The Democrats Are Re-learning Populism

The conventional wisdom is that populism was brought back to the American scene by two renegade candidates in 2016: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. While one represented populism of the right, the other represented populism of the left, and both foreshadowed the future of both political parties, a future that breaks from America’s past as the center of the liberal order.

There’s a lot to be said of this, but one thing to bear in mind is that the seed bed for populism’s resurgence was not 2016. It was 2012.

That was the first election after the global economy’s collapse, the first in which a popular president, seen by the majority as representing a multi-cultural majority, ran against a corporate raider, who was a stand-in for the forces of greed that evaporated the wealth, security and sense of justice for millions of Americans. Barack Obama’s reelection campaign was not only the first populist campaign of the 21st century. It was the first in my lifetime.

Sanders and Trump surely knew it, consciously or not. Before 2012, it wasn’t clear how much appetite there was for populism. After 2012, it was crystal clear, especially when it came to deploying the Rhetoric of the Bad Guy. For Obama, it was the Vulture Capitalist. For Sanders, it was the Big Banks. For Trump is was the Liberal Elites and Bad Hombres. The candidates tapped into a store of rage and resentment, and directed that emotion toward his opponent.

Consider the use and meaning of the word “rigged.”

We know it in 2016, but Sanders and Trump did not operate in a vacuum. They saw how well it worked in 2012.

During a speech in Toledo, Ohio, Vice President Joe Biden said: “Look, the president and I have a fundamental commitment to dealing the middle class back into the American economy that they’ve been dealt out of for so long. And, ultimately, that’s what this election is all about. It’s a choice, a clear choice, a choice between a system that’s rigged and a system that’s fair—a system that says everyone will be held accountable for their actions, not just the middle class, a system that trusts the workers on the line instead of listening to the folks up in the suites.”

Obama, being Obama, avoided “rigged.” But its meaning was implicit in the rhetoric of “income inequality” and an economy that “works for everyone.” In a December 2015 speech in Kansas, Obama said: “It’s not a view that we should somehow turn back technology or put up walls around America. It’s not a view that says we should punish profit or success or pretend that government knows how to fix all society’s problems. It’s a view that says in America, we are greater together—when everyone engages in fair play, everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share.”

It’s easy to forget the above. President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the wonkiest wonk of all, so it looks like populism won for the first time in a long time, and like the Democrats have a lot to learn about populism. In fact, the Democrats understood all along given Obama’s twin victories and given the pressure from the left to embrace populism for years prior to 2016. But in defeat, the Democrats can’t argue the point, because doing so deepens the prevailing impression that they don’t get it. That’s why Sen. Chuck Schumer’s blueprint for the future looks like a mea culpa when it is, in fact, a continuation of Obama’s brand of populism.

In today’s New York Times, the Senate Minority leader lays out his party’s answer to Trumpism. But before getting into the weeds, Schumer shrewdly says:

For far too long, government has gone along, tilting the economic playing field in favor of the wealthy and powerful while putting new burdens on the backs of hard-working Americans. Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on those misguided policies directly and unflinchingly—so much so that many Americans don’t know what we stand for.


In the last two elections, Democrats, including in the Senate, failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program for the middle class and those working hard to get there. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake.

Again, this isn’t quite true. But it’s best to say sorry and get on with it. Much of Schumer’s op-ed feels as if it could have come from Obama’s White House. The details differ, but the broad outlines are the same. The Democrats, Schumer said, stand in favor of spending $1 trillion on infrastructure (not the public-private hybrid Trump is proposing); of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 a hour; of passing legislation to require paid family and sick leave.

For all this, however, there is a difference between Obama’s populism and the Democrats’: a renewed focus on anti-trust. Obama encouraged corporations to play fair, but his preference was using the bully pulpit. If the Democrats are serious, they are prepared to do more than naming and shaming. They are prepared to flex the federal government’s muscle to combat greed.


Our antitrust laws … allow huge corporations to merge, padding the pockets of investors but sending costs skyrocketing for everything from cable bills and airline tickets to food and health care. We are going to fight to allow regulators to break up big companies if they’re hurting consumers and to make it harder for companies to merge if it reduces competition.

In doing so, the Democrats appear ready to meld populist policy (anti-trust) with popular rhetoric (new Bad Guy: Big Business). Democrats are returning, finally, to populism.

from novemoore

Is Rex Tillerson Leaving or Being Pushed Out?

I keep hearing reports that Donald Trump doesn’t actually like to fire people, and maybe he just prefers to make them so miserable that they’ll quit on their own. That certainly seems to be the route he chose with his press secretary Sean Spicer and the one he’s pursuing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. And it may be how he’s dealing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, too.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is growing increasingly frustrated with the Trump administration and could quit before the year is through, according to reports.

Two sources familiar with Tillerson’s conversations with friends told CNN over the weekend that he has grown so frustrated with President Donald Trump and his administration that there may soon be a “Rexit.”

The change in Tillerson’s tone followed a stressful week for the secretary of state. He was found to have violated U.S. sanctions against Russia while working as CEO of Exxon Mobil. Also, Trump publicly assailed one of Tillerson’s fellow Cabinet members, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he regretted hiring him.

Tillerson, the sources said, viewed Trump’s comments as unprofessional.

Early Monday, Trump again attacked Sessions on Twitter, calling him “beleaguered” and wondering aloud why he wasn’t investigating Trump’s campaign rival Hillary Clinton.

Before last week, Tillerson had strongly maintained he would see through his task of reorganizing the entire State Department after Trump’s March budget proposal laid out plans to cut $10 billion from its roughly $47 billion in funding. But that resolve seems to have dimmed.

Of course, it’s possible that Trump isn’t intentionally making people want to quit, although that seems especially unlikely in the case of Sessions. In Tillerson’s case, it could just be a clash of personalities and management styles. Yet, it’s notable that the Treasury Department just singled out Tillerson for violating the sanctions against Russia while he was serving as the CEO of ExxonMobil. I mean, you don’t see stuff like this everyday:

Two of President Trump’s most senior cabinet members became embroiled Thursday in an unusual legal battle over whether ExxonMobil under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s leadership violated U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Treasury officials fined ExxonMobil $2 million Thursday morning for signing eight business agreements in 2014 with Igor Sechin, the chief executive of Rosneft, an energy giant partially owned by the Russian government. The business agreements came less than a month after the United States banned companies from doing business with him.

Hours after the fine was announced, Exxon filed a legal complaint against the Treasury Department — naming Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as the lead defendant — while calling the actions “unlawful” and “fundamentally unfair.”

You might remember Igor Sechin as the man that Carter Page allegedly met with in Moscow. I wrote about that saga back in January in a piece called: Mnuchin Needs to Explain the 19.5% Sale of Rosneft. Here’s a refresher on what was said about the Rosneft deal in the Steele Dossier.

Why did Mnuchin go after Tillerson? Did he get a sign off on his attack from Trump? Did he freelance? Was he sending a message?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it’s all screwed up beyond recognition.

What’s clear is that Tillerson is genuinely unhappy, and he’s been unhappy since long before Sessions became Trump’s punching boy:

Last month, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was the one calling Tillerson “unprofessional.” The secretary of state reportedly blew up at top Trump administration staffers during a meeting in White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’s office.

Four people familiar with the details of the meeting described the heated exchange to Politico. During his tirade, Tillerson quarreled with the director of presidential personnel, Johnny DeStefano, and made clear he didn’t want the White House to “have any role in staffing.”

Tillerson has been frustrated after Trump and the White House rejected a number of his hiring decisions.

It sounds like Tillerson has one foot out the door, but it’s hard to say for sure if he’s leaving voluntarily or being pushed out.

Losing his press secretary, Attorney General and Secretary of State in rapid succession would make for an interesting communications challenge. I wonder if Trump’s new communications director Anthony Scaramucci has anything better than beauty tips to offer to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will supposedly be back on camera in her new role as Spicer’s permanent replacement.

from novemoore

Team Trump Uses Access Hollywood Tape as a Loyalty Test

The Washington Examiner has a lengthy profile of House Freedom Caucus leader Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina. The piece is interesting on several levels, but there’s one thing in there that I’d like to highlight:

After the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape was leaked to the press, setting off scandalized and electorally dangerous discussion about Trump’s treatment of women, Republicans of many stripes, especially those facing tough re-election battles, abandoned Trump. But Meadows and his wife stayed on board, literally and figuratively. Debbie Meadows boarded a “Women for Trump” bus with 10 other wives of congressmen, and defended the candidate. Trump and the White House have not forgotten this, and are unlikely ever to do so.

“We will always remember how tenacious and loyal Mark and Debbie Meadows were, especially after Oct. 7. They’re definitely members of what we call the ‘Oct. 8th coalition,’” said Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, in an interview.

“In the final month, beginning with her boarding that bus … in the face of a great deal of pressure to do otherwise — tells you something about their tenacity and loyalty,” Conway added.

Now, that’s an interesting test. On the Access Hollywood tape, Donald Trump boasted of propositioning a married woman while he was himself married to his current wife. He also boasted of making frequent unwanted physical advances on women and the fact that he could get away with it because of his fame and wealth. Many if not most people took this to be an admission that Trump regularly commits sexual assault. And, in fact, in the days after the tape was released, women came out of the woodwork to declare openly that they had been the victims of precisely this kind of sexual assault at the hands of Donald Trump.

It was too much for Paul Ryan who held a teleconference with Republican members of the House and declared that “I am not going to defend Donald Trump. Not now, not in the future,” and that they should all just fend for themselves.

You might think that Team Trump would be a little forgiving of folks were weren’t willing to defend what Trump said on that tape, but you’d be very wrong. They actually have a list of folks who didn’t abandon them that they call “the October 8th coalition.”

I wonder if Melania Trump is a member.

from novemoore

Ann Cronin: Connecticut State Board of Education Rips Off Taxpayers and Children of Bridgeport

Ann Cronin taught English for many years in Connecticut, which has one of the most successful state school systems in the nation. However, Connecticut has several districts where people live in dire poverty. Under the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy, the answer to the children in these poor and under-resourced districts is privately managed charter schools– contractor schools. Malloy, needless to say, relies on hedge fund managers for campaign funding, and he is putty in their hands.

Cronin writes here that “Something is Rotten in the State of Connecticut.”

The State Board of Education just approved additional seats for Steve Perry’s Capitol Prep Harbor School, a charter school that drains resources from the Bridgeport public schools. Perry is the self-styled celebrity who once referred to teachers’ union members as “cockroaches” and on another occasion threatened a physical confrontation with critics.

Cronin writes:

“On July 19, 2017, the unelected, governor-appointed Connecticut State Board of Education approved 504 additional seats in state charter schools for next year, with 154 of those seats going to Capital Preparatory Harbor School in Bridgeport.


“Connecticut is in a budget crisis with every expense being monitored, yet new charter school seats, which cost the state $11,000 each, are being initiated. The cost will be more than $5.5 million.


“The new seats will cost the beleaguered and impoverished Bridgeport Public Schools money it cannot afford and will strip them of much needed resources. The Bridgeport Board of Education unanimously voted against the expansion plan because the cost of adding grades to Capital Prep Harbor School requires the Bridgeport Public Schools to pay additional costs for transportation and other services at an additional location.


“The expansion plan for Capital Prep Harbor School, approved by the State Board of Education in 2014, called for three grades to be added in 2017-2018, but Capital Prep Harbor School requested and was granted the expansion to six new grades, which increased the costs of services from Bridgeport Public Schools from $200,000 to $400,000 for 2017-2018.


“Capital Prep Harbor School does not serve the population of Bridgeport equitably. Based on the make-up of the community, nearly half of the students at Capital Prep Harbor should be Hispanic, but only 1/5 are, and Capital Prep Harbor has zero students who have English as their second language although there are ample children in Bridgeport who have English as their second language.


“Capital Prep Harbor School was approved by the State Board of Education in April 2014 as a school with its stated mission to serve the “diverse communities of Bridgeport and surrounding communities”. Capital Prep Harbor School has failed to implement that mission because of its small percentage of Hispanic students and its total lack of students with English as their second language.”

from novemoore

Was the Mayflower Hotel Event Really Jared Kushner’s Idea?

I dutifully sat down this morning and read Jared Kushner’s prepared statement for Congress. I was impressed with the quality and clarity of his defense. He has some good lawyers and I believe he is following their advice unlike his father-in-law. However, there are still some troubling things to discuss.

One of them involves a now infamous speech that Donald Trump gave at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016. From Kushner’s statement we learn the surprising fact that he’s taking full responsibility for the idea behind doing that speech, as well as much of the organizing work that went into it. Here’s the relevant part in its full context:

With respect to my contacts with Russia or Russian representatives during the campaign, there were hardly any. The first that I can recall was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. in April 2016. This was when then candidate Trump was delivering a major foreign policy speech. Doing the event and speech had been my idea, and I oversaw its execution. I arrived at the hotel early to make sure all logistics were in order. After that, I stopped into the reception to thank the host of the event, Dimitri Simes, the publisher of the bi-monthly foreign policy magazine, The National Interest, who had done a great job putting everything together. Mr. Simes and his group had created the guest list and extended the invitations for the event. He introduced me to several guests, among them four ambassadors, including Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. With all the ambassadors, including Mr. Kislyak, we shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy. The ambassadors also expressed interest in creating a positive relationship should we win the election. Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.

What makes this so interesting is that everyone in Washington DC who closely follows the Russians’ lobbying efforts assumed that the idea behind it came from Paul Manafort. For example, James Kirchick wrote at the time of the speech that it was all Manafort’s doing:

Trump’s speech — introduced by Zalmay Khalilzad, a former Bush administration ambassador to the United Nations, Afghanistan and Iraq and about as establishment a figure as one finds in the Republican foreign policy firmament — represents the latest phase of a makeover strategy implemented by Paul Manafort, a longtime Republican aide whom Trump hired last month to professionalize his improvisational, unwieldy campaign…

…That Trump would choose the Center for the National Interest as the place to premier his new seriousness on foreign policy has Manafort’s fingerprints all over it. For Manafort and the Center have something very important in common: both have ties to the Russian regime of President Vladimir Putin, (whose ambassador to the United States sat in the front row for Trump’s address).

Insofar as anyone besides Manafort was deemed responsible for doing this speech under the auspices of a Putin mouthpiece, it was a man named Richard Burt whose name has largely disappeared from discussions about possible coordination:

Another association connecting Trump to the Center is Richard Burt, chairman of the National Interest’s advisory council, and a former ambassador to Germany and State Department official during the Reagan administration. According to a knowledgeable source, Burt, who had previously worked as an unpaid advisor to former Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, has been enlisted by Manafort to join Trump’s campaign and helped draft his speech (neither Burt nor Manafort responded to inquiries). Burt sits on the senior advisory board of the Russian Alfa Bank.

It’s strange to think that Kushner might have been the person who decided to go to the Center for the National Interest as the host for Trump’s first major foreign policy address. Why would he even know a person like Dmitri Simes?

This cast of characters was originally associated with the campaign of Rand Paul which fizzled out badly, but they seem to have attached themselves to Trump’s campaign as a group last April. Mr. Simes and Mr. Burt were named as a foreign policy advisers to Paul’s campaign, which was controversial in foreign policy circles at the time because Simes is well-known to be extraordinarily close to Vladimir Putin.

Simes’ views and connections are widely known in Russia policy circles. Last September, days after Vladimir Putin published a column in the New York Times denouncing American exceptionalism, Simes joined the Russian president on stage at the Valdai International Discussion Club forum in Russia for a televised panel discussion.

Flanked by three other panelists—Germany’s former defense minister and France and Italy’s former prime ministers—Simes seemed out of place at the high-ranking, Kremlin-sponsored forum.

“No one directly addresses Putin at Dimitri Simes’ level,” noted one Washington-based Russia policy expert. “It just doesn’t happen.”

Putin, in good spirits from his recent success at preventing U.S. military action against the Syrian regime, chatted with Simes about U.S. and Russia policy and quizzed his “American friend and colleague” about the U.S. budget deficit.

“I fully support President Putin’s tough stance [on Syria],” said Simes, according to the transcript released by the Kremlin.

“Not because I’m not an American patriot, but because I believe that baby talk among great powers is not the way to reach an agreement. One has to understand what to expect from the other country, and what their mettle is.”

He hoped recent events would “open up a real opportunity for Russian-American relations.”

The appearance with Putin “set off a lot of internal alarm bells with Russian experts,” said one Russia policy specialist.

“You don’t get onstage with Putin, and sit onstage with Putin, and ask him questions in public, unless everything has been greased and unless you’re not gonna do anything that detracts from the message.”

Simes has been dogged throughout his career by allegations that his work and his organizations have a pro-Kremlin slant.

I may report more extensively in the future about Russia’s influence over the Center for the National Interest and another think tank that the Kremlin directly funds named the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation that was “formed in New York in 2008 under Putin adviser Andranik Migranyan.” Ironically, it was a WikiLeaks disclosure that revealed that Mr. Migranyan had been personally appointed as head of the New York think tank by Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Here’s a taste of how that looks:

Today, the Center for the National Interest often partners with the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation.

“The Center for the National Interest periodically arranges events with the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation as we have done with a number of other organizations in Russia across Russia’s political spectrum,” said Saunders. “These events have always included individuals with differing perspectives who often disagree with one another during the discussion.”

Migranyan was selected to run the IDC by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to a confidential State Department cable released by WikiLeaks.

“Further boosting Migranyan’s candidacy is his well-known loyalty to the Kremlin and, especially, Putin and Medvedev, whom he describes as ‘democrats’ who support a liberal economic regime,” said the cable.

Migranyan has often been given a platform both by the Center for the National Interest and in the National Interest.

Last May, the IDC and the Center for the National Interest held a joint press conference during which Migranyan defended Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

In a National Interest article last February, Migranyan said American conservatives should “recognize Putin is the same type of ‘great communicator’ that Reagan represented—a bold leader and visionary.”

“I would like to turn to O’Reilly, Krauthammer, Senator McCain, Dennis Miller, and others,” wrote Migranyan. “I would like to appeal to them paraphrasing Safire: ‘Gentlemen, do not be afraid to say that you love Putin, that you dream of such a leader for the United States.’

I’m tempted to say that I simply do not believe Kushner when he says that having Dimiri Simes host the Mayflower Hotel event was his idea. He may have taken over the project and seen that it went smoothly, but the choice to go with a den of Kremlin-controlled hosts could only have originated with someone with prior experience working with Putin’s D.C. operatives.

It is of course of interest what Trump said in the speech and that Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak was in the front row. It is important to know that Kislyak reported back to Moscow that he had met on the sidelines of this event with Jeff Sessions who claims to have no memory of their conversation. But more significant and damning than any of that was the decision to go to the Center for the National Interest and Dimitri Simes as sponsors and hosts.

Kushner needs to answer a lot of questions about how this came about, because it almost certainly was not his idea. And, if it actually was, that opens up a lot of new questions.

from novemoore

The Ghost of Barry Goldwater and the Censorship of American Psychiatrists

In middle of the 1964 presidential campaign—just a year after JFK’s assassination—a minor media spectacle erupted that still resonates today. The publisher of Fact magazine sent a survey to psychiatrists asking about Republican nominee Barry Goldwater’s fitness for the presidency. In a nuclear age, Goldwater’s extremism-in-defense-of liberty philosophy scared many liberals, who are overrepresented among psychiatrists.

The cover story that followed wasn’t presented especially scientifically. The questionnaire was sent to 12,356 psychiatrists, only 20 percent of whom responded. Of those, almost one-half said they didn’t think Goldwater had any psychiatric problem that precluded fitness for the presidency. Still, the magazine presented the results with a sensationalist headline: “1189 psychiatrists say Goldwater is psychologically unfit to be president!” Specific statements from those respondents included claims that Goldwater was a classic schizophrenic, paranoid, and delusional; “I believe Goldwater has the same pathological make-up as Hitler, Castro, Stalin and other known schizophrenic leaders,” wrote one psychiatrist.

After the 1964 election, Goldwater sued Fact magazine for libel, won a $75,000 verdict, and ran it out of business. A few years later, the leadership of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) came to terms with its role in the Fact magazine affair, and published ethics guidelines forbidding member psychiatrists from commenting about the mental state of public figures.

Fast-forward a half-century. President Trump increasingly appears to be erratic and impulsive, with incoherent tweets sent at the crack of dawn villainizing the media and his detractors. In a digital age, pundits abound, but hardly a psychiatrist is heard. The “Goldwater Rule,” as it has come to be called, has censored them all, even as calls for Trump’s removal from the presidency based on his mental state —via the 25th Amendment—have swelled.

America’s psychiatrists continue live under Barry Goldwater’s shadow, and the American public elects its presidents without any psychiatric knowledge about them.

That’s a problem. Voters should care about having access to candidates’ psychiatric information because severe mental illnesses can render one unfit to be a political leader. But, it’s useful for a counterintuitive reason too: some psychiatric conditions, especially when mild, may be exactly what we need in our best leaders. The greatness of figures such as Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln, among others, may have been due in part to their psychiatric illnesses.

If our current president has a psychiatric condition, it’s useful to know how it might have helped him reach his current place of power, and also how it potentially could direct his actions as president.

The Goldwater Rule exists for two reasons. First, psychiatrists are ethically forbidden from revealing diagnoses without the consent of a patient, and second, it’s not professionally sound to diagnose a patient without directly examining that individual. Neither justification makes sense for public figures, though. The consent of a public figure is irrelevant to a psychiatric opinion, because consent and confidentiality only holds when there is a doctor-patient relationship. If the public figure isn’t my patient, I don’t need his consent to say anything I’d like to say about him.

Also, public figures give up some of their privacy rights. Most people will guard their taxes and their medical records jealously; they’re private. But it’s widely accepted that all presidential candidates should release their taxes—the current president being a glaring exception—and make their medical examination public knowledge. In a democracy, the public has a right to know about its leaders’ medical health. Why should psychiatric conditions be excluded?

Second, direct examination isn’t essential to psychiatric practice, nor is it uncommon to make diagnoses without relying on the direct examination of the patient. There is a unique phenomenon in psychiatry called “lack of insight,” which means that part of having a mental illness is that the patient doesn’t realize that she has an illness. Lack of insight is especially present in delusions, like with schizophrenia, and often with addictions. In the emergency room setting, it’s common to ignore what delusional or addicted patients will claim, and to rely on the report of family, friends, police, and others. In short, “direct examination” isn’t central to psychiatric diagnosis—often it’s useless.

There’s also an unspoken rationale for the Goldwater Rule which has nothing to do with ethics or standards of practice. The real concern is the enactment of personal political opinions behind the cloak of psychiatric legitimacy. In every election cycle over the past four decades, psychiatrists regularly have had opinions about candidates on both the left and right that follow their own political preferences. In a cacophony of politically-driven opinions, the Goldwater Rule is a mechanism of forcing psychiatrists to behave.

That’s the real motive behind the Goldwater Rule: psychiatrists are behaving badly, misusing their clinical terms to justify their political opinions. This certainly was the case in 1964. And it can be the case today. But need it be the case?

In recent years, APA leaders have added another justification to their rationalization of the Goldwater Rule. Making comments about public figures is stigmatizing, they claim.  Stigma, or discrimination against psychiatric conditions ultimately is a reflection of society’s ignorance and biases. The reason to end discrimination against psychiatric illness is the same reason why many fight against racism and sexism: it’s immoral. But I would emphasize that it’s also not factual: psychiatric illnesses aren’t necessarily bad, harmful, terrible things. In some ways, those with psychiatric illnesses are better than those who are mentally healthy.

Take Winston Churchill. His doctor, Lord Moran, published diaries about a decade after the statesman’s death, in which he revealed Churchill’s life-long severe depressive episodes, for which he was treated with amphetamines, the first modern class of antidepressants. Churchill’s doctors also diagnosed and treated him for manic-depressive illness. His family included several severely depressed and psychiatrically hospitalized relatives, as befits this highly genetic condition. (His own daughter committed suicide.)

Abraham Lincoln was diagnosed with severe melancholy, the 19th century term for severe depression, and was treated with mercury pills. He was suicidal at times, and his friends hid knives from him. His family also was known to have a number of members with insanity.

Yet Churchill and Lincoln—among others—were great leaders in times of crisis, perhaps not only in spite, but because, of their conditions. Research over the last few decades shows some benefits exist with depressive and manic states. In psychological experiments, people with depression are more realistic than normal, mentally healthy, non-depressed persons. People with depression score higher on tests of empathy than normal mentally healthy individuals. Mania is associated with creativity, both in psychological tests and in studies of creative professions. Writers and artists have much higher rates of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder than control groups.

Put inversely, being mentally healthy has some disadvantages; people are generally less realistic, less empathetic, and less creative compared to those with manic-depression. These are the leadership traits needed in crisis, while being sane, solid, and predictable works well for a leader during non-crisis times. In times of peace and prosperity, the mentally healthy leader, who gets along well with others and conforms to society’s norms, is popular. Calvin Coolidge and Neville Chamberlain were excellent and popular leaders in the 1920s, before war and economic crisis. Winston Churchill was a failed leader in the same period, a terrible chancellor of the exchequer in the 1920s who fiddled with an economy that didn’t need fiddling. He was a failure in peacetime, a victor in war.

So mental health and mental illness aren’t as simple as some would like to believe: one or the other isn’t always good or always bad. Some famous failed crisis leaders were quite mentally healthy, normal, sane, pleasant, solid persons: Chamberlain and General George McClellan are two classic counterexamples to Churchill and Lincoln, both in their sanity and their failure as crisis leaders.

Of course, there also are negative historical examples. Adolf Hitler, for instance, clearly had severe manic-depressive illness. From his adolescence onward, he had weeks to months when he would be grandiose, active, highly energetic, talking endlessly—a manic episode—alternating with weeks to months where he had no energy at all, couldn’t speak, would lay in bed, uninterested in everything, sometimes suicidal—a depressive episode. His personal physician diagnosed him with manic-depressive illness. There even was a plot by generals in 1938 to arrest him and then to have the prominent psychiatrist Dr. Karl Bonhoeffer declare Hitler insane and unfit for office.

So is Donald Trump more like Churchill and Lincoln, or more like Hitler? Here is where most commentators would make their psychiatric judgments based on their political preferences. But let’s be as objective as possible.

Though most of Trump’s opponents emphasize “narcissism,” this term is dubious as a psychiatric diagnosis. (The validity of the concept of “narcissistic personality disorder” has been found to be questionable in clinical research studies.) The adjective may have meaning: someone is arrogant and self-absorbed; but that’s an English descriptor, not a scientifically proven disease. We need not censor any such discussion with the Goldwater Rule, but we also shouldn’t misuse psychiatric concepts for personal or political purposes.

Instead, there are other features of the president that reflect a clear psychiatric diagnosis, without any need for hand-wringing about “direct examination,” since the president admits, even revels in, many of these traits: he brags that he has little need for sleep; he’s very talkative; he’s high in energy; he’s very self-confident; he’s very distractible. This combination of traits adds up to a manic episode, which would be part of manic-depressive illness. Yet Trump doesn’t have “episodes”; his symptoms are constant. These symptoms add up to a hyperthymic temperament, a concept that has been scientifically validated for almost a century, and is genetically and biologically related to manic-depression. This condition is especially common among entrepreneurial leaders, and was likely present in both Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

How does this psychiatric assessment relate to any political judgments about the president?

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Trump’s methods in the 2016 election broke many norms of political campaigning, and yet still proved effective. He clearly was more creative than his opponent, realizing that traditionally blue Midwestern states could shift against the Democrats.

Since the election, his political failures—the initial Muslim ban, the health care bill, the tension with NATO allies—raise concerns about whether he is attuned to reality. His impulsive decisions and self-inflicted wounds regarding the FBI’s Russia probe raise questions about his ability to manage the office of the presidency. The possibility of legal risks, including potential impeachment, have quickly surfaced for the beleaguered president. All these factors suggest that the same manic features which helped a candidate creatively now serve a sitting president poorly.

We’ve so far avoided a major national crisis, like a terrorist attack or a major economic jolt. So, Trump’s actions may be creating crises where none exist, or turning small ones into larger ones. Psychiatrically, Trump is no Neville Chamberlain, and, though he may share some psychiatric traits, he’s no Winston Churchill either. Rather, like Hitler or Kennedy, if he is taking steroids or some other substance that could worsen his baseline hyperthymia, he could veer towards harming himself and his office.

Making a psychiatric diagnosis in a public figure need not be a political death sentence.  Maybe we should be looking for some conditions, like manic-depression, in our leaders. I’m not claiming that there are no disadvantages to manic-depression, and other psychiatric conditions. When severe, depression renders you nonfunctional and suicidal; when severe, mania can lead to delusions and harmfully impulsive behavior. The advantages conferred by these states are more prominent when the symptoms are mild to moderate. This would require more engagement, not less, between psychiatry and political life.

The fact that the American Psychiatric Association thinks it’s so terrible to make psychiatric diagnoses of public figures shows that APA leaders themselves are discriminating against psychiatric illnesses. The assumption is that any psychiatric diagnosis will be harmful to the public figure. Instead of trying to fight society’s stigmatizing beliefs, the APA accepts them.

Instead, psychiatrists should publicly engage to fight the stigmatization of psychiatric illnesses. They should speak about psychiatric illnesses freely, to inform and educate, and not as a weapon to harm others.

Presidential candidates should make their medical records open to the public, including their psychiatric records. Medical evaluation of candidates should include a psychiatric evaluation, conducted by independent examiners. Identified illnesses shouldn’t be viewed as disqualifying, but as informative, having both positive and negative aspects.

In politics, discrimination based on race, gender, and sexuality is slowly receding relative to past decades.

Now it’s the turn of psychiatric illness. It’s time to use psychiatric knowledge for the benefit of political life. It’s time to put an end to the Goldwater Rule, an act of censorship based on faulty assumptions that derive from and worsen the stigma against psychiatric disease.

from novemoore

Jersey Jazzman: The Secrets of Successful Charter Schools (Extra Money and Shedding Students)

This is second in Mark Weber’s two-part series about an amazing charter school in Philadelphia.

He reveals its secrets: it gets more funding than public schools. It chooses its students with care. It loses students who can’t make the grade. A sure-fire formula for student success!

He writes:

“A follow-up to yesterday’s post:

“As I noted, NBC’s Sunday Night with Megan Kelly broadcast a story earlier this month about Boys Latin Charter School, a “successful” charter school in Philadelphia which claims to have ten times the college completion rate of its neighboring high schools.

“To his credit, reporter Craig Melvin didn’t swallow the claims of the school whole, and pushed back on the idea that Boys Latin serves an equivalent student population to those surrounding high schools. But he did miss two important points:

“First, and as I documented in the last post, Boys Latin raises funds outside of the monies it collects from public sources. The amounts add up to thousands of dollars per pupil per year.

“As Bruce Baker notes in this (somewhat snarky) post, you really can’t make a comparison between two schools and call one “successful” without taking into account the differences in resources available to both. Philadelphia’s public school district has been chronically underfunded for years. It’s hardly fair for Boys Latin to collect millions in extra revenue, then brag about their college persistence rate compared to schools that don’t have enough funding to provide an adequate education.

“But there’s another issue Melvin missed — an issue that Boys Latin’s founder, David Hardy, has been refreshingly candid about in the past:

Hypothetically speaking, say a charter school is authorized to serve up to 500 students, but, for whatever reason, 50 students leave through the course of a school year. A charter that “backfills” will enroll the next 50 kids on its wait list as space becomes available.

Other schools will replace those empty spots at the beginning of the next school year, including filling seats in the upper grades.

Charters that don’t do this will watch their total enrollment in a grade dwindle year by year — retaining only the students tenacious enough to persist.

In contrast, district-run neighborhood schools and renaissance charters must enroll all students living within a prescribed catchment zone, no matter what time of year or grade, when they show up asking for a seat.

At first glance this difference may seem a subtle nuance, but Philadelphia educators say the policy difference tremendously affects school culture and performance.


David Hardy, CEO of Boys’ Latin, subscribes to the same theory. He oversees a rigorous admissions process that begins well before the school year.

Boys’ Latin asks prospective ninth-graders to submit letters of intent in November, nearly a year before they would enroll. Staff then interview students and parents to ensure that they understand the school’s rigor — classes run until 5 p.m., students must learn Latin, wear a uniform, and adhere to a strict code of conduct.

Those who commit attend a month-long freshman academy in July before the school-year-proper begins.
By September, he said, the kids are all on the same page.

“You introduce new people into that, and it can kind of mess up the environment,” said Hardy.

“This is an issue that comes up over and over again in charter school research: student cohort attrition. As a cohort of students (Class of “x”) moves from freshman to sophomore to junior to senior year, it may lose students. Sometimes students drop out; sometimes they move. If a charter school “backfills,” they then replace the students who left with new students who come into the school in later years.

“Many charters have high student cohort attrition rates, meaning students leave the school before graduation — often returning to the public, district schools, which must take them no matter when they arrive at the schoolhouse door. These same charters don’t backfill, so their cohort sizes shrink as they move toward their senior years.”

You too can create a miracle school. Pick your students carefully; create a few hurdles to winnow out the slackers; bid farewell to those who can’t keep up; get some deep-pocketed funders.

Simple. A miracle!

from novemoore