The Psychopathology in America’s Zeitgeist

March 9, 2017
By Michael Drohan

In the present political turmoil in the US, epithets such as “paranoid,” “psychopath,” and “fascist” are bandied about as descriptions of the political actors within the Trump regime. Such loose use of language to describe the phenomenon is unhelpful as an analysis and amounts to little more than terms of abuse. There is no doubt room for scientific analysis by psychoanalysts and other experts in the field of social psychology of the personality of Donald Trump and his henchmen and women. In addition to being unhelpful in terms of analysis, however, such epithets probably will achieve little amelioration of the situation and will only harden attitudes and positions.

A more helpful approach may be to analyze the social and economic forces that have produced Trump and his ilk, such as Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Marine LePen in France and Nigel Farage in Great Britain. It is helpful to understand the Zeitgeist or Weltanschauung of the societies in which these movements have arisen. These technical terms refer to the prevailing collective consciousness of a society, composed of the accepted beliefs, biases, attitudes, prejudices and principles of that society.

In the US the reality is that since the Vietnam War the country has lost power and influence in the world. The US has lost almost complete power in South and Central America since the 1980s. In the Middle East, despite 15 years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Yemen and Syria, the situation has only deteriorated and the puppet rulers are highly unpopular. In Asia, China is the rising star, wooing away more and more former allies. In Africa, China is building high speed railroads e.g. Djibouti to Addis Ababa ( 450 miles) and making trade agreements while the US is trying to militarize the continent with Africa-Com.

This loss of power is intimated by Trump in his inaugural address as the “American carnage” jeremiad. He brings to consciousness the repressed unconscious feeling of many that the days of the American century are over. Just as with Hitler in Germany in the 1930s, he, however, withholds the promise of the restoration of greatness with the slogan “make America great again.” It has great appeal to the true believers who have little consciousness of how much of a con job it all is, how it is merely rhetorical.

Another aspect of the Zeitgeist of these times in the US is the belief that the US is being victimized by a whole set of actors who have ruined the country. Foremost in this category are immigrants “who have taken away our jobs.” Once more, this trope has great appeal no matter how weak or non-existent are the arguments. The loss of American manufacturing and the hollowing out of the US economy is also seen as the product of victimization by the Chinese and others who “are stealing our jobs.” The fact that US corporations were the architects of “corporate globalization,” as they pursue the race to the bottom in wages, is almost totally lost in this calculus. US capitalism and corporations, including Trump Inc., have all prospered with the gutting of US manufacturing. But Trump has a good section of US workers drinking the kool-aid that it is the Chinese, the Germans, the Japanese and the Mexicans who have stolen our jobs. It is an extraordinary contra-factual narrative but a great slice of the US population fervently believe the rhetoric no matter how ludicrous.

Social media is part of the air we breathe in this century. We have experienced the proliferation of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Grindr. Donald Trump does not read books and no doubt knows little about high tech. However, there is one area where he and his minions have mastered the new age of high tech communication. I speak particularly of the use of Twitter. Through this medium, Trump communicates to a great swath of the population his peeves, his hurts, his resentments, his anger and his vindictive outbursts. It resembles an abusive partner or parent who is continually venting their anger and fury on his/her unfortunate victims. The press, in great part, manufactures its news from these constant outbursts of anger and fury. This is the base level to which statecraft has descended in the new cyber world.

Psychoanalysts have used the term “psychic inflation” to describe the process whereby individuals identify themselves with roles and titles which expand their personalities, such as to make themselves appear superhuman or godlike. The ultimate in this kind of psychic abnormality was the Middle Ages monarch who declared “l’etat c’est moi.” With the demise of monarchy, one may have thought that such megalomania had died the death. With Hitler it got a kind of second life but in a tragic-comic sense. Now, however, in the 21st century in what we had thought were democratic societies ruled for, with and by the people, we see the resurgence of such “psychic inflation.” It puts all our democratic forces to the test.

Michael Drohan is a TMC Board Member and a member of the NewPeople editorial collective.

Image taken from:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s