Behavioral health leaders must leverage their well honed people skills when talking to legislators under the Trump administration, according to Steve Clemons, editor at large for the Atlantic, speaking at the National Council for Behavioral Health annual conference this week.
“It’s the same thing you do with mental health: You have to meet them where they are,” he said.
Trump is unpredictable, according to Clemons, who had several interactions with the president prior to the election, but Trump also takes action quickly on issues that he makes a personal connection with. A seasoned journalist who has covered politics under several administrations, Clemons encouraged attendees to make their own judgments about the president.
In order to advance healthcare priorities, such as mental health first aid, Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics and funding to combat the opioid crisis, industry advocates must approach the teams that surround Trump to get their attention, Clemons said. Personal stories will help to neutralize the toxicity of beltway politics because behavioral health remains a bipartisan issue.
“That is what reaches Donald Trump, not numbers or data or the smart, wonky approach someone in [the Department of Health and Human Services] might put together,” he said.
One new advocacy opportunity might be an appeal to Ivanka Trump—who has an official, unpaid role at the White House as an advisor to her father. Working together as an industry through the National Council will ensure the messaging doesn’t get diluted along the way.
“I would start a ‘Dear Ivanka’ campaign,” Clemons said. “I would get compelling letters published in local papers: ‘Dear Ivanka’ and #DearIvanka.”
He noted that Ivanka “has a soul” and is more likely to embrace key controversial issues, such as mental health and LGBTQ priorities. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might be another ally for behavioral health, especially given his new role leading the White House commission on the nation’s addiction crisis.
“Christie was in the White House the other day, and they have a good relationship,” Clemons said. “He understands things like climate change, mental health and gun violence, but he is reasonable and pragmatic.”