The Case of Donald Trump and the Goldwater Rule: Politics and Professional Ethics Intertwined

AuthorJustin T. Piccorelli,R. McGreggor Cawley
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2022 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211004785
In 2017, a group of predominantly psychiatrists and men-
tal health professionals published a compendium of
assessments expressing concern about President Donald
Trump’s dangerous personality traits (Lee 2019).1 These
assessments ostensibly represented judgments based in
professional knowledge and training—not politics. While
the book garnered less public attention than the contribu-
tors perhaps hoped for, it set off a rather spirited debate
within the mental health professional community. The
central issue in the debate was a provision from the
American Psychiatric Association (APA) code of ethics,
commonly referred to as the “Goldwater rule”:
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an
individual who is in the light of public attention or who has
disclosed information about himself/herself through public
media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with
the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in
general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a
professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an
examination and has been granted proper authorization for
such a statement. (APA 2013, 9)
Critics charged that since none of the contributors had
undertaken a direct examination of Trump, nor secured
his permission for public comment, they had violated this
established standard for acceptable professional conduct.
A primary response of the contributors was that, as pro-
fessionals, they had a responsibility, even duty, to publish
their assessments in an effort to protect the public (Lee
2019). What interested us in this controversy is that the
contributors’ actual assessments received little attention,
instead, the prominent theme was the potential damage
the book might cause to the prestige and integrity of the
mental health profession. For example, discussing vari-
ous criticisms of the project, Herman and Lee (2019,
liii–liv) noted, “Psychiatry, we were warned, should stay
out of politics; otherwise, the profession could end up
being ethically compromised.”
In consequence, our intent is to use this controversy as
an occasion to investigate the broader dialogue about the
tension between professionalism and politics in the gov-
erning process. Our specific interest in this regard is the
recurring contention that professional ethical standards
fall outside the purview of, if not in opposition to, the
political realm. As Frederick Mosher (1982, 117) argued
in his now seminal study, Democracy and the Public
Service, a profession has a “continuing drive . . . to
1004785PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211004785Political Research QuarterlyPiccorelli and Cawley
1University of Wyoming, Laramie, USA
Corresponding Author:
Justin T. Piccorelli, School of Politics, Public Affairs and International
Studies, University of Wyoming, 1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3197,
Laramie, WY 82071, USA.
The Case of Donald Trump and
the Goldwater Rule: Politics and
Professional Ethics Intertwined
Justin T. Piccorelli1 and R. McGreggor Cawley1
In 1964, after a group of psychiatrists questioned Barry Goldwater’s mental health during the presidential campaign,
the Goldwater rule became part of American Psychiatric Association’s medical ethics. The events surrounding the
Goldwater rule indicate changes in the practice of psychiatry, but also politics. More recently, thirty-seven psychiatrists
were compelled to question the mental health of President Donald Trump believing their greatest responsibility is
to the well-being of the citizenry. These psychiatrists point to the intertwining of politics and professional ethics, a
relationship, which our paper attempts to better understand.
ethics, professional ethics, politics, ecology of profession, psychiatry, Goldwater rule
2022, Vol. 75(4) 1313–1320

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