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.

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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.

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

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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

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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

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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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