Donald Trump had just heard something that concerned him.
It was Season Two, Episode Three of The Apprentice, his hit NBC reality-TV show, and he was sitting in a red leather chair at the large conference table in Trump Tower across from his female contestants. Among them was Stacie J., a striking woman with a honey-colored afro who had managed to rub her entire team the wrong way with her eccentric behavior.
The other contestants said they found Stacie’s unpredictable demeanor worrying. In particular, Stacie had a quirky habit of consulting a Magic 8-Ball toy before her team embarked on high-pressure tasks for the cameras. Everyone thought this was a weird thing to do, except for Stacie.
“Do you believe that?” Trump, his eyes wide, asked Stacie of the Magic 8-Ball. She said she didn’t, but the other women contradicted her.
“Mr. Trump, the bottom line is, I am not crazy,” Stacie said.
“This comes from two people, Stacie, that don’t like each other at all,” he said. “The first thing they’ve agreed on is that you’re crazy... Stacie, if you have a problem, I don’t want you running one of my companies.”
He went around the conference table, asking each woman to confirm what he had heard about Stacie’s mental state as Stacie looked on in disbelief.
One called her “borderline schizophrenic”; another said she “did act very odd”; a contestant named Stacy—with a ‘y’—said it made her “feel sad” because “I’m not sure if this is something clinical and I’m sensitive to that, but it was one of the most scary moments of my life.”
Trump had heard enough.
“Stacie, this seems to be a very serious problem,” he said. “Your entire team’s expressed concern about your behavior and they really seem nervous about it. When it’s unanimous like this, all I can say is there’s gotta be some reason, and I just can’t have a loose cannon on my hands, someone who might potentially cause this kind of stress to my team.”
He took a breath.
“Stacie,” he said, “you’re fired.”
All of this played out on network television in front of some 16 million viewers, and not everyone was happy about it.
Reality television is not, after all, the most constructive context in which to even discuss mental illness, let alone accuse someone of being mentally ill without any real proof or anyone of expertise on hand to monitor the intervention.
Morris Fischer, a discrimination lawyer from Baltimore, told the New York Post that Trump violated federal law by firing Stacie in that manner. And the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health announced that The Apprentice “sets a bad example of how to handle mental illness in the workplace” and called Trump’s performance “inappropriate” and “irresponsible beyond justification.”
Twelve years later, even more Americans are watching the Republican primaries and again, Trump has found himself framing mental illness as an indictment of character—but this time he isn’t only a reality-TV star, he’s the frontrunner for the presidential nomination. His words have more weight now and they go further. He no longer has millions of mere viewers, but hundreds of thousands of people who give credibility to his every thought with their vote. It’s a dangerous time for people Trump deems less than, in short, because his verdicts are now taken more seriously than ever.
After Make America Awesome, a political action committee designed to take down Trump, released an ad that featured his wife, Melania, posing naked, Trump was understandably upset. He blamed Ted Cruz, his central opponent for the nomination, for the ad, despite the fact that Cruz is not associated with Make America Awesome.
“Be careful or I will spill the beans on your wife,” he Tweeted to Cruz.
There’s speculation that the beans on Heidi were spilled long ago and related to a brief bout of depression. A police officer had once found Heidi near the side of the road and determined that she might be a danger to herself, according to BuzzFeed, but she soon recovered and went on to become a high-level executive at Goldman Sachs.
To some in Trump’s legion of followers, Heidi’s alleged history of depression is somehow disqualifying. They’ve created memes deeming her “mentally unstable” and photoshopped her wearing a straitjacket.
In Trumpian fashion, The Donald hasn’t condemned the behavior of his fans, but fanned the flames by retweeting a photo of his own airbrushed supermodel wife next to an unflattering portrait of Heidi.
Trump is no stranger to speaking indelicately—if not outright offensively—about mental illness, adding to stigma that already makes it difficult for those afflicted to seek help. Season Two of The Apprentice was an extended illustration of it, but there are plenty of other examples.
In the context of his presidential campaign, he is known for using words like “unstable” and “wacko” to criticize his opponents (Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders, respectively).
Once he labeled Lindsey Graham a “nut job” while campaigning in South Carolina (though Graham had started it by calling him a “kook”) and another time, he said Jeb Bush was a “basket case” because he gave a “terrible” performance on Face the Nation.
When Trump learned that Carson had once written, in his book Gifted Hands, that he used to possess “a pathological temper,” Trump began referring to Carson’s “pathological disease.” On ABC’s This Week, Trump said, “When you have a pathological disease, that’s a very serious problem because that’s not something that’s cured. That’s something you have to live with.”
Most of us are guilty of using “crazy” or “nuts” pejoratively without meaning to imply anything about mental health, but nevertheless those words that play so heavily in Trump’s vernacular are words that contribute to the incorrect perception that mental illness is a negative character trait.
And when coupled with Trump’s other statements—like that gun-free zones are “target practice for sickos and the mentally ill”—it seems possible that he sees no distinction between the two.
He’s talked about addressing mental health rather than enacting gun-control measures, though he’s provided few details about what that would look like, but his own words and behavior suggest he cares little about stigmatizing the mentally ill.
In 2004, Trump was building a 35-story condominium in White Plains, New York, then the tallest building in Westchester County.
To make room for it, the Samaritan House shelter—a women’s homeless shelter that housed those struggling with mental illness, abuse, or were on parole—would have to be shut down, according to the New York Post. A call placed to Grace Episcopal Church, which owns the shelter, was not answered on Monday but at the time, Trump told the Post he would “look into” the shelter “very seriously” after being informed that he would be evicting homeless women in need. A homeless shelter, he told the Post, was “typically not something that goes with luxury properties,” but he said “it could be OK” if it was run out of a church.
A few years later, in the midst of his feud with Rosie O’Donnell, then a cohost on The View, Trump mocked her for suffering from depression.
“If I looked like Rosie, I’d struggle with depression, too,” he said on Entertainment Tonight. Then, in a speech unearthed by BuzzFeed, he said, “She announced last week that she suffers from depression. They called me for a comment, and rather than saying, ‘I have no comment,’ or, ‘Isn’t that too bad, oh, that’s so bad,’ I said, ‘I think I can cure her depression,’—most of you heard this—‘If she stopped looking in the mirror, I think she’d stop being so depressed.’”
The possibility that Trump may himself suffer from narcissistic personality disorder has been batted around in the media since he announced his presidential campaign. Traits include: boastfulness, conceitedness, exaggerating one’s own accomplishments, entitlement, and, according to the Mayo Clinic, “you may insist on having ‘the best’ of everything–for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.”
Sound like anyone you know?
Reached by The Daily Beast, a cognition and education expert who did not want to be quoted on the record said it would make sense for a narcissist to project onto others as a means of deflecting from their own deficiencies. In other words, everybody else has a mental disorder and everybody else has a bad hairdo.