Roy Eidelson – a leader of psychologists against torture – on Trump as a racist predator

Sessions/Bannon/trump want to expand Guantanamo. Sessions is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant crusader along with Bannon – the two really define evil -as well as a segregationist (opposes the Voting Rights Act), and a liar under oath about contacts with Russia (a comparatively a minor matter…).

Roy Eidelson, a leader of psychologists against torture (thee group that led the revolt on the leadership of the APA participating in torture, speaks out against the Predatory Presidency…


The Predatory Presidency

Recent executive orders reveal the Trump White House as a ruthless predator set to prey upon the most vulnerable among us

Roy J. Eidelson, PhD

The season premiere of BBC America’s Planet Earth II includes remarkable footage from the desolate Galapagos Islands. In one striking scene, baby marine iguanas race across the sand, desperately trying to elude dozens of snakes eager for their next meal. Although such stark life-or-death struggles are difficult to watch, it helps to remember that they reflect nature’s dynamic balance.

Far more disturbing — and unnatural — are the Trump Administration’s similarly ruthless predator-like attacks on whatever groups it chooses as its prey. Adding to their repugnance, several of these assaults over the past month — through a series of executive orders — are inherently racist, seemingly propelled by the ugly 14-word credo of white nationalists everywhere: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Three White House orders stand out. First, there’s the determined pursuit of a Muslim travel ban, one that will prevent thousands of tempest-tossed and despairing refugees from entering the country. Second, there’s the heartless stalking of undocumented Hispanic immigrants, including the near indiscriminate roundup, detention, and deportation of law-abiding men, women, and children. And third, there’s the early blueprint for a “tough on crime” law enforcement crackdown, an onslaught that will inevitably and predominantly disrupt and besiege Black communities and activists.

These three groups, all non-white, have been selected as the initial targets for aggressive and oppressive government action (there will undoubtedly be others). To be sure, this isn’t entirely new. As Langston Hughes wrote 80 years ago, “America never was America to me.” But along with Trump himself, influential White House strategists Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller of the “alt-right” and new Attorney General Jeff Sessions have especially troubling histories of outright hostility and scornful indifference toward those who don’t share their skin color.

We’ve also seen that predators in the wild aren’t the only ones to use trickery, deception, and stealth as complements to brute force. Disguising the real impetus behind these executive orders, the Trump White House turns to sky-is-falling psychological mind games, warning us that these steps are necessary to protect the public from dire threats. The Islamophobia-nurturing Muslim travel ban is deceitfully presented as an essential counter-terrorism measure. ICE raids are defended with the fiction that millions of Hispanic immigrants are “bad hombres” and the rest are a drain on limited public resources. And repressive steps against African Americans are justified through bogus tales of a nationwide crime wave and “carnage in our inner cities.”

The purpose of these appeals is simple: to short-circuit the public’s critical reasoning; overwhelm us with emotions of fear and dread; and thereby garner either our active support or acquiescence. Once a crisis environment is created, once we begin to catastrophize and imagine the worst possible outcomes, then even the most extreme measures can begin to seem prudent. This is proven snake oil that’s stood the test of time. Recall that Nazi propagandist Herman Goering acknowledged as much when, during the Nuremberg trials after World War II, he explained:

“Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

But once we recognize these manipulative psychological ploys for what they are, the path forward becomes increasingly clear. First, whenever possible, we must expose and condemn the racist falsehoods of the President and his cronies. Second, we should counter and undermine the constant fearmongering they use to advance their agenda of intolerance. And third, we need to do whatever we can to help protect the individuals, families, and communities most immediately at risk of ambush and assault.

This may sound like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, however, the mass protests and daily acts of civil resistance throughout the country over the past several weeks have already demonstrated our resolve. They’ve also revealed our capacity to expand our “circle of moral concern,” so that it extends well beyond those we hold most dear or consider most similar to us.

In nature, potential prey instinctually use a wide range of strategies to ward off attacks — from camouflage to traveling in groups to alarm signals to communal defense based on strength in numbers — and they rarely succumb without a fight. With the merciless predators from the White House now on the prowl, surely we must be prepared to do the same.


Roy Eidelson studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. He is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, former executive director of the Solomon Asch Center for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict at the University of Pennsylvania, and a member of the Coalition for an Ethical Psychology. Roy can be reached by email at and on Twitter @royeidelson.

Roy J. Eidelson, Ph.D.
President, Eidelson Consulting
Past President, Psychologists for Social Responsibility
Member, Coalition for an Ethical Psychology
twitter: @royeidelson


It is worth rereading Eidelson’s statement on the monstrous corruption in the American Psychological Association, whose leadership was swallowed by the torturers. As protest from below forced out the story, here is Eidelson’S response. At the bottom, it refers to professional ethics. This is in general a misguided phrase; it is ethics or being a decent person as opposed to a monster, and also the core of what distinguishes law since the Magna Carta which requires that each person have a day in court and not be tortured. that is why the uprising of ordinary psychologists, mirroring the uprising of ordinary Americans against the predatory President, is so important.


Op-Ed How the American Psychological Assn. lost its way
The Salt Pit
Satellite imagery shows the Salt Pit, a CIA “black site” prison complex located north of Kabul, Afghanistan, where detainees were submitted to harsh interrogations devised by American psychologists John Jessen and James Mitchell. (DigitalGlobe / Getty Images)
Roy Eidelson, Jean Maria Arrigo
The American Psychological Assn. is in crisis.

Last December, a Senate Intelligence Committee report laid bare the extensive involvement of individual psychologists in the CIA’s black-site torture program. Then, in early July, a devastating independent report by a former federal prosecutor determined that more than a decade ago APA leaders — including the director of ethics — began working secretly with military representatives. Together they crafted deceptively permissive ethics policies for psychologists that effectively enabled abusive interrogation of war-on-terror prisoners to continue.

These revelations have shocked and outraged not just psychologists but also the public at large. After all, the APA’s ethics code for psychologists governs not only its 80,000 members but also underlies the policies of most state licensing boards.

The fallout will be on full display next month as the APA — the world’s largest association of psychology practitioners, researchers and educators — holds its annual convention in Toronto. There, APA authorities will face members’ confusion and rage during three APA Council governance meetings, a three-day teach-in organized by Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and open town hall meetings. Can this soul-searching be channeled into fruitful reforms, not just for the organization but also the future of the field? A lot is at stake in the weeks ahead.

The APA got into this mess by holding tightly to a deeply flawed assumption: that psychology should embrace every opportunity to expand its sphere of influence.

The APA’s relationship with military intelligence dates back to its contributions in critical areas such as aptitude assessment and teamwork during World War I and II. After the 9/11 attacks, the APA sought to become an indispensable source of psychological expertise for counter-terrorism efforts at the Pentagon and CIA. Along with other health professionals, psychologists got placed in key roles in clandestine interrogation operations. When this made headlines, both the American Medical Assn. and the American Psychiatric Assn. issued declarations against their members’ participation.

Are there really only two options on Iran?
Are there really only two options on Iran?
But the APA’s response was different. It launched the Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security and stacked it with military intelligence insiders. In quick order, the task force reached a disingenuous, preordained conclusion that psychologists have an important role to play, asserting that their involvement kept interrogations “safe, legal, ethical and effective.” The Bush administration immediately used this made-to-order policy to legitimize and continue its abusive detention and interrogation programs.

APA leaders were particularly eager to curry favor with the Pentagon. The Defense Department was already a major source of jobs and research funding, and involvement in the war against terrorism gave psychology a higher profile and opportunities to expand its reach. Psychologists were given new positions as behavioral science consultants at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other detention sites, as trainers of national security personnel, and as operational psychologists for military contractors. This was progress in the eyes of the APA leadership, and so for 10 years, the APA quashed any attempt to question its faux task force, loosened ethics, too-close ties to the military or its motivation to have psychologists play a central role in “enhancing” interrogations.

Substantial areas of military and intelligence work are at odds with psychologists’ commitment to do no harm.
Along with colleagues, we personally spent years working to expose and reverse those transgressions. Throughout, the APA’s leaders adhered to the CIA’s informal motto: admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations. After one of us (Arrigo) went public with details from her role as one of the token civilians on the 2005 task force, she was targeted with character assassination.

Can the APA regain its legitimacy? Those known to have colluded, covered up or ignored the wrongdoing cannot remain in positions of leadership. Governance policies must become more transparent and democratic. Old ethics complaints may need to be reexamined. Ultimately, a federal investigation may be necessary for adequate APA reform.

And the APA’s ethics code — especially as it pertains to national security settings — needs an urgent overhaul. For many reasons, it will not be as simple as just cutting ties with the Pentagon, not least because dedicated psychologists provide personnel and training services to the Department of Defense and critical care to our country’s soldiers, veterans and their families.

But substantial areas of military and intelligence work are at odds with psychologists’ commitment to do no harm. Our profession has yet to address profound ethical challenges posed by national security operations and research in which the intent is to cause injury, or where the targets of intervention have not consented, or where actions are beyond the reach of oversight by outside ethics panels. Without imposing ethical constraints in these contexts, psychologists risk further loss of public trust and the erosion of psychological science.

Psychology as a profession should not seek unbridled growth. That view is grandiose and misguided. The effective bounds of our professional ethics and expertise must limit our horizons. After the 9/11 attacks, the APA could have used its knowledge, reputation and influence to promote alternatives to the tragic choices our government made. Instead, it lost its way to war entrepreneurs, careerists and yea-sayers.