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Friday, July 21, 2017

RSN: Stephen Eric Bronner | Trump's Psyche

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FOCUS: Stephen Eric Bronner | Trump's Psyche
Donald Trump. (photo: Mark Seliger)
Stephen Eric Bronner, Reader Supported News
Bronner writes: "Whatever else one might say about President Donald Trump, he wants to present himself as larger-than-life. He thirsts for adulation and, undoubtedly, he also wants to justify his singular importance. Yet his arrogant contempt for criticism exhibits fears of inadequacy while his bullying, almost gangster-like style is not free of guilt."

hatever else one might say about President Donald Trump, he wants to present himself as larger-than-life. He thirsts for adulation and, undoubtedly, he also wants to justify his singular importance. Yet his arrogant contempt for criticism exhibits fears of inadequacy while his bullying, almost gangster-like style is not free of guilt. No better way of dealing with these problems than by challenging enemies whose profound evil is his own creation. Projection makes that possible by inverting reality: the oppressor becomes the oppressed and the oppressed is turned into the oppressor. Fears thereby become justified and guilt is extinguished. As a consequence, all political means become legitimate – whether it’s the “big lie,” intimidation, corrupt practices, or violence.
It all sounds abstract, but the effects of projection are very real: Consider the film classic of 1915, Birth of a Nation, which justifies the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in part by depicting black men as congenitally obsessed with raping white women. In reality, of course, it was Southern white men who were raping black women. But then projection turns reality upside down: it eradicates the guilt of the powerful even as it justifies the lynching, segregation, and stereotyping of the powerless. Similar dynamics were at work during the 1920s as conspiratorial fascist groups charged Jews with arranging assassinations, manipulating the judicial system, subverting traditional education, and undermining the state. In fact, it was the fascists, not “the Jews,” who were employing these very tactics. Stalin also projected the existence of conspiracies among any number of nonexistent factions and groups while he and his clique actually conspired to produce the show trials and the “great terror” of the 1930s. Evidence to the contrary was condemned as what today might be termed “fake news.”
And so, we turn to Trump. Apparently, it was not he but Hillary Clinton who tried to fix the election, who betrayed state secrets, and who should be “locked up.” It only follows that the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA have been hatching plots against the president, not his advisors who were secretly negotiating with Russia while bypassing security protocols. Democrats are apparently obstructing Trump’s policy initiatives though, in fact, Republican majorities in the House and Senate cannot seem to agree on a single piece of important legislation let alone a vague, regressive, and secretly orchestrated healthcare bill. It was supposedly Obama whose incompetent and incoherent foreign policy weakened the United States, left it isolated, and compromised its moral standing. Yet, in fact, Trump has alienated most European leaders with one diplomatic blunder after another, crudely identified American interests with a host of noxious reactionary dictators, endorsed a Polish regime intent on abrogating the independence of its judiciary, and turned the United States into a laughingstock with his emotional brand of decision-making, racist travel bans, plans for a wall to stop Hispanic immigration (with Mexico bearing the cost), and rejection of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Trump’s had promised to “drain the swamp” of Washington D.C. and now he seemingly finds himself threatened by the “deep state.” Composed of career civil servants, agency experts, officials, liberal media, entrenched politicians, and whoever else, this “deep state” is the source of constant “leaks” and insidious “fake news.” Of course, it is actually Trump and his coterie who now constitute a kind of shadow government supposedly unaccountable to any institutions or commonly accepted standards of truth. But that doesn’t matter. In his view, his diverse enemies are united by undeserved hatred of his presidency; it is they who are irrationally attacking him, not he whose irrationality has alienated them. Trump feels he has no choice; he must “defend” himself and the nation. “Rigged” press conferences are unnecessary; Trump’s constant refrain – “Believe me!” – is sufficient. Private individuals incur nasty tweets because they have them coming. True supporters know that Trump’s policy failures (if any!) were orchestrated by his enemies. Outrageous statements and constant controversy are increasingly necessary to let the world know that Trump is the President.
Are his projections conscious or unconscious? If conscious, then the president is merely an incompetent opportunist; if unconscious, then he is a delusional egotist; and, if the line between them becomes blurry, he emerges as the paranoid authoritarian who will tell it like it is, and shift positions in the batting of an eye. The next “Reichstag Fire,” an event used by Hitler to justify cracking down on political opponents in 1933, might be around the corner; it could involve preemptively bombing Iran or North Korea, saber-rattling with Russia or China, or shutting down investigations that could lead to his impeachment. Many are the ways in which the President can protect our nation against his enemies. Hysterical exaggeration of the options only plays into his hands. The resistance had better remain sober, unified, and – above all – ready to protest.

Stephen Eric Bronner is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University. His most recent books are The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists and The Bitter Taste of Hope: Ideals, Ideologies, and Interests in the Age of Obama.

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