Friday, May 26, 2017

PATRICK BLANCHFIELD: Mirror Stage President

No amount of coverage seems to be enough, and what coverage there is always falls short

Can we diagnose the omnipresent? It might be more productive to read Trump as a symptom. The vector of contagion - those screens - leaps out. Trump, of course, isn’t just at home on screen - he is personally at home with them, surrounded by them. In some respects, this is typical: just another 70-year-old white man who begins his mornings with television, monitors television throughout the day, and retires, fairly early, to watch more television at night. Like many such men, he’s said to occasionally respond to the television by talking at it angrily, and, also like many such men, he is particularly fond of Fox News. What sets Trump apart from the stereotype is that what he primarily watches on TV is himself. What for us is a screen is for Trump a mirror, and he gets to have mirrors everywhere… It’s here that a little bit of psychoanalysis can help

SIGMUND FREUD only made one trip to the United States, in 1909. What he saw didn’t impress him. For all its shortcomings, the Austro-Hungarian Empire - the era’s other highly diverse, federalist nation - at least maintained a robust welfare system, gave official recognition to multiple religious confessions (including Islam), and offered a pretense, however tenuous, of multi-ethnic solidarity. “America,” by contrast, “[was] a mistake; a gigantic mistake, but a mistake.”.. In the US, Freud saw a society of runaway exploitation held together—uneasily—by a cynical rhetoric of “progress,” sham protestations of universal equality, and a cult of national exceptionalism and divinely ordained manifest destiny. Instead of producing leaders who represented the nation at its best and brightest, American democracy, Freud believed, had a habit of producing ones who embodied its worst; the US was “the psychological poverty of groups” exemplified. Then as now, Americans have never taken kindly to such criticism; Freud anticipated American resistance to psychoanalysis as a matter of course, observing to Carl Jung, his traveling companion on that US tour, that “we’re bringing them the plague.”

He wasn’t wrong. Nothing quite captures Americans’ ambivalence toward Freud’s great export as our oft-professed contempt for what we like to call “armchair psychoanalysis.” The term is synonymous with uninformed commentary and fatuous pontification, delivered in the same mode - and from the same piece of furniture - as our other great vice: armchair quarterbacking. But our condemnations of armchair psychoanalysis hardly diminish our appetite for it - or its ubiquity. Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave the term a novel spin when he condemned a federal judge in Hawaii for blocking President Donald Trump’s Executive Order on immigration from Muslim-majority countries. “Judges,” Sessions said, “don’t get to psychoanalyze the President to see if the order he issues is lawful.” In Sessions’s view, apparently, considering Trump’s immigration order alongside his numerous on-the-record statements about pursuing a “Muslim ban” is neither basic common sense nor jurisprudential due diligence: it’s so much “psychoanalysis.” .. 

On the other end of the political spectrum, Trump’s critics argue that it’s long past time to revisit the so-called Goldwater Rule, the portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics that bars psychiatric professionals from making statements about the mental health of public figures whom they have not personally examined. “Does Trump need to lie to my face for me to know he lies all the time?” asked one prominent psychologist last month. “He does lie to my face—every night. I watch TV!”.. read more: