The Oct. 10 editorial

The Washington Post - - WASHINGTON FORUM -

“What to do with an un­fit pres­i­dent” was a sen­si­ble ap­proach, ex­cept for the need to treat the im­plied threat of nu­clear war as emer­gent. A num­ber of com­men­ta­tors are re­port­ing re­cent re­marks by Pres­i­dent Trump as a re­vival of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s mad­man the­ory: try­ing to make oth­ers think our leader is ir­ra­tional and volatile, thereby caus­ing them to back down from their threats against the United States out of fear.

The prob­lem with gain­ing com­fort from this the­ory is that we don’t know whether our pres­i­dent is be­hav­ing strate­gi­cally or reck­lessly putting many lives in dan­ger. We also don’t know whether there are checks on the pres­i­dent’s power to pre­vent a catas­tro­phe. We learned much later that the Pen­tagon wor­ried about Nixon’s men­tal state and that the de­fense sec­re­tary in­structed the Joint Chiefs of Staff that any 11th-hour or­ders from the White House were to be vet­ted ac­cord­ing to the chain of com­mand.

My pro­fes­sion, clin­i­cal psy­chi­a­try, has been mostly silent be­cause of a warn­ing that it is un­eth­i­cal to state a pro­fes­sional opin­ion about the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­ior with­out a per­sonal ex­am­i­na­tion or his con­sent. The dire con­se­quences of a war may tran­scend pro­to­col and jus­tify a duty to warn — just as it did in the 1970s when peo­ple at high lev­els of govern­ment fret­ted about Nixon’s men­tal sta­bil­ity. Nu­clear war is some­thing we can­not risk.

Jef­frey B. Freed­man, New York

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