actually glad that tanks didn't roll down the streets of Washington the way that they do in North Korea or did in Nazi Germany. These are very disturbing images for most Americans. Trump's July 4 celebration is another sign that his mental health is worsening. Trump looks absurd. He keeps demanding to get his way no matter what. This includes his parade, the census question, whatever it may be — regardless of the consequences. Donald Trump wants to get his way no matter what the rule of law is or the country's norms are.

One of the features of Trump's mental health deficiencies is that he cannot understand abstract concepts. He is very childish in that regard. Trump cannot think of concepts such as justice or equality apart from how he gains or benefits. Trump cannot understand the idea of a social contract or abiding by rules of fairness. These are foreign concepts to someone like him. He is stuck in a very immature, early stage of emotional development.

When children say that something is "unfair" or "mean," it really means that they are not getting what they want. Children do not have an evolved sense of justice. When an adult behaves in such a way, it is not normal. It is a sign of a mental disorder because it means that an adult has either regressed or they are arrested in development. This is what we are seeing with Donald Trump.

And with all the increasing pressures of Trump's job — even as he expands his authoritarian powers against democracy — these symptoms grow worse. Granting Trump what he demands is not going to do him any good or stop the bad behavior because it is all coming from a disease process. Trump's disease wants increasingly destructive and dysfunctional conditions, even for himself. That is why enabling Trump's disease is very dangerous. History shows us the horrible things that have happened when a leader who is mentally unwell like Donald Trump remains in power and his influence spreads.

Donald Trump admires dictators who kill journalists and put their political rivals in prison. He publicly fawns over Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin.  This is not a game. As historians and other experts have repeatedly pointed out, when the authoritarian speaks we must believe them. He is not kidding with his threats.

Donald Trump has a great attraction to violence. Trump also has a desire for and takes pleasure in violence. Part of this is that Trump wants to destroy signs of health and life because he is lacking in them. In fact, when a person who feels empty inside sees vitality and signs of life among other people, it is very common for such people to feel envious. As such they want to destroy the signs of life and health they see around them.

Donald Trump and other authoritarians understand each other. They share the same psychology.

What do you think Donald Trump's inner dreams and desires are?

Donald Trump has shown through his behavior that he does not have a core self and sense of being. That might seem like a drastic thing to say, but I have actually treated and encountered over a thousand individuals who have exactly this kind of predisposition. Such people often state that they feel dead inside, that they are living tombs.

This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump needs an adoring crowd — he needs to see thousands of people cheering him on. Trump constantly needs that. Trump must have these political rallies because they are his source of self. To live in such a way is a very terrifying existence. This helps to explain Trump's constant paranoia. He believes that the world is a threatening place where everyone is against him. This explains why Trump feels like he must always fight for his own survival. This is a very dangerous disposition to have in a position of power.

Loneliness only exposes Trump to his utter emptiness. Donald Trump suffers from feelings of worthlessness and powerlessness far greater than what others would attribute to him. This is why Donald Trump cannot even contemplate the possibility that he is anything less than an expert in everything, and insists that he is the greatest president in history, the least racist person, and the most "stable genius" ever in human existence. This all shows the levels of insecurity and emptiness that Donald Trump is suffering from.

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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