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The other pandemic: Trumper psychosis

Hitler in Nuremberg, 1935. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click here for high-resolution version.

Two pandemics are at present raging across the United States. Both are particularly severe in the West and South, where, for similar reasons, people are particularly likely to be infected. One pandemic, of course, is a biological pandemic, Covid-19. The other is what Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee has called “the mental health pandemic.”

Lee published a book about this in 2017, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President. She also has an article this week at Salon:

Yale psychiatrist: Trump’s psychosis has infected his followers. Here’s how to get them better

I think it must have been Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who originated the concept of psychic epidemics. Jung frequently mentions psychic epidemics in his writings, and, as I recall, Freud and Jung frequently discussed psychic epidemics in their letters. I’m aware that everything about Freud and Jung is now in dispute among the intelligentsia. But even if you dispute whether Freud’s and Jung’s psychological theories are good science, there is no disputing the fact that both of them were brilliant and well-placed cultural observers, at a dangerous time in world history. Jung is famous for having said (in 1936), “I saw it coming. I said in 1918 that the ‘blond beast’ is stirring in its sleep and that something will happen in Germany. No psychologist then understood at all what I meant…” [See footnote at end.]

What Jung was referring to was what he called an archetype. Jung was claiming that his psychoanalysis of German patients in 1918 found similar, and pathological, stirrings in his patients’ minds. He called that “the blond beast.” If that was true in 1918, then surely today, I would argue, Donald Trump is feeding a similar archetype in the minds of his “base.” I thought for a while about what we might call it, and the term I ended up with is “the white barbarian.” The American white barbarian is way beyond stirring in its sleep, though. It’s in the streets. This morning I was shocked by the news that a Democratic Party headquarters in Arizona was destroyed in an arson attack. If you’re on Facebook and haven’t removed all the right-wingers from your feed, then it’s easy to see that Facebook is a key trolling ground for white barbarians. Images from Trump rallies have captured white barbarian faces for history. Hordes are their most hospitable habitat, but they also operate individually, as in the photo below, or as with the pathetic “pizzagate” gunman who fired his AR-15 inside the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, where he was told that Democrats were holding children as sex slaves. He subsequently was sentenced to four years. White barbarians in a state of psychosis seem capable of believing anything they’re told.

In her Salon article, Bandy Lee says that, to keep their followers psychotic, an “influential figure” with his “severe pathology” must create and maintain an atmosphere of psychological contagion. Hitler used rallies for that, as does Trump. One of Trump’s biggest political problems at present is that he can’t hold his rallies because of Covid-19. Covid-19 also has forced the Republican Party to cancel its national convention, which Trump desperately needed to keep his base of white barbarians in a state of psychosis. During the Bush-Cheney administration, Bush and Cheney brilliantly and diabolically deceived the media into getting almost the entire country into a state of war fever, as preparation for invading Iraq. In March 2003, only 17 percent of Americans strongly opposed invading Iraq. I was among the 17 percent. It is a terrifying thing to see such a large majority of one’s country deceived into a state of madness in support of violence. Republican politics is now completely dependent on public psychosis to achieve its ends — and has been since Newt Gingrich (1995) and Fox News (1996). An irrational, uncaring, authoritarian and anti-democracy politics that provides no benefits to its voters but only to its richest contributors can’t do things any other way.

A big topic with the rational intelligentsia at present is whether conditions will get better after Trump goes down. Many argue that things will not get better, that the Republican Party will just find new ways to keep its base in a state of rage and psychosis. At present, I’m more optimistic. I think that the period between now and Nov. 3 may be very dangerous, but if Trump goes down in a landslide — as it appears he would if the election were held today — then I think the Republican Party will have to conclude that its politics of rage and deception and keeping its base mentally ill won’t work anymore, as demographic change leaves them behind and as people see through their deceptions. Still, it’s a very dangerous party machinery that can lie and deceive its way to war with only 17 percent (of very well-informed people, I might add) resisting the contagion. Why are some of us immune? Why are some so susceptible? What can be done to improve the odds of recovery for those who have gone mad? There is much to think about there, but it will have to be a post for some other day, after Trump is turned out of the White House.

These two white barbarians, by the way, have been charged with felonies for pointing their guns at dark-skinned protesters. Note that her finger is on the trigger, an absolute no-no for anyone who has been trained to use guns.

Note: The quote from Jung comes, I believe, from the Tavistock lectures a year before World War II. I believe the quote is accurate, and much has been written about it. The “blond beast” probably refers to Nietzsche. See more here.

Update: For a long time, no matter what the right wing in America was up to, comparisons to Germany were out of bounds in public discourse. That taboo has fallen. Here is yet another piece in the New York Times drawing comparisons between Hitler’s Germany and Trump’s America:

American Catastrophe Through German Eyes: Trump says he wants to protect law-abiding citizens. In 1933, Hitler issued his ‘Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State.’


  1. JamesM wrote:

    Not only is the guy with the machine gun an idiot, his pants legs are dragging the ground. Wouldn’t you think someone living in a gated compound could afford a bespoke tailor.

    Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 8:20 pm | Permalink
  2. daltoni wrote:

    JamesM: Hilarious. Pigs living in palaces.

    Saturday, July 25, 2020 at 8:48 pm | Permalink
  3. JamesM wrote:

    Nouvelle poubelle riche. New rich trash.

    Sunday, July 26, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

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