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Thursday, 23 August 2018

Trump and social change in the USA
II. No mistakes in history.

Every time I attended a discussion- in Egypt- about a historical event, which was usually attended by a known Egyptian professor of history who worked with J.H. Breasted’s (American historian), he repeated Breasted’s famous adage: History has no mistakes.  Explaining it he said: history, which is people, is full of choices and whatever people chose proved to be the right choice…always.

Having lived -in amazement- the events and the final choice people made to elected Trump I find it difficult to see the logic behind that choice, or Breasted’s adage. Could Breasted be wrong this once? It is a situation that is pregnant with many serious questions. Should the doubt in the correctness of history be general? The event of electing Trump hasn’t come to a conclusion yet. Maybe the choice people made was not electing Trump but rejecting Hilary Clinton. What complicates the matter further is the gradual increase in accepting Trump, despite the glaring evidence of his instability. Moreover, he did not show any positive attribute that might have balanced out his negativities. On the contrary; his base is still solidly behind him in spite of his daily blunders. It would not have been so problematic if it was only his base that maintained their approval. Senior leaders of the Republican party, who despised him before- became staunch supporters. What does this event mean?
The election of a Trump in some other countries would not raise many eyebrows, but to happen in the USA boggles the mind. In countries like Libya and Uganda, Eidi-Amin and Ghaddafi types of leader is the average, and there is no history of much better choices in those countries. But it is not fathomable to happen in the sates that has a record of unusual men who became presidents, and just two few years ago elected twice a black politician, not for the color of his skin, but for his political and personal distinctions.
There is another reason that muddies the meaning of electing Trump. Elections are political events and could be interpreted politically. Electing Trump proved to be more of other things and less of a political event. Two proofs to that: after more than two years we still cannot identify any political connotations to Trump’s administration. He conflicted with old allies and failed in making of old adversaries new friends. The president’s daily autistic decisions and policies are mostly contradictory and everything he says is tentative and unhinged. Those two features prevent considering Trump’s election a political event that had a defined objective (I will come back ‘to make America great again’ and examine its political denotation). His policy is not even representative of the Republican Party’s ideology or ethics.

However, there is a noticeable parallelism between Trump’s character and the character and personality of his popular base. They share two adagios: causes justify the means (no reference to American values) , and reality is an inconvenience and could just be disregarded .  Trump has no compunction doing anything to get what he wants. His base does not mind closing its “Christian Eye” and its common sense just to keep the second amendment. It also ignores the incompetence of administration and its corruption to preserve the Republican edict of no government intervention in private matters.  
This is where the real problem rests: Whenever the leader and his crowd share the same mental, moral, and the level of comprehending the political situation we face a socio-historical event that cannot be understood politically. The USA is not going through a political crisis; it is going through socio-historical phase.

A historical context:
The relationship- in history- between causes and effects and the final outcome takes decades, and in some cases more than a century.
For a quick account of the causes of what I am discussing I would go back seventy years or so. The First World War succeeded in ending a world that was ruled by dynasties and imperialism. The Second World War was between the new political entities created by WWI- a world of mostly newly formed countries that are just out of the hegemony of the ruling dynasties. By the end of WWII new political entities or countries emerged (East Europe, South America, Russia, China, and few Asian countries that gained their independence from European colonizing countries that were devastated by the war). The USA was the greatest country in the world forty or fifty years ago, when those new political entities were just recovering from the war. During that time the USA was -by default- the greatest. But once those countries regained their old status the USA became one among a group of great countries. Europe, Japan, China and lately Russia have become equal or very close to equal to the USA. Trump and his base, and maybe the Republican party too, call for going back seventy years to the time when the USA was the greatest, but they cannot force the world to back with them in that retrogressive endeavor.

During the time the world was progressing the USA was also progressing DESPIT MANY SEEN AND UNSEEN FORECES that were against change and advancement. Women proved their equality and imposed their rights, maybe factually more than legally. The labor forces and the working class appeared as a very effective political force that political parties had to reckon with and to seriously address their demands. The black community achieved, in very few decades, consideration, recognition, admission of injustices, confirmation of rights, practicing equality, and finally the presidency. Liberalism was exempted from being called foreign anti-American ideology and changed to being called local anti-American ideology, to being youth agitating thinking, to be (shyly) an uncomfortable political ideology. The USA entered a new phase of change. It is not still a country in the making of territories states and rejoins but a full-fledged country. She is not that immigration destination across the ocean but an impressive nation among the rest of the advanced (Civilized ?!) nations. Those changes and their derivatives were not observed and absorbed homogeneously in the country. Some knew about them and some did not.

In a nut shell the USA has undergone a process of change that is as remarkable as what happened in China, Russia, and Western Europe, with one basic and very important difference. Americans resisted and still resist admitting that they could have changed, as if by doing that they betray their highly prized history and their almost blind belief that they were perfect from the day of gained their independence from Great Britain (as if they believed that the history before history). There is an understandable and explainable reason for that. After enjoying, for seventy years an uncontested sense of greatness and boasting about the American way, the America superior qualities and the uniqueness of the USA’s history and society it is not easy to admit that changes (let alone calling for it) could have happened. That would have been an implicit acceptance that matters were not and are not as perfect as was once thought and claimed. The USA entered a phase of narcissistic upheaval.

At this point I have to explain my understanding of the term narcissism. Narcissus fell in love with a picture of himself reflected on the surface of water. Narcissism is this knowing and living one’s reflection as he, himself. Because there no way for the human subject to know himself directly as knowing the other, he has to have his image, presumably emanating from him, reflected on something to pronounce his existence. This where humans differ: they differ in what they consider the best attributes that reflects their truth, what they choose to reflect them, and the richness and poverty of the aspects of the self that a subject uses in showing his narcissism. Some Americans derive their narcissism from their nationality, like ISIS people derive it from being Moslem.  Some get it from being a veteran, some being a graduate of Harvard, and fewer get from being ‘me’. This socio-historical phase encompasses the crisis created by the election of Trump.

The Socio-Historical Phase:
In principle and almost agreed upon history a chain of dialectical events. An event happens, the anti-event follows and some synthesis forms and becomes the thesis of the next phase. The first Iraqi war happened with the USA getting support from its allies as the leader of the west. It was followed by nine eleven and Bosh II could not get the support for his second Iraqi war (the antithesis). The Synthesis Obama’s successful reunification of the west in other political events. Obama Introduced the USA to the world as a different great nation and country that does not insist on leading but is qualified to be the leader, a mature USA. The socio-historical phase that the States entered was a new definition of greatness that is not founded of self-deception. At the same time the home society became more a greeble to turning around ninety degrees accepting the government’s bailout of the crisis created by the free hand of the heads of the free financial system. The USA was changing both internally and externally. A new and an unthinkable social reality was being established.

A narcissistic blow to a sizable section of the society was looming over the heads. The election of Trump was not a historical mistake, or a calculated event, but was a spontaneous point by point an antithetical event to Obama’s phase. Trump’s obsession with Obama’s rule attest to the correctness of the narrow assessment of the wide ranged crisis imposed on the people of the USA.

In terms of regular psychoanalytic thinking and terminology I could say: there is fixation on an infantile phantasy of greatness, resistance to grow up which would uncover the existence of that phantasy, longing to the time of the omnipotence of thinking. The parallel self-deception of Trump and his base is tempting to stop the subtle ongoing changes in the USA and claim that they already discovered the cause and the effect of not ‘making America Great again”. Reaching a point like this in the history of a nation is dangerous. Hitler failed in Austria- his country- to create a base that parallels his morbid thoughts about the Arian Race. He found that in Germany and the result is known. Instead of giving more examples from history of the danger of similarity between a leader’s conception of his needs for glory (or whatever) and people conception for need similar to those of the leader I will mention something similar that is happening now.
ISIS is an organization that advocated going back to the time when Islam was the only organized power in the active world. They call for invoking Islam as a superior ideology and Moslems as superior breed of people. They also accuse the world of conspiring on them to prevent them from regaining their rightful position to rule the world. We should also remember that Trump has threatened the USA adversaries of extreme use of force to impose his will on them if they resisted. The most remarkable about ISIS’s movement is its appeal to some Moselm intellectuals who carry grievances against the USA (reminding of the support of some senior members of the Republican party). The similarity between Trump’s movement and ISIS ideology brings us to the main question that I intend to address in the next and last part of this posting:
Does psychoanalysis have something to say about those observations?
It does for many reasons but I will restrict my answer to the nature and difference of the psychoanalytic way of thinking of individual psychodynamics and what looks as if is the same socially.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Trump and social change in the USA

 I received several emails chastising me for posting my opinion of The President of a country I am not a citizen of. As long as the US claims to be the leader of the Western world (the free world !!) and I live in that part of the world now I have he right and the responsibility to state my opinion of that president, even if in some places I might touch the internal affairs of the US. I was also criticized of giving Trump the diagnosis of autism because most professional either disagree with the diagnosis or have other diagnoses. Most of the disagreements on the diagnosis of autism are  based on the absence of the common behavioral symptoms we usually see in  afflicted children. Autism is not a childhood disease; autistic children grow up to be autistic adults. The degree of disorganization in an autistic person has to measured not by the open symptoms, but by the core problem in autism: External Reality. The autistic person gives the signs that he is unable to put his own reality aside to react to external reality (our reality). What I am going to say is not in any way related to ‘the alternate reality’ that is used in the vocabulary of the white house to cover up Trump's extreme intolerance of external reality. External reality is what stands out of the realm of fantasy, imagination, daydreaming, i.e.. It exists on its own, independent of the person who is perceiving it. 

There are three other realities that also exist but do not conflict with external reality much. The first is the reality of the neurotic and some borderline cases. This reality is formed in childhood and becomes fixed and imposes itself on the subject in certain circumstances. However, it does not affect its 'real reality' or other realities that are formed before or after its formation. In spite of the fixation of that reality the neurotic knows the difference between what he reacts to as reality and the reality of his neurosis. The most demonstrative of that reality is the phobias. The phobic patient panics in the dark yet he knows that there is nothing really out there that justifies his panic. 

The second reality is mainly a problem in character neurosises. The patient of character disorder does not accept or agree with certain external realities because they stand in the way of the functions of his character formation. He tries to change that ‘frustrating’ reality by will and intention (ignore, avoid, fight, lie about, etc.). But, in doing any or all those things he still knows that the reality he does not accept exits out there and that it just irks him. He never forgets its presence.

In all those conditions the subject visits external reality and reacts to it emotionally. The phobic who turns the light in the whole house still complains of his illogical fear. The psychopath tries to gain the confidence of those whom he would like to sheet and react narcissistically to his successes and failures in changing the reality of certain situation to manage his psychopathy.

The third reality is the reality of the autistic. The autistic -child or adult- seems, looks, and behaves as if he is shielded from external reality. External reality does not elicit reactions from him and he swings from rage to apathy if it is forced on him. The autistic does not respond to both external causes of frustration or satisfaction. Yet, the autistic seems to have some sort of reality that keeps him busy all the time. It is what appears to us as sort of ‘him’. An example to that reality is Trumps tweets. they reflect what is occupying his mind which most of the time relates insignificant realities or relates in strange ways.

To be accurate I should say something about 'him'. existence "him"  saying that. For the him to exist there should be some psychological space between the acting self and the observing self . The autistic (Trump) does not have this gap. This shows in always talking about the people who deal with his "him" not of the him.The gap between the acting and the observing him is  necessary for making judgment, taking decision or even feeling  something that pertains to a situation. Trump is undifferentiated psychologically.  He  self-generates reality (the most... in history, the most ridiculous, etc) and stops at that. His reactions to his created realities happen without a sense of ‘will’ (only twitting or so called lying, etc. )The young woman I mentioned before was able to give us a hint of what happens in the mental life of the autistic if he gets moments of release from autism: he sees external reality but it does not create  an impact on his cognitive functions.

Going back to Trump we can easily realize that external reality does not exist for him or even conflict with his self generated realities. There is two features in trumps autistic reality: he is quite content with whatever reality his autism imposes on him at any time (that was why he seems inconsistent or liar). The second is a strong need to exaggerate about his reality. This could deceive us psychoanalysts and we give it a psychodynamic meaning. Exaggeration of autistic reality is an attestation to its lack of importance to the autistic.  The observations that led me to my diagnosis are debatable but undeniable.

He is a person who is oblivious of what others think or feel about him. I do not know a psychodynamic condition that causes such affective deficiency without some psychotic concomitants with it. but I also cannot see any features of psychosis in Trump. This condition is not associated with aggressive or sadistic component to be consider an affective disorder. Few years ago, a British medical journal published a research on autism stipulating the existence (or none existence !?) of a Genetic factor associated with the autistic total lake of emphatic qualities. This is prevalent state in autism and very obvious in Trump's human relationships.

After two years he still has nothing presidential about him (except those funny head posture of grandiosity). The man is not even aware that he constitutes a reality to others and what he says or does is not taken as coming from him personally but from the person he has become (the president).. He is not even narcissistic to be concerned about his image.

All this could be boring or interesting. However, we should not just stop at Trump’s autism. There are tens of millions in the US who do not see how ‘strange’ and unfit Trump is.  The Republican party too supports The President blindly to cover up his  faults. Normally, leaders try to achieve the objectives and aspirations of his people. The situation raises straightforward questions in regard to the trump phenomenon: 

1. Could a country like the US elect someone like Trump by mistake or should we look for other reasons for that the mistake?

2. Could there be social or historical factors behind the Trump phenomenon?

3. If there are what could psychoanalysts say about them?

In the next section I will try to answer the first two questions.