The Oct. 10 editorial
“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