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The Mass Psychology of Trumpism

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Since the Republican primaries of 2015-16, some people have turned to psychiatry in an effort to locate the irrational wellsprings of Trump’s victory, but so far little progress has been made. This is because most of the effort has gone into analysing Trump, who is often described as suffering from ‘narcissistic personality disorder’. Not only are such diagnoses, made from a distance, implausible; they also fail to address a more important question: the nature of Trump’s appeal. Constituting something close to a third of the electorate, his followers form an intensely loyal and, psychologically, tight-knit band. They are impervious to liberal or progressive criticisms of Trump or his policies. On the contrary, their loyalty thrives on anti-Trump arguments, and digs in deeper.

There is an older body of psychological thought, however, that illuminates the kind of tight bond Trump has forged with a significant minority of Americans. Inspired by Freud, this thought arose following the rise of fascism and Nazism in Europe, when Americans, too, had become wary of authoritarian elements in their society. Southern politics had been rife with race-baiting demagogues like Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo since the 1890s, and the popularity of the pro-Mussolini radio priest, Father Coughlin, demonstrated the appeal of an authoritarian message to the immigrant North.

At the highpoint of the New Deal, it was widely understood that legitimate economic grievances needed to be addressed. But there was something more, which manifested itself in intense loyalty to agitators and demagogues like Coughlin. To understand that devotion, Frankfurt School refugees from Hitler – including Leo Löwenthal and Theodor Adorno – drew on a Freudian-inspired ‘mass psychology’ to analyse anti-Semites and demagogues in the US.

Their crucial innovation was the discovery of the special form that authoritarianism takes in democratic societies. Previously, the agitator had been thought of as a kind of hypnotist, while the crowd that responded to him was credulous and childlike. Open to rumour and fear, it demanded strength and even violence from its leaders. As the 19th-century French psychologist Gustave Le Bon put it, the crowd ‘wants to be ruled and oppressed and to fear its masters’. Freud had this model of crowd psychology in mind when he wrote that

the members of a group stand in need of the illusion that they are equally and justly loved by their leader; but the leader himself need love no one else, he [must] be of a masterful nature, absolutely narcissistic, self-confident and independent.

Hitler, Mussolini, Ataturk and even De Gaulle fit this model, as they drew on mass media, parades, sporting events and film to project themselves as father figures to enthralled nations.

Adorno realised, however, that the model only applied in part to American demagogues. What distinguishes the demagogue in a democratic society, he argued in ‘Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist Propaganda’ (1951), is the identification between the leader and his followers. The narcissism in question is not only Trump’s. More important is that of his followers, who idealise him as they once, in childhood, idealised themselves. Beyond that, the demagogue has a special appeal to wounded narcissism, to the feeling that one has failed to meet standards one has set for oneself.

The successful demagogue activates this feeling by possessing the typical qualities of the individuals who follow him, but in what Adorno, quoting Freud, called a ‘clearly marked and pure form’ that gives the impression ‘of greater force and of more freedom of libido.’ In Adorno’s words, ‘the superman has to resemble the follower and appear as his “enlargement”.’ The leader ‘completes’ the follower’s self-image. This helps explain the phenomenon of the ‘great little man’, the ‘Aw shucks’, ‘just folks’ demagogue like Huey Long. He ‘seems to be the enlargement of the subject’s own personality, a collective projection of himself, rather than an image of the father’ – a Trump, in other words, rather than a Washington or Roosevelt.

One might object that Trump, a billionaire TV star, does not resemble his followers. But this misses the powerful intimacy that he establishes with them, at rallies, on TV and on Twitter. Part of his malicious genius lies in his ability to forge a bond with people who are otherwise excluded from the world to which he belongs. Even as he cast Hillary Clinton as the tool of international finance, he said:

I do deals – big deals – all the time. I know and work with all the toughest operators in the world of high-stakes global finance. These are hard-driving, vicious cut-throat financial killers, the kind of people who leave blood all over the boardroom table and fight to the bitter end to gain maximum advantage.

With these words he brought his followers into the boardroom with him and encouraged them to take part in a shared, cynical exposure of the soiled motives and practices that lie behind wealth. His role in the Birther movement, the prelude to his successful presidential campaign, was not only racist, but also showed that he was at home with the most ignorant, benighted, prejudiced people in America. Who else but a complete loser would engage in Birtherism, so far from the Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Harvard aura that elevated Obama, but also distanced him from the masses?

The consistent derogation of Trump in the New York Times or on MSNBC may be helpful in keeping the resistance fired up, but it is counterproductive when it comes to breaking down the Trump coalition. His followers take every attack on their leader as an attack on them. ‘The fascist leader’s startling symptoms of inferiority’, Adorno wrote, ‘his resemblance to ham actors and asocial psychopaths’, facilitates the identification, which is the basis of the ideal. On the Access Hollywood tape, which was widely assumed would finish him, Trump was giving voice to a common enough daydream, but with ‘greater force’ and greater ‘freedom of libido’ than his followers allow themselves. And he was bolstering the narcissism of the women who support him, too, by describing himself as helpless in the grip of his desires for them.

Adorno also observed that demagoguery of this sort is a profession, a livelihood with well-tested methods. Trump is a far more familiar figure than may at first appear. The demagogue’s appeals, Adorno wrote, ‘have been standardised, similarly to the advertising slogans which proved to be most valuable in the promotion of business’. Trump’s background in salesmanship and reality TV prepared him perfectly for his present role. According to Adorno,

the leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically, and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions what is latent in them, rather than by any intrinsic superiority.

To meet the unconscious wishes of his audience, the leader

simply turns his own unconscious outward … Experience has taught him consciously to exploit this faculty, to make rational use of his irrationality, similarly to the actor, or a certain type of journalist who knows how to sell their … sensitivity.

All he has to do in order to make the sale, to get his TV audience to click, or to arouse a campaign rally, is exploit his own psychology.

Using old-fashioned but still illuminating language, Adorno continued:

The leaders are generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak incessantly and to befool the others. The famous spell they exercise over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to members of crowds.

Since uninhibited associative speech presupposes at least a temporary lack of ego control, it can indicate weakness as well as strength. The agitators’ boasting is frequently accompanied by hints of weakness, often merged with claims of strength. This was particularly striking, Adorno wrote, when the agitator begged for monetary contributions. As with the Birther movement or Access Hollywood, Trump’s self-debasement – pretending to sell steaks on the campaign trail – forges a bond that secures his idealised status.

Since 8 November 2016, many people have concluded that what they understandably view as a catastrophe was the result of the neglect by neoliberal elites of the white working class, simply put. Inspired by Bernie Sanders, they believe that the Democratic Party has to reorient its politics from the idea that ‘a few get rich first’ to protection for the least advantaged. Yet no one who lived through the civil rights and feminist rebellions of recent decades can believe that an economic programme per se is a sufficient basis for a Democratic-led politics. This holds as well when it comes to trying to reach out to Trump’s supporters. Of those providing his roughly 40 per cent approval ratings, half say they ‘strongly approve’ and are probably lost to the Democrats. But if we understand the personal level at which pro-Trump strivings operate, we may better appeal to the other half, and in that way forestall the coming emergency.

Comments

  1. Bill Cooke says:

    Very well made argument. Yet, for all this, the paradox is we still need the exalted European male – Adorno, Freud – to legitimise the critique of the demagogue.

    Although Adorno was sole author of the work cited here, we should remember there were four authors of ‘The Authoritarian Personality’ (1950). According to Nevitt Sanford, they chose as a collective to list their names in alphabetical order, although this did not necessarily reflect the quantity or quality of the contribution.

    So, let’s acknowledge all the authors of that work: T.W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Daniel J. Levinson, and, R. Nevitt Sanford. Sanford fell foul of the California Loyalty Oath Controversy, and like blacklisted screenwriters, sought refuge in the UK (with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations) during McCarthyism.

    Not only were many of the social-psychologists of authoritarianism German exiles. Many were Jewish. The Authoritarian Personality was one of a series sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, edited by Max Horkheimer and Samuel Flowerman. Marie Jahoda also published in the same series, having been part of the circle Eli Zaretsky describes, before moving to what was to become Brunel University, and then to Sussex.

    The Cal State university system still requires a loyalty oath. And my colleagues in Brazil are posting Adorno’s work on their Facebook pages.

  2. Eli Zaretsky says:

    very good points Bill. I taught with Nevit Sanford and he is a hero of mine. Nevertheless, this argument is not drawn from the Authoritarian Personality but rather from the Adorno article I cited. The key difference, suggested by my title, is that the essay uses group psychology, the volume does not. The many debates on the concentration camps, especially those provoked by Bettelheim’s famous memoir, are closely related to this argument. Eli

    • Bill Cooke says:

      Point taken in return.

      I think when I read The Authoritarian Personality I was looking for group psychology, of which there is a little, and that’s what the book became for me. But it is not the main focus, I accept.

      I didn’t know that you had worked with Nevitt Sanford, Professor Zaretsky, and I hope it didn’t appear too presumptuous that I raise the Jewish contribution in a follow up to a column by you of all scholars.

      My copy of ‘Studies in the Scope and Method of “The Authoritarian Personality” ‘ (1954), eds Christie and Jahoda, the book about the book, has a sticker in the back saying ‘Property of the United States Govt. Rand No:’ and 8-830 written by hand.

  3. Graucho says:

    Nevertheless a seed has to fall on fertile ground to flourish. Hitler failed miserably at the polls until the Wall St. crash and the slump came to his rescue. Both Trump and Brexit were helped by

    > Economics: All the folk for whom globablisation hasn’t worked.
    > Demographics: The baby boomers entering the Victor Meldrew years.

    as for psychology never forget

    > Patriotism: “…the last refuge of a scoundrel”
    > The art of the con: Telling people something that they desperately want to believe.

    As with all these characters, the first few years will go swimmingly. The chickens have yet to return.

  4. Mbiego says:

    Bob Altemeyer’s research on “Authoritarians” uses more modern methods of Social Studies:

    http://theauthoritarians.org/Downloads/TheAuthoritarians.pdf

    https://www.unwelcomeguests.net/382_-_The_Authoritarians_(Why_do_People_Obey%3F)

    Here’s his take on why Trump’s support will never fall below 25% even if he’s caught shovel in hand burying teenage boys under the White House (The only crime John Wayne Gacy owned up to: “I should never have been convicted of anything more serious than running a cemetery without a license.”):

    https://archive.org/details/DonaldTrump_201603

    Altemeyer’s work comes highly recommended by John Dean, who knows a little something about modus operandi of Right Wing Authoritarians in the White House (both followers and leaders):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cVdsMJ-nEg

    https://verdict.justia.com/2017/07/07/altemeyer-trumps-supporters

    • Mbiego says:

      Incidentally, Trump referred to Dean as a “rat” recently:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLqy3fWFFH4

      Reminds one of another infamous “rat”:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ9dN5zWJJw

      • Eli Zaretsky says:

        thanks for this. Interesting. However, there is a crucial difference between the Freudian approach to group psychology and that of contemporary social science. THe Freudian approach rests on a theory of individual motivation, in other words a depth psychology. It is not behaviorist.

        • Rory Allen says:

          A small correction, Eli: you contrast the Freudian approach on the one hand to behaviorism on the other, as though the latter were the only alternative. I have to tell you that psychology is no longer behaviorist: we got over that obsession fifty years ago with the “cognitive turn”, and modern human psychology is as much concerned with individual motivation as Freud ever was, but (hopefully) informed by a more empirical attitude. Peter Medawar once commented about the behaviorist legacy. He said that while behaviorism was wrong, it had left psychology with some much improved habits of mind and methods of research. From memory, he wrote: “Behaviorism has taught us that ‘the dog is whining’ and ‘the dog is sad’ are two quite different statements, and woe betide psychology if it ever forgets this.”

  5. mussessein says:

    I still think that Adorno and Sanders can sit side-by-side here without any trouble. Adorno accounts for Altemeyer’s 25% who were in large part always ‘lost to the democrats’, but the remainder is your ‘other half’. And I suspect they are largely those whose day-to-day lives have got worse as a result of neoliberalism, even if they wouldn’t describe their situation that way. That’s a group that can’t face Hilary’s programme of more of the same and would rather throw the dice with a Trump administration. I’m not sure how many would switch, but since Obama got elected on a notional ‘change’ programme — certainly the 25% would never vote for Obama — then I suspect it’s big enough to get rid of Trump. And as a UK resident I think similar constituencies can be seen in the Brexit vote which also featured opposing narratives of ‘more of the same’ vs ‘land of plenty’.

    As such, I agree that ‘an economic programme per se’ is not ‘a sufficient basis for a Democratic-led politics’ but I still think it’s a necessary one to ‘appeal to the other half’. Especially, if it’s presented in terms of fairness and justice. I certainly think that attempting to appeal to those voters on the basis of the prejudices of those ‘lost to the democrats’ looks unconvincing and can be toxic for ‘core vote’ turnout, as UK Labour’s flirtation with anti-immigrant rhetoric in 2010/15 shows. But until ‘socialist’ policies like those of Sanders get their chance we’ll never know if that will swing those voters whilst retaining more ‘moderate’ Democrats.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      I could not agree more. Sanders is a great man in my estimation. He singlehandedly restored a social democratic discourse to the US. Furthermore, I also agree that Sanders and Adorno are on the same page. THe frustrated and unfulfilled narcissism that leads people to follow Trump is largely economic in nature– un or under employment, for example, health care problems.

  6. Stu Bry says:

    The analysis of the election by the Democracy Fund Voter Survey Group shows that it was a regular election with the vast majority sticking with the party they always vote for and the numbers of voters transferring in the normal range. The election was decided by Obama voters who stayed home particularly working class white and African Americans. If those groups had supported Clinton in greater numbers then Trump would have been a footnote in history like Huey Long.

    Given that the vast majority of Trump supporters would have supported Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio i’m not sure that there is much value in analyzing them in the context of Trump personally. I would also argue that every single American President is an authoritarian (or acts as one) including Obama who participated in the militarism of the role as much as anyone and never directly challenged the deep structural injustices of the USA.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      sorry, but I dont follow your logic.The election was decided by Obama voters who either stayed home or voted for Trump. What motivated them? My article gives a partial answer. As to all American presidents being authoritarian, come on. Thats like saying all German chancellors disliked Jews. Hitler was nothing special.

      • Stu Bry says:

        It was decided by Obama voters who stayed home. As an example African American voter turnout declined by 19% in Wisconsin. Some of this is obviously due to voter suppression but it’s mainly due to lack of enthusiasm for HRC.

        https://madison365.com/study-wisconsin-black-voter-turnout-fell-19-percent-2016-presidential-election/

        Obama voters who voted for Trump were in line with the normal level of transfers between the two main parties in previous elections. It’s also notable that Obama>Trump voters were largely GWB>Obama voters who had changed parties because of the crash and the increasing American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

        I don’t agree with your analogy. The qualitative difference between German chancellors is stark. When I look at Obama’s record on drone warfare, mass incarceration, the Middle East, border security, deportations, whistle blowers, NSA surveillance, CIA torture, Guantanamo and Wall St regulation compared to Trump I see only rhetorical not qualitative differences.

        • Stu Bry says:

          To make the Wisconsin situation slightly clearer.

          Trump 2016: 1,405,284 Romney 2012:1,407,966

          He won the state despite under performing Romney.

          • Eli Zaretsky says:

            Stu: I agree about Obama and insofar as I follow your argument about the election, I also agree, though I am not sure I fully follow. However, where I disagree is in your suggestion that Trump is just another American President. His foreign policies are in many ways an improvement over Obama’s, yes. But where he is really new and special is the overt racism. This is terribly important. Hope this helps clarify.

            • Stu Bry says:

              Thanks for the reply Eli.

              It was an interesting article.

            • Coldish says:

              Thanks, Eli, for your interesting article and your considerate responses to comments. I’m British, so voting in US elections is not an option. If I had been eligible I would probably have voted for a third party candidate in every presidential election from 1970 onwards – until 2016, when I would certainly have voted for Sanders, had he been the Democratic Party candidate. But he wasn’t, and all we had on offer from Mrs Clinton was promises of more of the same – more foreign wars, more treading on the toes of the Russians, more cosying up to the big banks, a total lack of interest in the difficulties faced by workers in the rust-belt states. I stayed up all night to watch the results come in and was heartily relieved when Trump turned out to have won. Yes, he’s a racist and a greedy bigot, and a womaniser, but at least he promised the chance of a change of course. He’s still paying the price of that promise. And I’m still glad Clinton lost.

  7. Simon Wood says:

    I just wonder if to pump up Trump further – to seek “cures”, to care so much – exacerbates the inflammation, the mass psychic scare, the hyper-real phenomenon, the pseudo- or quasi-spectacle?

  8. Eli Zaretsky says:

    My piece is aimed at finding a way to not talk about Trump by focusing on his followers. We have to talk to them.

    • Simon Wood says:

      Yes, forgive me. I’m talking to your supporters here who may “up the Trump”, so to speak. Your piece is carefully and quietly argued.

      We have populist politicians here on both left and right sides whose supporters “up their Trump,” too. Their fans are crazy, don’t even get what they’re saying.

      I talk to my kind and thoughtful girlfriend, she is a textile designer and sees things in proportion and gracefully. Why, I ask her, is pop music so uninventive and unoriginal these days?

      She says it’s because the politicians are the now the rebels – extreme, on the fringe, “out there”.

  9. Charbb says:

    Trump is a racist and consorts with neo-fascists. No question of that. But he got in because of the failure of the liberals and the left to deal with the issues that affected large numbers of the poorest Americans. They have been playing the fool for too long, the liberals and the left. They have lost touch with the culture of the majority of Americans and can no longer talk to them comfortably. This majority is not racist or anti-minority but it does expect deference to the history of the USA and the main American cultural tradition. It does expect that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln will be respected and that American governments will be tough with China. It does expect that working class interests in the USA will be looked after. If you can’t provide that, do not apply.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      I agree with this post but I am not sure what you are getting at.

      • Charbb says:

        What am I getting at? Something rather simple. As long as American liberals and leftwingers insist on warring with the main American cultural tradition – we all know what that is: Washington, Lincoln, church on Sundays, gun rights, tough on defence – these liberals and leftwingers are going to lose elections that they could have won. Political parties succeed if they are in tune with the culture of their nation. If they remain spitefully alien to it, they will lose time and again. Americans too often say of their liberals and leftwingers that they are good people with good ideas for social policy yet something in them is alien and off putting. They are bent on denouncing American history root and branch; they sneer at American heroes; they are weak with China.

  10. Timothy Rogers says:

    Introducing a new voice into this analysis of the relationships between authoritarian leaders and their followers, I nominate Elias Canetti for his analysis and discussion of the phenomenon in his book “Crowds and Power”, which I read about 30 years ago (and never forgot – it made quite an impression on me). Rather than me taking up space here I would recommend readers go to the comments by an Amazon (of all places!) book reviewer. The link is below – scroll down past the one-liners to the piece titled “Canetti’s Grim but Truthful World” and you will find a review that summarizes Canetti’s arguments and discusses his unusual terminology, some of which might be converted into equivalent terms used by Freud and then Adorno et al. Because Canetti had gone through the Viennese “educational mill” during the mid-1920s, he was certainly exposed to both literary and philosophical trends dominating intellectual life there at that time. Canetti’s analysis of “winners and losers” seems to foreshadow Trump’s views in an uncanny way.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/0374518203?_encoding=UTF8&isInIframe=0&n=283155&ref_=dp_proddesc_0&s=books&showDetailProductDesc=1#product-description_feature_div

    Well, I hope this is not a red herring, but an avenue into a different vantage point.

  11. Eli Zaretsky says:

    I have to admit that I have never been able to finish crowds and power though I have tried on many occasions. Thee are many brilliant things in it but I couldn;t find a sustained argument. I believe Adorno called it a scandal. There is a very good book about films and crowd based on Canetti’s theory. I think its called Films and Crowds. I’m going to Amazon to read what you recommended.

  12. Eli Zaretsky says:

    I think the difference between Canetti and Adorno is important. Canetti’s viewpoint is paranoid. Kafka is relevant here. Adorno is still a Marxist. He is trying to describe the mass psychology of the masses, not the dilemma of the individual

  13. Albena Azmanova says:

    This is the right level of analysis indeed — the social (not personal) psychology of the bond between Trump and followers. Yet, in the good habit of Frankfurt school folk, we need to get at the conditions of possibility enabling this bond. You are right that these conditions cannot be reduced strictly to the economy (the neglect by neoliberal elites of the legitimate economic grievances of the white working class). Michael Young’s The Rise of the Meritocracy (1958) offers a clue: he described the meritocratic society as a world of arrogant winners and desperate losers. The consensus among center-right and center-left elites on both economic and cultural liberalism (what Nancy Fraser aptly called ‘progressive neoliberalism’) was meant to be a rule of meritocracy— the best educated and capable govern, equipped by a science of politics. However, this rule came to be experienced as an elitist method of population management that has lost touch with citizens’ interests and demands. I think the hubris of the ruling elites, as it permeated the logic and logistics of rule, was one of the conditions enabling the dynamics you describe so well in your piece. I have discussed this in “The Populist Catharsis” (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0191453718760091)

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      good point, Albena. One person who followed up on Adorno– the main one in my view was Richard Hofstadter– was Christopher Lasch, whose The Revolt of the Elites was one of the first works to really show the distinction between equality and meritocracy. Lasch discusses Young’s work at length. Meritocracy is exactly what Adorno is getting at.

  14. gibbons50 says:

    Yet no one who lived through the civil rights and feminist rebellions of recent decades can believe that an economic programme per se is a sufficient basis for a Democratic-led politics.

    “It’s the economy stupid,” – motto of successful Bill Clinton presidential campaign

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      I’mm not sure I get your point. Do you agree with Clinton. The real point is that the economy can mean many different things. Adorno was getting at how people are narcissistically invested in their economic lives. When they fail they follow someone like Trump, not because they believe he will get them jobs but because it increases their self-esteem.

  15. R. Byron says:

    “Yet no one who lived through the civil rights and feminist rebellions of recent decades can believe that an economic programme per se is a sufficient basis for a Democratic-led politics.” How about we try it once? How about we reverse-engineer the present economy, bring it back to Reagan’s 1986 tax cuts, undo it all, and see what that does. As in every analysis by every commentator in every established forum, “tax” is nowhere to be found. It’s not all about the money but a lot of it is. The rise of women and people of color was underwritten by people who had money. Let’s talk about the money, who has it, what they’re doing with it, and their purposes in keeping it away from the rest of us.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      I completely agree with you. However, we saw with Sanders that he had to talk about feminism and racism TOO. But the main point is to get some control over capitalism, absolutely. Also, the piece is really about how to address the Trump voters. Economics alone wont do it. We need to raise their self-esteem. Attacking capitalism is a good way to do that.

  16. Alices Restaurant says:

    Well-wrought but, in the end, feckless work-around replete with leftist cliché.

    It, “the nature of Trump’s appeal”, has nothing to do with mass-psychology or Freud or Skinner or Mussolini et al. Rather it is simply Newton’s third law at work–Americans–principally the “heartland”– were tired of Obama and deep-swamp cultural Marxist stomping and Trump fit the bill, or torpedo might be a better word choice. End of analysis.

    But here’s the Grand Collective’s adherents biggest problem with “Trumpism”, what to do with all those heretics? Stalinist gulags back for another go?

  17. rjmzapater says:

    Question:

    Where do the findings of Wilhelm Reich in “The Psychology of the Masses of Fascism” and the work of Edward Bernays (a close relative and student of Freud) stand in the analysis set forth by this illustrious group of commentators?

    Please advise.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      Bernays is the founder of public relations in the US. He was interested in selling cigarettes not in social change. But he was a sort of brilliant character. (Freud’s brother in law). Reich, on the other hand, is a great figure, even if he went crazy later. he was the first person who pushed for political uses of psychoanalysis. However, his “mass psychology” doesnt compare to Adorno’s. Two reasons: First, he doesnt understand narcissism and the mother/infant relationship, which Adorno does. Second, even more fundamental: he has no theory of group psychology. This is key. He thinks the people supporting Hitler are sick. But he doesnt analyze them as a GROUP>

  18. I don’t think an armchair diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is at all implausible, and it helps explain the social psychological dynamics involving his most fervid supporters. For a brief discussion of this, please see: https://www.academia.edu/34646987/Donald_Trump_and_Narcissistic_Personality_Disorder

    And you might have mentioned Erich Fromm’s pioneering study (others assisted him) for the Frankfurt Institute well before the work of Adorno, et al., indeed, it was likely a necessary condition of their work (even if it differs in several respects) and now available in English: Erich Fromm (Barbara Weinberger, tr. and Wolfgang Bonss, ed.) The Working Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984. Daniel Burston’s book on Fromm’s legacy has an excellent discussion of this study, which still holds up well alongside Wilhelm Reich’s well known book.

    In a recent blog post I summarized the relevance of NPD and the social psychology variables at play with his supporters: http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2018/09/the-presidents-arrested-emotional-and-moral-development.html

  19. kiers says:

    Also, please note, Trump would not be Trump, without the Hollywood studio conglomerate main stream news media “carrying” him all the way through, but it all appears so democratic, but it fails at so many levels. Please don’t omit this. The vaudeville requires media cooperation and is part and parcel of the communications strategy, and they synergize together nicely.

    This (TV nonsense) does NOT pass the smell test of a “free” and independent press. The fact free, and consequence free (trump is not losing sleep) struggle and synergized-vaudevillian-opposition now qualifies America as an oppressed and manipulated country. The very same criteria America uses to invade or bomb other countries to free people, now prevails within. Ironic.

    Don’t forget, that all the media “crucifixion” of Trump you see doesn’t alter policy or American Interest, ONE BIT. Not One Bit! The machinery of a one party system behind the scenes rolls on. But the blood spilt by Trump (albeit for enhancing his theatrics) is real.

    This is a rotten system.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      Analyzing the media is crucial. Adorno made a bit of headway in the Culture Industry chapter of the Dialectic of Enlightenment, and a vast amount has been written since then, but its diffuse and academic for the most part. One person who is strong is Fred Turner, for example, his book, The Democratic Surround.

      • Annabelle Sreberny says:

        This is a fascinating piece and terrific discussion. I don’t think the US media is a singular voice, even if the political economy of media shows up the oligopolies at play. But I’d like to push the media argument further into the wider communications environment that we all now inhabit. I’d like to imagine that if Adorno were writing now, he would be analyzing social media! One element that makes social media so powerful is that we experience content as directed to each of us personally even while rationally knowing that millions are receiving the same content. But it arrives in “my” Facebook space and in “my” Twitter feed on “my” smartphone. It feels personal but the individual is readily aligned with the ‘mass’. Second, and this speaks to the point about language, Trump’s limited, emotive speech fits Twitter wonderfully. While many will comment critically below the
        line, most followers will happily read, “like” and “share”. So we/they become the online distributors of irrational talk even as the NYT rolls out its fact-check to countermand Trump’s claims. Third, this all happens very fast indeed. Not many Trump supporters will attend rallies,so Twitter, paradoxically, is the new instrument of massification.

  20. nyer says:

    Eli Zaretsky’s piece on the mass psychology of Trumpism is the best application of an otherwise empirically-doubtful theory I have read, and it is certainly the best analysis of the dynamic that takes place at Trump’s rallies. These self-selected audiences are primed for an interactive experience, anyone one who might be tempted to boo or express dissent has, until now, had the sense not to attend. Should that begin to happen, the violence that occurred regularly in early fascist and Nazi mass rallies would happen in the U.S.

    The crowd psychologists like Gustave LeBon, Gabriel Tarde and others, on whom Freud (and Canetti) built their own theories of group psychology, also considered mass-market newspapers as enhancers and reflectors of the populist leaders of the day, a feature modern information technology has multiplied exponentially.

    I’m not sure about the strictly American nature of this phenomenon, though it may have looked that way to Adorno. It is crucial, however, for the resistance to Trumpism to include policies that will go some distance to ameliorate the social and economic uncertainty that surely provides much of the alienation and anger of his supporters. Too close a reliance on psychological explanations of identification with a hyper-grandiose leader, wounded narcissism, and similar tropes can slide easily into essentialist characterizations, which is precisely what happened to the original cohort of crowd theorists, who described aroused crowds as “primitive,” “savage,” “hysterical,” and, yes, “feminine,” as in easily led by a powerful man.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      This is an excellent post and I completely agree with the main point. Economics is fundamental. Adorno is a footnote to Bernie Sanders. Well, its a little more complex but really i do agree. As to America: what was good about Adorno is that he saw this in America, whereas everone else saw in in Nazi Germany. he didnt say that America was fascist but he did see that there were certain common elements, especially in group psychology. Personally I think Freud’s book on group psychology is in a different category from Le Bon, who he praises at length, and Tarde. THis would take some time to argue. The gist is Freud has a theory of motivation; the others don’t.

      • nyer says:

        Zaretsky,

        You are quite right about Freud’s contribution being a theory of motivation, which is nicely handled in your essay. And I agree with your reaction to posts that suggest that authoritarian regimes and democratic ones are essentially different. The one can become the other because, as you point out, the human and psychic materials are always available. But they also shift and change with socio-economic transformations, and we are living through such a transformation at the moment. I’ve written a lot on some of these matters as a historian of the social sciences.

        • Eli Zaretsky says:

          yes, david fischer told me your name. I have read at least one of your books, and at least one article in particular. I am a big fan. I got a lot out of your work. I do believe that getting the history of what was called “the crowd” right is a key to understanding modern history.

  21. John Cowan says:

    Rorty’s Achieving Our Country nailed down the diagnosis and the prescription twenty years ago (which does not make this article useless: truth must be restated). The cultural left and the economic left have many great achievements each, but have been fighting each other too long: they must come together.

  22. Rod Miller says:

    “Since 8 November 2016, many people have concluded that what they understandably view as a catastrophe was the result of the neglect by neoliberal elites of the white working class, simply put.”
    That’s correct. Trump won by razor-thin margins in Just the Right Swing States. It’s by no means improbable that many of the votes cast for him there (in the Rust Belt) came from white working-class people who felt screwed over by globalism, lean’n’mean neo-liberalism, call it what you will. Another name, in the American context, might be “Clintonism”.
    No doubt many of these votes came from white people who had previously voted for Obama but had now lost a good job and a house, perhaps, and were just barely getting by on two (or three) mcjobs.
    Their vote for Trump was a protest vote — as Michael Moore termed it, “the biggest Fuck You in US electoral history” — and naturally, like you and me, they figured that in the morning Clinton would emerge as winner.
    How few votes — how few uninspired people who didn’t bother to vote — won that thing for Trump? Really not a lot.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      yes I agree. I believe that Obama’s entirely disappointing presidency was the immediate cause of trump’s victory.

  23. tracey says:

    Interesting discussion. Relevant are two pieces i’d recommend:
    Diana Mutz, “Status Threat, not economic hardship, explains the 2016 Presidential vote.”
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. May 2018

    Stephen Reicher and Alexander Haslam:
    “How Trump Won.”
    Scientific American Mind, May/April 2017, Vol.8, Issue 2.

  24. tracey says:

    typo , it’s Stephen Reichler

  25. tracey says:

    It’s important to be somewhat wary of comparisons with what happened inEurope in the 1930, but sometimes it ohs difficult not to do so. I was struck by this comment by Professor Frederick Schumann in his 1935 book, The Nazi Dictatorship.
    He acknowledges the role of other groups in the rise of the Nazis, what he calls “the maladjustment of other classes…the resentment of pious, thrifty and debt-ridden peasants at urban creditors, bankers, atheists and liberals; the disillusionment of proletarians with Marxist leaders whose promises of revolution, socialization and salvation came to nothing; the disgust of bankrupt Junkers at the State in which aristocrats and soldiers were at the mercy of democratic politicians; the feelings of racial and economic insecurity among the upper bourgeoisie. But fundamentally the disorder was a disease of the Kleinburgertum. The group suffered from acute paranoia, with all its typical delusions of persecution and systematic hallucinations of grandeur. In Hitler it found at last an articulated voice. In the weltanschauung of the NSDAP it found solace for all its woes, forgiveness for all its hatreds, scapegoats for all its misfortunes, and a millennial vision for all its hopes…”

  26. giovanni-acuto says:

    Wonderful analysis, the best explanation I’ve read yet as to why sixty-odd million people could have been duped to vote for him. Detest for Hillary was definitely a factor, as was the Russian influence, but the dominant reason, as the article explains, was the desire on the part of so many Americans for a “leader” who might solve their personal psychological deficiencies. I hesitate to refer to them as “deplorables”, though the term has some justification.

  27. BrianBruise says:

    If you’re going to get into the weeds with the new left, psychology and, therein, an explanation for not only Trump’s election but, more startling and worthy of analysis, his staying power with his Evangelical base, why would the author not bring in Wilhelm Reich’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”?

    I was one of the activists in the Canadian gay lib movement in the early seventies. And what did the fans of Marcuse, Adorno, et al. bring to that plate? – well, an antipathy to organizational structure: “let’s all sit around and chat until we come to a consensus” being their mantra. It didn’t take too long for us old commies to suggest that to get things done we’d have to support, if not democratic centralism, at least Robert’s Rules of Order.

    The, yes, tragic demise of any meaningful and sustainable movement beyond Occupy was its similar approach to political organizing. There being few old trade union comrades or red diaper babies around to suggest that: 1) waggling fingers have no power against police clubs and pepper spray; and 2) it is not a good idea to set an a priori goal of ending your occupation as, essentially, an overthrow of the capitalist state.

    Finally, while most media eyes have been on Trump’s weirdness (the same media that gave him millions in free pre-election air time) his White House and Cabinet have been dismantling some of the most profound hard fought for legislative and regulatory protections since the New Deal for the American people – the environment, voting rights, civil rights, labour rights, women’s rights, etc. along with one of the biggest tax giveaways to the American oligarchs in history.

    And, sorry, really finally, someone earlier mentioned Clinton. I can’t be bothered, but check out Hitchens on the venality and hypocrisy of the Clinton presidency.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      Hi, I explained above why Adorno, not Reich. Of course, Reich was the pioneer, but he did not understand the group dimension, even though he may have coined the term “mass psychology.” Marcuse was also great but much too uncritical of the New Left’s antinomianism. These are all part of our heritage.

  28. smolny57 says:

    Fascinating article, but I was a little surprised to see no mention of Wilhelm Reich. All right, not the most reliable source, but he did write “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” which I found useful reading in the 1970s in the face of the rise of the National Front in Britain.

  29. EdwardQ says:

    A Freud-inspired take on the election is itself irrational as the entire psychoanalytic project has been thoroughly discredited for almost twenty years now. See, for example, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00331.x

    • As to the claim that the “the entire psychoanalytic project has been thoroughly discredited for almost twenty years now,” that is eminently arguable although it could be said to have been discredited if one is assessing the aims or ends of psychoanalysis with standards and criteria derived exclusively from a positivist or post-positivist conception of science (like Grünbaum) or in an egregiously tendentious manner like Crews. Practicing psychoanalysts (some wof whom happen to be also philosophers, like Marcia Cavell, Ernest Wallwork and Jonathan Lear) as well as philosophers (e.g., and thus among others, Ilham Dilman, Sebastian Gardner, Herbert Fingarette, James Hopkins, Donald Levy, Jerome Neu, and Richard Wolheim) have well demonstrated the continuing therapeutic, moral, and philosophical relevance and significance of the “psychoanalytic project.” Readers interested in exploring the relevant literature (which contains titles by Zaretsky) should consult my bibliography on same here: https://www.academia.edu/4844021/Freudian_Psychology_bibliography

      • EdwardQ says:

        Reporting what other scholars had demonstrated is not tendentious. It is sharing scholarship that presents a compelling reconsideration of the validity of the psychoanalytic project. None of the studies Crews cites in the abstract in the link I provide above offer a “positivist conception,” by the way. As for practicing psychoanalysts, no amount of practice can make a dubious theory sound.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      once again, I spoke to this in several exchanges already.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      Yes, the psychoanalytic project has been discredited. Also, there are WMDs in Iraq.

  30. rjmzapater says:

    https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/01/from-bernays-to-trump-hooked-on-misery/

    Thank you, Professor Zaretsky, for your informative and patient response.

    My inquietudes about Bernays and the quintessential ideology of manifest destiny among the populace in the United States of North America emerge from my being a diasporic colonial subject from Puerto Rico familiar with some of the literature referenced in this conversation and moved by articles such as the one linked above That signal the critical role of public relations in mind control, the manufacturing of needs, the manipulation of crowd psychology and the acculturation of the masses. To such an end, even Josef Goebbels had been influenced by Bernays in developing and articulating a grand vision to accommodate and spread the political agenda of National Socialism while adjusting the mind-set of discontented classes clashing in Weimar Germany after Hitler’s rise to power. Of course, violence was always of the essence. Therefore, am I to suppose that selling cigarettes, the virtues of the United Fruit Company in Central America, NAFTA, 674 billion usd in military appropriations without a single vote in opposition by democrats in Congress, et al., and triggering social change for the benefit of special interests bear an exotic commonality that eludes the vast majority of us even though inimical to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. It’s the art of the con and the patriotic refuge of the scoundrel in the business of political economy dressed up as a Jeffersonian democracy that we all know it to be a sham.

  31. wse9999 says:

    Interesting comments.
    But “the special form that authoritarianism takes in democratic societies” is inherently contradictory, plain wrong in fact.
    Notwithstanding Mr Trumps antics, when we last looked the USA was still more or less a democracy not remotely some practical embodiment of “authoritarianism”.
    Also before we begin to analyse Mr Trump’s voter appeal let’s not forget that if the Democrats had run with a credible candidate offering a constructive program (not focused instead on negative Trump bashing) there is no way Trump would have won. So there is nothing “irrational” about the result. Unfortunately it’s all very understandable!
    Trump’s appeal to his base is simply telling them what they want to hear, and yes, in some way aligning himself, connecting with them, eg also appearing as an outsider from the System, the dreaded “elites”, despite his wealth.
    Also viewing 8 November 2016 as “a catastrophe” is laughable, ridiculous. Does the cause no service.
    Trump is an obvious problem, particularly in his disdain for a liberal rules-based international order, though, dare one say, his Administration’s outcomes are not all bad.
    So the sky has far from fallen in.
    Also if liberal democracy could see off the three 20th C monstrous dictators – with the required leadership and, alas, great sacrifice and cost – then it’s likely to prevail here.
    Much more interesting than this analysis is the issue of China, a novel and historic problem for the “West”.
    In the long story of the emergence of “Western” liberal democracy there has never been an illiberal anti-democratic opponent quite like China, because of its size and the nature of its engagement with the liberal democratic rules-based countries. So in their economic planning and policies they have been a lot cleverer than say Russia, have recognised the gains to be made by running a faux-market economy, by trading globally, and by not going overboard with a militarization fetish.
    But they are not playing by rules in their economic engagement, are paying lip service, and instead are engaged in protection, intellectual property theft and cyber-warfare.

    • Rory Allen says:

      “Also if liberal democracy could see off the three 20th C monstrous dictators”… Yes, but to state the obvious, America was on the side of liberal democracy then. What if the world’s most powerful liberal democratic state is hollowed out from within, by a monstrous dictator, and is no longer on the side of the angels? Who is going to come in and save us then?

      • wse9999 says:

        Trump is in no way “a monstrous dictator”.
        That implies he’s running a dictatorship, which patently he isn’t.
        He has some support within the government apparatus, eg in Congress, but so far, notwithstanding his loud mouth and illiberal sentiments, he has only minimally bucked the rule of law?

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      I’ll respond to 2 points: 1) You counterpose democracy and authoritarianism. This is a mistake; the article suggests why. 2) Yes, the election could have gone differently with a different candidate– this is always the case in history. Its not predetermined, but we can still understand it or try.

      • wse9999 says:

        How can a “democratic society” be both democratic and authoritarian?
        Trump might be a demagogue, mouthing authoritarian sentiments, but despite being the President he is constrained from refashioning the “democratic society” as all that much authoritarian?
        Mr Mueller and co would certainly not be beavering away for a start.

  32. Mr Arkadin says:

    Not a single mention of Hannah Arendt on this entire page, post and comments. Still fuming over “Eichmann in Jerusalem”?

    Writing about Hitler in the 1930s, Orwell noted that one of the things about him that his followers identified with most strongly, what made him irresistible to them, was his operatic sense of grievance. Does this not cover it?

    No mention of Orwell, either.

  33. Eli Zaretsky says:

    You cant do everything in one post.

  34. tsinger says:

    I am a contributor to the book “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”. I find your reflections on the history of thinking about mass psychology invaluable. You do mention in your comments that there has been too much focus on the individual psychopathology of Trump and not enough focus on the fit of his individual psychopathology with the “psyche” of his base. I totally agree and, in fact, my contribution to the Dangerous Case was an attempt to shift the focus in 2016 to what it is that Trump appeals to in his followers. Also In 2016, I contributed a highly condense version of my observations Bill Moyers.com (his online journal) which speaks to the relationship between Trump and Trumpism that you might find of interest:
    https://billmoyers.com/story/donald-trump-selfie-americas-worst-side/
    Best,
    Tom Singer

  35. heinz suenker says:

    thanks for the idea to bring adorno in – showing his contemporary relevance. I think what has to be added is his idea about the ‘volksgemeinschaft’ – people’s community -, the foundational ideology working in nazi-germany. I’m tring since 25 years to use this concept in nazi studies. it became again the ideology for the new neo-nazi movements from france to germany. it’s the position of those who claim ‘social justice’, access to welfare benefits etc. for those who belong to the ‘people’ – ‘völkisch’. in germany it’s the use of these ideas which makes the new neo-nazi party strong.
    Heinz Sünker

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      yes, excellent point, however, there are different ways to constitute a “volk.” Trump’s followers constitute a volk, and its basis is not the US “volksgemeinschaft.”Excellent point tough.

  36. Rod Miller says:

    “If the Democrats had run with a credible candidate offering a constructive program (not focused instead on negative Trump bashing) there is no way Trump would have won.”
    This is what I was saying in my post — Especially a candidate who recognized that people had been let down by Clintonism and the clapped-out Clintonism of Obama. Any decent candidate would have wiped the floor with Donald.
    Remember that the “deplorables” are always there, always have been. They keep the red states red, for the moment at least. And they aren’t going anywhere soon, so it’s clearly the swing-state voters the Democrats Really let down in 2016.
    As for China, two cheers. They may have cleverly played the System, but they’re turning their country into an ever-more-overpopulated scene of environmental devastation. If nothing else, that will be their undoing. That and popular discontent about the growing wealth gap as people realize that Growthism is an illusion. China is synonymous with popular revolt at the best of times.
    Finally, Everybody practises cyber-warfare. It would be mighty odd if they didn’t.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      thanks again, Eli

    • wse9999 says:

      China will lose, the way it’s going.
      Freedom and the independent rule of law are messy, all the dirty linen washed in public (like the live theatre of the US Supreme Court nomination!?), but end of the day they’re very powerful in the economic and political outcomes, as the US attests, whatever its warts.

  37. neomiso says:

    Thank you for this post and putting thought and energy into this topic – I also really liked the discussion in the commentaries to the post – largely respectful, productive and building towards a wider and more resourceful understanding …

    Referring back to the mid-20th century Frankfurt School for a psychological understanding of “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” (the title of a book by Wilhelm Reich which is not sufficiently credited), however, is very limited, in my opinion. Later attempts to understand fascism as a phenomenon of social psychology rather than just individual psychology (or more precisely, how in their distinct dynamics these two combine and feed into each other) provide important new perspectives. The two volumes on “Male Fantasies” by Klaus Theweleit (Male Fantasies Vol. 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History – https://amzn.to/2R9YzyW and Male Fantasies Vol, 2: Male Bodies: Psychoanalyzing the White Terror – https://amzn.to/2N6fPSf), analysing the biographies of SS fascists through the lens of the post-Freudian psychology of Deleuze and Guattari, have helped me expand my perspective, providing a better explanatory framework for the primitive forces unleashed collectively in fascism.

    In trying to explain ‘Trumpism’, I also found the following helpful by Ken Wilber, although it originates in a somewhat different paradigm and worldview than discussed here:
    Trump and a Post-Truth World -https://integrallife.com/trump-post-truth-world/

  38. Eli Zaretsky says:

    Thank you for helpful suggestions. I didn’t credit Wilhelm Reich for the phrase “mass psychology” because I figured everyone knew about Reich’s pathbreaking book, “Mass Psychology of Fascism.” It’s as if I titled an article “The Taming of my Flu” without crediting Shakespeare. I do feel Theweit adds an important feminist angle to Adorno/Freud even if he also loses something. Bringing feminism and classical psychoanalysis into a real dialogue with one another, not a false aufgeheben– nothing could be more important. Thank you for raising it.

  39. Sanghera says:

    Surely it isn’t a single question of “why Trump?” but rather a combination of “How” and “Why”. The “why” is obviously the more complex and it is by interrogating this element of the argument that the “how” becomes more transparent. The Freudian/Althusserian notion of over determination would be useful here. It will also, I believe, put the individual back in the centre of the argument . Firstly, Trump voters are not a homogeneous entity. Just as “Blacks “ who did not vote for Clinton are not a homogeneous group. Both are made up of individuals with an individual existence in the same social world as everyone else. This means that each person’s reading of this social world is determined by their own personal history. The elements of Trump that one supporter may view as positive could be viewed negatively by another supporter. For example Trump’s dealings with, and views on, women may leave some of his fans aghast ,whilst others see them as funny, odd or quirky ,but understandable and therefore acceptable. They both may like his ‘strong’ character – “he says what he thinks”. They both support Trump. Narcissism (as mentioned in an earlier post) and the cult of the personality is another feature here. Both picked up and manipulated by the media. This can be seen clearly in other countries eg Johnson in England, Modi in India and Erdogan in Turkey. Behind this though is the notion of a Leader. Someone who appears and saves the day -the classic western movie is a good example of this. The Leader will clearly identify the enemy and produce plans to eradicate them. This shows his strength and determination. In this scenario the locals have been downtrodden and treated badly by a person or group but can do nothing about it. The leader agrees and amplifies their grievances and promises to provide justice. The fact that Trump and Johnson et al mentioned above are from the oppressive group is taken as a positive attribute – “He’s a very successful businessman, a billionaire. He must know what he’s doing” . In other words, he’s not just a politician, he lives in our world and understands it – he’s one of us. He doesn’t even look like the other politician – this applies to Johnson also – he is not image conscious. Both of these politicians were of course ‘media personalities’ and therefore already with a public image. This need for a leader is a product of what Adorno calls Ichschwache – ego weakness produced in the individual in late capitalism – which produces an unwillingness to think for oneself. This aspect of the argument leads us to the view many have of politics and politicians in society. Almost every sketch show will have a segment which shows politicians as inept, incapable and out of touch. People watching will nod in agreement and laugh. In my own experience many watch interviews with politicians for light relief – how they evade questions, their choreographed hand movements, coached voice modulation etc. Politics is ‘a laugh’ ,not to be taken seriously. Trump/Johnson agree and join in the fun.
    Leaders like Trump portray themselves as ‘outsiders’ – they are not a part of the system. They are not career politicians as the rest manifestly are – this at least is a fact. The Leader is doing it because he believes in something worthwhile and morally uplifting, he’s not in it for the money. The cowboy Western trope becomes ever more obvious. It is in such a character that any hope lies. The System is devised by and rigged in favour of the few ie governments, banks, big corporations etc. This new Leader will strike all this down and return – it is usually a return – the country to some former glory. See present India and Turkey.
    The “how” in this argument is perhaps a bit too obvious and prosaic. Using Adorno’s nomenclature ,the culture industry is central. The constant and regular highlighting of Trump’s ramblings and obscene statements guaranteed his constant presence. His every action and statement was eagerly seized upon. That many of these were offensive and insulting to many made him even more ‘attractive’ to the media. The media after all is ultimately about entertainment and soundbites. But,it is here that we can see one element of the machinations of ideology – as outlined in The German Ideology by Marx/Engels – , the misunderstanding and therefore the displacement of the real contradiction with a different conflict. It was not the actions of Trump that were the problem, but the people who were offended – the elite with their precious Identity Politics and feelings of disempowerment. All this was fodder for Trump and the Media. It would not be far from the truth to say that he is a product of the media and is sustained by them – Trump does not communicate via Twitter but through the mass media who tell us what he tweeted. There is no difference between him tweeting and him speaking.
    Although I welcome this introduction of Adorno into the conversation, I for one think his contribution is minimal, but a close reading of the Frankfurt School – especially Marcuse – would be highly beneficial and productive

  40. Eli Zaretsky says:

    thanks for a really interesting post. THe material on the leader is especially interesting. Comparative work that is global, eg Modi, Erdogan, etc is called for. In no sense am I claiming special status for Adorno. As a new leftist, I loved Marcuse but viewed historically I can see that his view of the New left and feminism was romantic to a fault. Certainly overdetermination is important. I still think the greatest riches from the past on this question is from Freud’s Massenpsychologie. Thanks again, Eli

  41. Timothy Rogers says:

    The post is a good one, but one factor (of either individual or mass psychology) is overlooked, and that is the willed ignorance (or denial of obvious facts)displayed by Trump’s followers as to his social status and his numerous lies about numerous things. How can he be seen as “one of us”, having been born wealthy, led a privileged life, and previously ducked all responsibilities including the Vietnam-era draft, which should offend some of his supporters)as a citizen? As to his lies you have to also accept that the major media are always lying about or misrepresenting his views, even as these views are manifest in his tweets and occasional press conference rantings.

    • Eli Zaretsky says:

      The Freudian concept of identification is helpful here. Identification is unconscious and is something quite different from imitation. “Willed ignorance”– yes– but Trump’s followers NEED something from him, that something is taken, incorporated, through identification. Trump at some level gets this. He is always winking at his followers. For example, when he refers to Hillary Clinton taking a break to urinate. He establishes a kind of intra-familial identity with them, an us/them feeling. This is one of th e keys to television: it creates intimacy with the viewer.

  42. CambridgeUSA says:

    Help me, please. Why would anyone argue with or “find implausible” the description of Trump as suffering from ‘narcissistic personality disorder’?

  43. Neil Foxlee says:

    A thoughtful and thought-provoking article, with many comments in a similar vein. (Adorno’s original article, by the way, is available to read here: https://cominsitu.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/theodor-w-adorno-freudian-theory-and-the-pattern-of-fascist-propaganda-5.pdf ).

    On reaching out to Trump’s supporters (or at least those who can be reached), see this piece by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, author of Strangers in Their Own Land: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/17/american-democracy-four-pillars-activism-arlie-hochschild .

    For a flavour of Hochschild’s book (very pertinent in this context), see https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/07/how-great-paradox-american-politics-holds-secret-trumps-success , especially the section beginning “As I reviewed the social terrain…”.


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