Salon - April 23, 2020

"You may have noticed that the more the president abuses his "base," the more they idolize him and obey what he says. He frames risking lives in service of him, so as to prop up his ruined economy and increase his re-election prospects, as "liberation" — and they come out in defiance of their own protection, demanding "choice." He is practicing his "total authority" and putting hisarmed troops in the streets. We would be mistaken to believe he will leave, or even let a losing election happen in the first place. Abuse of the mind is the worst kind, for you make people do what you wish against their own interests, and even extreme physical abuse becomes possible. He is not only getting away with shooting someone on Fifth Avenue, but a whole massacre."

A Yale psychiatrist has warned that pro-Trump lockdown protesters, who exhibit similar psychology as "child soldiers," could quickly turn into "armed troops in the streets" if the president loses his re-election bid.

Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a forensic psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine, said the armed protests were a natural evolution of the loyalty President Trump demands from his supporters. Many of these protests have evidently been organized by deep-pocketed groups allied with the president.

Lee, the author of the textbook "Violence," has been sounding the alarm about the danger posed by the president for years. She edited "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" after his election, with a group of fellow mental health professionals. The book's authors recently started a chat series entitled "Is America in an Abusive Relationship With Its President?"

Lee has also served as a project group leader for the World Health Organization Violence Prevention Alliance. She told Salon that Trump's recent call to "liberate" Democratic-led states was a dog whistle to his core supporters.

"Subconsciously, it is a loyalty test for the people," Lee said. "In Africa, where I did some ethnographic work, child soldiers would be recruited and made to kill a family member to demonstrate their allegiance to the government and not to the family. Similarly, in urban gangs in America, one may be challenged to kill a police officer to prove one's willingness to uphold gang rules over societal rules. 

"When Donald Trump suggests that the virus be taken as a 'hoax', that people gather in churches or that people protest for their own sacrifice, he is actually testing people's loyalty to the 'laws' of his mind over the laws of nature, or even impulse for survival. The more he abuses them, the greater their devotion grows, since the psychological cost of admitting their mistake is ever higher — and so it becomes easier to dig a well of unreality than to see the obvious truth.

"We are now entering my specialty: public health approaches to violence prevention, and how to stop epidemics of violence before they happen," Lee added. "Individual violence is hardly predictable, since even the most violent individuals are not violent most of the time, but societal violence is entirely predictable. Prevention is still hard to talk about, since we must act before we see things unfold, but it is highly effective. It is true of pandemics, and it is true of mental health. We can enlighten ourselves through science and prevent catastrophes before they occur."

Lee spoke with Salon about the president's response to the coronavirus and his embrace of protesters calling for an end to social distancing restrictions. Her views represent only those of the World Mental Health Coalition, of which she is president.

Trump has tried to play it both ways, arguing that his lockdown guidelines saved millions of lives while calling for an end to the lockdowns. How does this cognitive dissonance affect the public during a confusing and scary crisis?

Having no core but wishing to avoid accountability, he often tries to cover all grounds. But the psychological effect on the public will eventually be the most harmful — not the devastating pandemic, the economic hardship or even the incompetence itself, but how he hypnotized and misled the public to cover up his ineptitude. To lose our collective mind, because an untreated disturbed person in an influential position has infected a third of the population with his distorted worldview, all to buttress his fragile sense of self, will be a great trauma for the nation to emerge from. His supporters will be the most severely traumatized, if they are able to wake up at all. ...
See full report/interview at Salon