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Friday, 10 June 2016

Donald Trump: the modern-day Nero ready to burn down America?

The most famous of Roman rulers was not erratic to begin with, but only became so once he was seduced by spectacle. Trump is not too different from him

Donald Trump, US Presidential Aspirant
Donald Trump has been diagnosed in the media over and over again, called everything from a malignant narcissist to a pervert. While many would concur that he is simply personality disordered of some variety or another, maybe, some wonder, he could even be psychotic, paranoid – a real
madman deep down.

Diagnosing public figures that one has not conducted a “proper examination of” is forbidden by the American Psychiatric Association in what they call “The Goldwater Rule” – as is releasing the results of that examination without proper authorization. But that rule is often ignored when it comes to Donald Trump.
 
 The desire to find some explanation for his erratic behavior, his racist and misogynistic remarks, is urgent. People simply want to understand what kind of president he will be, what kind of decisions he will make. And yet, I am uneasy when these psychological notions are thrown around more as accusations than explanations.

In clinical work itself, diagnosis can be orienting, but it explains very little, especially, in this case, of the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. To understand him, you need to understand the American people. Together, they may be a diagnosable symptom.

Why is America engaging with someone like Trump right now? There is a general uneasiness in our country, in particular at a moment when America as the great world superpower, the land of the American dream, is seen for what it perhaps always was – a fantasy. And Trump is a fantastical figure: a multimillion-dollar businessman, a reality TV star, a tabloid figure and now a presidential candidate who is a master of the media.

He seems able to ease this general anxiety through providing a concrete point of fascination, even if that is simply contempt. He arouses powerful desires in a time of resignation.

Engaging with Trump is like rubbernecking a car crash. But sadly, and this is the truth about the effects of any collapse of fundamental fantasies, the car crash is not in the future, but in the past. We are an empire already in a moment of decline, and many have noted that Trump is the first presidential candidate in history to run a campaign that speaks to this: Make America Great Again.

It is this collective American trauma that concerns me, because as a psychoanalyst, I know that trauma has a strange will to repeat what is most destructive in it, rather than reach for positive change. The brutal realities, the deceptions, feeling out-of-control and at a loss are too difficult to look squarely in the face.

The Obama campaign that ran on the slogans “hope” and “believe” almost feels like an insult given where our country is now with respect to its sense of self. This is the void that we stepped into in the 21st century and Americans must find a more sober, less exciting or anxiety-inducing symptom than Trump.

As a psychoanalyst, there are two things that worry me about Trump. First, names are incredibly important. Prophetic in and of themselves, they are a direct link to lineage and a collective history of language. Is it any wonder that “trump” means both to surpass and beat, triumph, but also to cheat, deceive the eyes, to trumpet, blow-hard and even play-the-fool?

Second, if one turns to history and looks at Rome – a highpoint in civilization with its own infamous decline – the most famous of its Caesars were not erratic to begin with, but only became so once they were seduced by spectacle. Many have pointed out Trump’s rather modest plans with respect to the economy and government aside from his more hyperbolic claims.

Nevertheless, the most erratic statements come when he is put in front of the camera, in a tense or terse situation, with adoring fans ready to soak in the spectacle that we have come to expect from him. He always ups the ante. This ready participation in spectacle, these intertwined desires, can unleash something powerfully destructive. It is not simply a question of there being a divide between what he does on camera and what he will do as president. The two are locked in a danse macabre.
Looking at Nero, perhaps the most famous of the Roman Caesars, he began rather modestly in his plans, that is, until his participation in theater (his famous fiddling) and other sportsmanship gained him praise, which he appeared to become intoxicated on.

This eventually unloosed a kind of madness, from paranoia about threats to his life and the loyalty of his followers, to a false confidence in natural resources and excessive spending and sexual debauchery. All of which led him to the moment he burns down Rome as the spectacle of all spectacles. Trump, in his bizarre offhand comments, has touched on every one of these conceits.

Here, we see how the feelings that a public may have had about its own country, or a knowledge it was unable to acknowledge, ends in a self-fulfilling prophesy: Rome is burning.

Credit The Guardian News
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