Thursday, August 27, 2020


     If you weren’t convinced before that Donald Trump presents a serious threat to our democracy, this documentary pulling in experts in psychology, psychiatry, counter-terrorism, history, current politics, and a Trump co-writer presents reasoned arguments about why we should be apprehensive and do everything we can to exercise our rights in the next election.  “Stand up and be counted” is its final exhortation.
     Dan Partland, a producer/writer/director, has assembled an impressive group of experts to weigh in on President Trump’s fitness for office.  You experience it like a drama unfolding as it illustrates its points, using the President’s and other autocrats’ rhetoric and actions to underline the historical precedents and contexts in which a leader of a country can come into power and wield it to his personal advantage.
     The documentary delves right into personality characteristics outlined by psychologists (John Gartner, Sheldon Soloman, Ramani Durvasula, Suzanne Lachmann), psychiatrists (Lance Dodes, Justin Frank), and an intelligence and foreign policy analyst (Malcolm Nance) that typify an autocratic personality: narcissism, paranoia, anti-social personality disorder, and sadism.  Using Trump’s own statements, they illustrate for the viewer how Trump exemplifies these (e.g., braggadocio, his conspiracy theories, his lies, his vicious tweets, his apparent lack of empathy or loyalty, and many more).
     Fox News’ “Fox and Friends” decry “diagnosing” Trump, citing the Goldwater Rule that stemmed from a suit brought by Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater against a publisher’s book outlining psychiatry’s assessment of him.  He won that suit, and since then, there has been a rule against diagnosing a person without a face-to-face interview. This is addressed in the film by saying the rule is outdated; in the digital world of today, we get an abundance of personal information about a public figure that allows us to learn so much more about him/her than we used to.  We can observe their actions, relationships, spoken thoughts and opinions first-hand as if we’re in the same room.
     There is a second issue not addressed in the documentary, which has to do with obtaining the consent of a public figure to be assessed by psychiatry and psychology. Although I don’t remember the experts actually using the word ‘diagnosis’, they do cite DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical manual professionals use for assessment) criteria for specific diagnosis, and state that Trump meets those criteria.
     Historians (Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Cheryl Koos) remind us of the strategies Hitler and Mussolini used to come into power; and point out that Steve Bannon, Trump’s advisor, studied Mussolini carefully, and per Ivana Trump, Donald kept a book of Hitler’s speeches by his bed.  The historians point out eerie parallels between the methods and times of Hitler and Mussolini and current events in our time, such as Mussolini coming in as a rabble-rouser to shake things up, dictators pardoning criminals, dictators coalescing social hatreds and anxieties to form a movement through rallies, propaganda, and promises to supporters, saying, “I’m the one who can do that for you.”  Something to fear:  charismatic leaders who bring out the tribal nature of their followers, in that no amount of reason will get them to change their minds.
     Perhaps the most chilling, part of this documentary is when Malcolm Nance, the expert in world affairs, makes the statement that Donald Trump does not have the temperament to be around nuclear systems, yet has the sole power to detonate weapons at his own discretion/impulse.  Since his inauguration, Trump has withdrawn from three nuclear disarmament treaties, and has resumed testing of intermediate-range missiles.

It’s in every American citizen’s interest to watch this film, which uses Donald Trump’s own words to assess his fitness for office.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

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