One of the most distressing developments in the era of President Trump is the growing disregard for professional standards.
Critics complain that America's 45th president has debased the White House. They say he has brought with him an attitude and spirit that is far below the dignity of the station he currently holds. Between Trump's rage- tweeting and his petty attacks on his own cabinet members, it's hard to disagree.
Unfortunately, Trump isn't the only one failing to live up to the nobility of his position. Many politically engaged professionals, including journalists, entertainers and mental health experts, have discarded years of ethics and standards, jumping headfirst into the muck, and all in the name of sticking it to Trump.
The latest example of this sort of lowering of oneself to meet our gradually degrading politics took place this weekend in New York City, where 125 mental health professionals marched on Broadway, demanding that Trump be declared mentally unfit and removed from office.
This violates at least the spirit of the American Psychological Association code of ethics, which states that mental health experts should never perform armchair analyses of persons with whom they've never met to conduct an in-person evaluation.
"We can sense the power of Trump's underlying fear that he is worthless and weak by how intensely he resists and retaliated against any criticism," said Cornell University psychologist Harry Segal, according to the New York Post. "No matter how minor, he can't let anything go."
Psychologist Michelle Golland said the same.
"We're actually suffering from his narcissistic personality," she said. "He has no empathy. You can feel it, the way he spoke about the San Juan mayor … She has PTSD and our president mistreats her. She is re-victimized. That is a narcissist."
The Post described Saturday's mental health demonstration, writing, "The marchers, dressed in black and wearing red plastic strips around their necks reading "Danger,'' were led by psychologist Peter Fraenkel of City College, who carried a drum and beat out a funereal rhythm."
Because that sounds very healthy and normal.
Demonstrating against the president is fine and good. Free speech is great! Denouncing the president from a position of medical authority when one has no more than just casual observation, however, is both unethical and extremely irresponsible, according to both the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
In 1964, a survey of psychiatrists found that almost half of the respondents believed GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was mentally unfit to be president of the United States.
The survey quoted some licensed psychiatrists as referring to Goldwater as a "dangerous lunatic," "paranoid" and a "counterfeit figure of a masculine man." Others said he had an "impulsive quality," while others still accused him of being "emotionally too unstable" and that he had a "Godlike self-image."
Does this sound familiar?
Goldwater went on to lose the election, but he won his defamation lawsuit against the now-defunct Fact magazine, which published the psychiatrist survey. The American Psychiatric Association's president called the entire incident a "very public ethical misstep," and the group moved to institute a code, known commonly as the Goldwater Rule, stating that psychiatrists are to refrain from offering diagnoses of persons based on nothing more than casual observation. Psychologists, for their part, adhere to a very similar rule, for the same reason.
Saturday's march on Broadway is, sadly, the latest in a series of ethically dubious anti-Trump actions taken by members of the medical community.
In February, for example, 33 mental health experts sent a signed letter to the New York Times warning of the president's "emotional instability."
"We fear that too much is at stake to be silent any longer," the letter read. The president's words and actions reveal he has an "inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions," the letter added, claiming also that Trump is "attacking facts and those who convey them."
Again, none of these professionals has actually performed an in-person evaluation of the president. All they know is what they see on television.
The move away from a more than 40-year-old ethical standard shows remarkably poor judgment and it gets worse when you realize these mental health professionals are not alone in having an extreme reaction to the rise of Trump. Many in the news and entertainment industries have also reacted poorly, throwing off all semblance of dignity to embrace their worst selves.
Late-night comedy, for example, has long been a cesspit for the politics of contempt. Former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart made his living attacking conservatives. However, he did it with it with a wink and a grin because he was enjoying himself and winning. The tone is different today. The election of Trump sped up the already-in-effect devolution of late-night comedy, reducing many hosts from merely grinning partisan operatives to sputtering messes of incoherent, spittle-flecked rage.
The press has also seen a cheapening of journalistic standards, as several reporters and pundits have tossed caution to the wind in favor of being the one to get the big "scoop" on the president and his cohorts. The rush to be first, but not necessarily correct, has, of course, resulted in a rash of extraordinarily bad reporting. We've cataloged a lot of that here.
The mental health march this weekend is in the same vein.
Professional standards are being ignored or discarded by people who once embraced them, and it is all being done in the name of combatting Trumpism.
Perhaps the thinking here is that to fight a monster, one must first become a monster. But that just means there are more monsters.