Several factors point to a Democratic victory in the next US presidential election, including success in the 2018 midterms, a series of state polls, and enormous rank and file enthusiasm, reflected in the large number of candidates who qualified for the debates. Still, the Democrats vastly underestimated Trump in 2016 and may repeat the mistake in 2020. Wishful thinking is not the only pitfall. Understanding the nature of Trump’s divisive personality, and the relation between that divisiveness and America’s politics, is still undeveloped. Here Max Weber’s theory of charisma may be helpful.
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.
‘This is Britain,’ David Cameron said in his speech to the Conservative Party Conference. ‘We don’t duck fights. We get stuck in. We fix problems.’ The thing on his mind presses upwards through the words at every point. Duck, stuck, fix... pigs?
The Freud Museum announced earlier this week that it needed £5000 to restore Freud’s couch, the centerpiece of a study crammed with other relics, a cluttered cabinet of antique curiosities that Freud called his ‘old and dirty gods’. (‘Overwhelmed by the response’, they ‘are now seeking to raise around £40,000 to conserve Freud's collection of antiquities’.) The altar of psychoanalysis – on which Dora, Anna O. and the Wolf Man lay like sacrificial victims to the nascent science – is covered with an oriental rug and several opulent cushions; to preserve them the room is lit only with lugubrious light. The couch, behind its velvet rope, is apparently in a state of frayed disrepair that seems entirely appropriate. I always imagined Freud, who sat behind his patients in a green velvet armchair, pulling the loose threads as he disentangled their troubled minds.
The LRB on the late Maurice Sendak: