Can psychoanalysis help us understand, for instance, Marco Rubio? Three months ago, at a public rally, he said Trump was a con man. Today, he would be honored to speak on Trump’s behalf at the Republican convention. Or can psychoanalysis make sense of Rick Perry, who, a few months back, called Trump a cancer? Today, he offers to serve as his running mate in the general election. In the past week, once Trump had secured the nomination, nearly the entire Republican establishment fell in line in Trump’s support, whereas -was it yesterday? – he was a loose cannon, utterly unfit for the Presidency.
I agree with Robert Kagan, a scholar at the Brookings Institute, “This could be one of those moments that’s quite dangerous and we’ll look back and wonder why we treated it as ho-hum at a time when we could have stopped it.” A member of the Melting Pot observes, “What’s disturbing is that Trump is not disturbing commensurate with his disturbance.” If Trump becomes president, in my judgment, this past week was an essential turning point in history, when “everything was changed.”
From a psychoanalytic point of view, Republicans’ 180 degree turn-around regarding Trump’s qualifications to serve as their nominee is diagnostic of a thinking disorder. How can Rubio, Perry, the entire Republican leadership villify him for his narcissism, grandiosity and malignancy for a year and then promise him their unconditional support? Answer: By a paranoid-schizoid state of mind, a thinking disorder that now threatens our political way of life.
Schizoid means “split off from.” Schizoid mechanisms refer to the mind splitting off from awareness unwanted facts that it experiences as disturbing or threatening or inconvenient. Republican politicians reversed their judgment on Trump without batting an eye, splitting off facts as close to home as speeches they themselves made. But isn’t that par for the course, you may ask? Isn’t that what politicians do? How does paranoid-schizoid add to our understanding?
Suppose every member of the Republican establishment is fully aware of the fact he has changed his position on Trump. Rubio hasn’t forgotten that speech he made three months ago. Rick Perry knows he referred to Trump as a cancer.The facts haven’t disappeared into the ether, mysteriously split off. Facts are facts. Not so! A result of splitting is that facts lose their emotional resonance. They become two-dimensional, as it were, flattened into merely “dry facts,” irrelevant, with no oomph. They do not figure into Republican thinking. They have transmogrified from energy-charged to ho-hum. The facts about Trump are unchanged, but they now have an entirely different emotional valence in the Republican Party. Splitting has enabled Trump to go from con man to champion.
Since the Obama presidency, Republicans have been crippling our government by paranoid-schizoid thinking. There are endless examples. Take Obamacare. The facts of what it means to be uninsured and the fact that nearly twenty million are finally insured have had no emotional reality for Republican congressman, who voted over 60 times to repeal it. Consider infrastructure. The facts are endlessly elaborated, but they have no resonance. They are simply split off, denuded from love of country or guilt about neglecting its needs. For the last months, the effort to get Congress to vote on a Supreme Court justice attempts to undo schizoid mechanisms.
A paranoid-schizoid thought disorder has the Republican establishment hailing Trump as a Caesar. If he becomes president, everything will be changed in our political life. It is not a ho-hum threat.
(to be continued)