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A psychopathological interpretation of Trump and trumpism


“Social cohesion in all societies is based on authority, and the more rigid, unquestionable, or, politically-speaking, absolute authority becomes, the more hierarchical and repressive societies tend to be. Subordination to a strict authority, whether it be embodied in the stern father…or, analogously, in a powerful leader of an absolutistic state, makes tremendous demands on individuals, especially if obedience is elevated to the status of the primary moral obligation in private and public life. It does not allow an individual to disobey—that is, to ventilate the aggression or dissatisfaction that subordination routinely induces—in a socially or politically acceptable manner.”

Lonnie R. Johnson, historian

Johnson wrote that paragraph, in his book “Central Europe: Enemies, Neighbors, Friends.” He was referring to the way in which absolute despotism, and its attendant horrors, routinely arose in Central Europe: from the witch hunts of medieval Germany to the pogroms of Ukraine to the dictatorships of the Hapsburgs and Hohenzollerns to Hitler’s gas chambers. But he might have had Trump’s regime in mind.

All U.S. presidents are authority figures, by definition. But none in our history ever aspired to the level of absolute authority like Trump. We witness his desire to repress all opposition in his repeated slurs of the media as “fake,” in his attacks on the Democratic Party, in his extortion of Zelensky, in his threats to annihilate Republicans who dare cross him, in his obstruction of the Congress by refusing to comply with lawful subpoenas, in his violent State of the Union address last night, and in a hundred other ways.

The subordination to him by his acolytes, which he demands, makes, as Johnson notes, tremendous demands on them. Some of these demands are psychological—indeed, psychopathological. The repression that the stern father imposes on the child shows up, years later, in all manner of mental imbalances, most especially rage and its hand maiden, violence. When the repressor has the vast powers of “an absolutistic state,” rather than a mere father, the demands are correspondingly greater: a stern father can make life unpleasant for a disobedient child, but a stern state can make life impossible for her—or end her life altogether. Nor can the repressed child ventilate her dissatisfaction: To do so risks being socially isolated and shunned. This is why so many Republicans repress their own reaction to Trump: they bury it beneath the purview of consciousness. For, if they admitted to themselves the horror to which they have abandoned all pretense of religion, decency and morality, they could barely live with themselves.

In psychoanalysis, the person who yields to an authoritarian figure is known as an “aggressive-subservient personality type.” Their subservient nature is expressed through the obedience with which they “obey orders.” The adjective “aggressive” is interesting; it implies that a resulting “reaction formation” occurs in the repressed person, which expresses itself in violence towards a perceived “enemy” who is—naturally—defined by the authoritarian figure. Trump has signaled his repressed followers to take their anger—which is really towards themselves—and aim it instead at foreigners, Moslems, Mexicans, gays, liberals, women, disabled people, the poor. When, as Johnson observes, the “absolutistic state” becomes ever more repressive and total, the violence towards perceive “enemies” moves beyond mere rhetoric into physical forms: the roundups, the street attacks, the cattle cars, the camps, the gas chambers.

Johnson, the historian, seems almost to describe the current state of the Republican Party in America, in this note concerning Hitler’s ideology. “[N]ationalism and racism, the idealization of the German nation…and the degradation of alleged enemies can be explained as psychological mechanisms. The device of negative integration was a characteristic of imperial German nationalism: the ability to portray ‘internal enemies’—Communists; Socialists; Catholics; Jews; and Polish, Danish and French minorities—and ‘external enemies’ as so subversive or threatening that ‘good Germans’ would close ranks against them.”

Sound familiar? It’s straight out of the Trump playbook, except that, in place of Jews and Catholics, you have Moslems, and in place of Polish, Danish and French minorities, you have dark-skinned people, especially Mexicans.

Roundups, camps and gas chambers is, obviously, the worst-case scenario with this Trump regime, but history teaches us that it’s not impossible. “It can’t happen here,” Sinclair Lewis warned us, satirically; but it did. Acquitted in the Senate, as Trump will be later today, unleashed from the yoke of Mueller and Ukraine and everything else, more beloved and feared than ever by the aggressive-subservient personality types who follow him, and more unhinged, Trump now is likely to brook no opposition whatsoever. And his Republican henchmen in the Congress, in for a dime, will figure they might as well be in for a dollar. There’s no reason to expect they’d stop him from doing anything he wants.

  1. Sorry dude, but Moslem vs Muslim. I’m on your side, but they know the difference, we should, too.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    “We witness his [Trump’s] . . . threats to annihilate Republicans who dare cross him . . .”

    Whatever you think of him as a former Republican presidential candidate, as a former state governor, or as a former executive at Bain & Company management consultancy, I for one admire Mitt Romney’s courage to uphold his convictions and vote to convict President Trump on the first article of impeachment: abuse of power.

    “Why Mitt Romney Voted to Convict Trump”|The Atlantic (“14 hours ago”)


    His statement:


  3. Bob Henry says:

    Follow-up from U.S. News & World Report – posted “5 hours ago”:

    “Trump Swipes at Pelosi, Romney at National Prayer Breakfast Meeting”


    “The president took shots at the House Speaker and the lone Republican to vote for conviction, criticizing them for using their faith as justification for removal from office.”



    “Trump, who plans to make a fuller statement on impeachment at the White House on Thursday afternoon, criticized both Pelosi and Romney – without naming them. Romney was the only Republican to break with his party and vote to convict the president for an abuse of power. Romney, who gave an emotional speech before the vote, said he came to his decision based on his faith and that he ‘swore an oath before God to exercise impartial justice.’

    “‘I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,’ Trump said, referring to Romney’s Wednesday floor speech in the Senate. ‘Nor do I like people who say ‘I pray for you’ when they know that that’s not so.'”

  4. Many of us realize that trump is a sick person, psychologically speaking. He’s likely to become sicker and more violent, now that he imagines he’s been “exonerated.” He’s about as “christian” as my dog. This is a dangerous person. Our battle with him is far from over. We’re merely moving on to the next chapter.

  5. Trump is literally Hitler.

    Bless your TDS-stricken heart.

  6. TDS: trump derangement syndrome.

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