What is the Goldwater Rule and what does it mean for Trump?

Oct. 30, 2017

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For decades, psychiatrists have observed the Goldwater Rule, an ethical guideline that prevents them from speculating on the mental state of public figures.


The rule is informally named for former Arizona Senator and failed presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.

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When Goldwater was running in 1964, an article ran in ‘Fact’ magazine in which more than 1,000 clinicians said they thought Goldwater was unfit to be president.

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Goldwater lost the election — and then successfully sued the magazine and its publisher for libel.

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Since 1973, the American Psychiatric Association code of ethics has advised psychiatrists not to speculate on public figures’ mental states.


The so-called Goldwater Rule is still in place — and many psychiatrists say it’s as important as ever.


You cannot simply diagnose an individual without being able to use standardized assessment instruments or standardized interview procedures.

— Celia Fisher, former chair of the APA’s Ethics Code Task Force


However, some professionals think it's time to set aside the Goldwater Rule — because of President Donald Trump.

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To speak about it clinically, I do think there is pathological narcissism, which I do think Trump has.

— Kerry Sulkowicz, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst


There’s even a coalition, “Duty to Warn,” dedicated to speaking out about Trump’s mental state.

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John Gartner, a psychologist and the founder of Duty to Warn, says it’s time to set aside the Goldwater Rule.

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In what other field are the people who are most expert on the topic forbidden from commenting on the topic?

— John Gartner, founder of Duty to Warn

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