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.