Trump in Perspective: A Point of View
Part One: Trump and Western Civilization
I am going to differ with some colleagues in regard to narcissism. Narcissism is the most unconscious condition in psychical life. In relation to Trump’s condition I suggest considering ‘self deception’. Self deception is part of character formation and is done consciously and leads to all sorts of forms; one of them self aggrandizement. The self-deceived person believes in his deceptions. I think, from watching Trump on TV he is way deep in self deception, and enticed his supporter to do the same and self deceive themselves.
Because this posting is controversial and will raise many eyebrows and objecting voices I will start by specifying three underlying ideas that are the basis of my argument. Thus, if you disagree with them you could save your effort and time by not reading the posting:
1. Psychoanalysis has no theory of social phenomena (group and historical). Applying the psychodynamics of the individual on society (treating it as an individual) is misleading. As we look for the intrapsychical in the individual we should be looking for intra-social dynamics in society. However, I will try show that there is a certain similarity between the two processes shortly.
2. It is also erroneous to use the diagnosis of a historical character to explain the historical events that he might have created (not even with Hitler). Historical characters are just agents and tools conceived and amplified by the society to fulfill a historical objective. Hitler alone would not have gave birth to the European Union and Israel.
3. This last idea is the very basis of my posting: There are two links between psychoanalysis and social theories, particularly Marxism: A. All psychical and historical phenomena are products of dialectical interactions and not results of haphazard dynamics (psychopathology is the outcome of impeding the natural course of a dialectical course, and wars are the result of impeding the natural course of social evolution). B. All phenomena-individual or social- are ‘determined’, their causes are embedded within them, But reaching that determinism happens in the individual’s event by analysing it, and by rebuilding the social or the historical event from the preceding events. They are similar but work in opposite directions. We analyse a dream to find out how it was unconsciously structured, and use a historical event to restructure and understand a previous historical episode. The historical event of the Versailles treaty restructures all the vents that led to WWII.
When Trump withdraw from the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation followed by withdrawing from the Paris agreement the reaction was ominous: The US was withdrawing from the international scene- not just as its leader for the last seven decades- but as the most significant country in the world, as her politicians liked to call her. This is happening now under a false conviction that the US has no replacement in that role, therefore the whole world will get into disarray and be forced to accommodate her to remain its leader. This is a foundational conviction of few million Americans; conviction, which as we will see later is historically logical but politically illogical.
The actual problem is that lately- at least since the Soviet Union (then) created a communist government in Afghanistan in1971, the world entered a phase of disarray that had and still have unimaginable consequences. The most important consequence is the birth of ISIS, which is just the tail end of those consequences. The sequence of those events is the intrasocial structure of the current global disarray. It is important to consider them in any understanding of what is happening in the US now. But, it is not within my ability to do that properly and it is of no interest to psychoanalysts. However, we can say that after jumping few decades ahead of its present, the US people elected a black president of an impressive CV and a list of great achievements during his presidency. Yet history proved to pay no attention to the importance of individual political leaders. Eight years later millions of the US citizens regressed mush more than anyone would have expected and elected the antithesis of Obama; a man with a very shameful CV and a list of four bankruptcies attesting to his incompetence, and more.
What could have interfered with the natural dialectical process of progress in the US to elect Trump? Reconstructing the vents that led to that drastic interfering in history is very interesting and vital, but it has to be done by historians of a certain background. Because I am a psychoanalyst and speaking mainly to psychoanalysts I will concentrate on one idea: Is Trump really an oddity in historical terms or is he a logical choice for the moment? Remember, there is no chance for escaping historical determinism.
Trump’s shenanigans, especially when he caused the US to lose its long-accepted role as the leader of the world, even by its adversaries, reminded me of two books; one I read in the early 1960, and one I just finished few weeks ago. The first is a book written by a German philosopher (Spingler) which he published in 1922 (seventeen years before WWII; the other is by Richard Haass, published in 2017. The first is about “The Decline of the West” and the second is about the contemporary disarray of our world.
Spingler proposed that the history of humanity went through eight civilizations. Although his specification of those civilizations could be debated, his notion that civilisation moved from the east to the west in a consistent geographical sequence is easy to accept. According to him, and common sense, the Western Civilisation, which we are part of now, is the most recent and the one susceptible to decline. Although I do not remember his argument about its decline and what would replace it when this is done, it still kept me thinking about that issue. Nowadays when we see the world’s condition and a man like Trump becoming president of the leader nation of most of the world, one has to ask: is this the end of the Western Civilization (I do not mean that in terms physical destruction) or could this be the birth of the replacement of that civilizations?
To answer this complex question, I find some leading ideas in Haass’s book entitled “A World in Disarray”. As a political analyst, he gives a detailed reconstruction of the recent events that could give us an answer to the question: Is Trump the end of something or the beginning of something. I want to underline the fact that historical characters are not the initiator of change but merely products of change.
The gist of Haass’s book is world order, how it is reached and how it is lost. He argues that after a world’s crisis happens and resolved - mostly by war-, the victors reach agreements that decides the relationships amongst themselves and with the vanquished. He concludes from the beginning of his book that world’s order that was reached after signing the armistice of WWII and the surrender of Japan is now in disarray. The rest of the book makes an anatomy of the current situation showing how in every corner of the world this order is collapsing. This point of view validated Spengler’s idea of the collapse of the west. Yet, there are few things that points at a different picture. First, the nuclear deterrent is preventing any thought about solving the problem by war as used to happen before. Second, a significant part of the world does not believe much anymore in nationalism and leans toward globalization. Third, the globalization movement has gained independence of governmental control and governments are no longer able to decide anything about commitments and allegiances. (notice what Trump wants to take the US to). Everything now points at the birth of a new civilization that is going to replace the Western Civilization: a global civilization. Europe is showing that this civilization has been in the making for few decades (See Fisk: The European Dream). Obama as a politician was quite open and accepting in that new order (push for regional and international agreements). Contrary to Trump he wanted the West to link with the East not on Geopolitical basis but on trade cooperation. Trump revealed shameful ignorance of international affairs (intellectual) and wanted to undo all that progress which thw hole world is heading for.
The most amazing thing in this whole matter is how the world was already ready to moving from the primitive concept of Western Civilization to Global Civilization. The moment Trump renounced the US’s allegiance to regional alliances those alliances discounted the US, and in the same day showing that they were open for new alliances with China and give the hints that Russia will be next. There is something of interest to even the already bored reader of this posting. We have works describing in detail the rise and fall of empires, nations, civilizations etc. But we cannot get from them the real feel of living the events of the fall of those institutions or the birth of the new ones. But here we are at the very moments of an old civilizations falling and a new one rising. It tells us something very significant about a possible psychoanalytic theory of social events.
In clinical psychoanalysis, we work through a pathological component for weeks and months without a comprehensive understanding of the matter, and unexpectedly a dream, a slip of the tongue, or a minor acting out would reveal the unconscious structure of that component and put the working through in frame. Analysis leads to the unconscious. In social events, we witness historical or social events and understand each separately but without being able to predict what they are leading to. Then comes an event and surprisingly all what we understood before takes a new meaning. All the events that were happening in the cold war took a new meaning as a surprise. All the events from Afghanistan in 1979 till now with the lection of Trump seems to be interconnected and nothing happened haphazardly. those events which made no sense when they happened could explain to us how after the election of Obama the US elected Trump. A psychoanalytic theory of social and historical events has to be about discovering “History’s unconscious”. It has to be a theory of getting meaning from historical events that could explain the historical characters, not visa versa.
Trump and His Devotees.
Nine-elven was a major blow to the ‘insulated’ American pride because of the extent of damage it caused and its implicit message of the vulnerability of the country (not even in any war did the US lose a building). If we add to that the mild failures in Afghanistan and the major failure in Iraq we realize that a normal reaction to 9\11 was narcissistic rage that hit the whole population of the US, pro-war an anti war alike. Fortunately, and also unfortunately the recovery from this shock was quick and very impressive. In less than the eight years of Obama’s presidency the US recovered and improved its status. The economy recovered completely, the country was moving ahead smoothly, Obama as a ‘cultured’ person sensed that the US has to be part of the larger world and he joined few important regional trade and economic organizations, gained the respect and confidence of most of the significant political entities. But the recovery was too to fast for a sizable section of the society to assimilate. Some people remained in their state of narcissistic rage being. Those people were prone to self deception for different reasons.
However, there is also a factor that exasperated the situation. Maybe as a stranger I was more attentive to it than the average American. After 9\11 American politicians and public figures never missed a chance to talk about the US as the greatest, the most powerful, the most democratic and the one with the highest values in the world. Even if that is true (which is not) it tempted people to deceive themselves by making their advantages an excuse to look down on others. The narcissistically enraged Americans found in Trump a perfect leader: he confirmed their sense of inferiority and promised them a total recovery. Moreover, there was no ready leader on the other side to pull them from their despair and show them the actual strength of their country.
A theory of the human subject (the individual) acknowledges that everything in ‘man’s’ life always has two meanings: one obvious (conscious) and one hidden (unconscious). The unconscious one seeks a meaning and could become very vulnerable to self deception because of that need. In crisis situations the leader with the exaggerated views of things and is able to -himself- to block critical judgment wins (Ghadaffy, Hitler, Trump). Therefore, if we put Trump in the context of the circumstances of his election we will see that what is important for us as psychoanalysts is not to give him a diagnosis but reach a proper diagnosis of the historical moment that gave him (his psychopathology) the power to win an election. We all have characters as we are our character. But some have orderly characters and some have character disorders.