Psychoanalysis and the Trump Phenomenon

May 27, 2016

John Abromeit, Jay Frankel, Hilda Fernandez, Samir Gandesha, & Jerry Zaslove

Friday, May 27, 5:00PM–7:00PM, Room 2270, SFU Harbour Centre

Co-sponsored by the Lacan Salon

With the Indiana Republican primary delivering a decisive victory over his rivals and Ted Cruz's decision to end his campaign, the path has been all but cleared for Donald Trump to win the Republican nomination for President. From the start, Trump has taken populist aim at the greed, corruption and sheer venality of the Washington political establishment. In particular, he has emphasized, paradoxically, that his considerable wealth acquired through his real estate business gives him a certain autonomy from SuperPacs and sundry corporate interests. But what has been most significant about the Trump campaign is the way in which he has shrewdly unleashed and channelled the  frustration and fear  to which the past three decades of "globalization" have given rise.  The frustration has arisen as a result of the liberalization of trade and the freeing of capital resulting in what has been called the "de-industrialization" of the United States or the relocation of industrial capital from the US to South-east Asia, China and Mexico transforming in its wake cities in the American heartland into a "rustbelt." Such a process has hit the the white, male working class particularly hard. Fear has arisen both from an absence of alternatives but also to the way in which the world is perceived to have become more hostile to US interests as its foreign policy objectives have encountered fierce resistance beginning on September 11, 2001, if not before. Trump has effectively mobilized frustration and fear against external enemies such as ISIS and radical Islam more generally and at internal enemies such as undocumented migrants whom he describes as "drug-dealers" and "rapists." The effect of Trump's rhetoric has been to create, particularly in his rallies, an environment in which his supporters are encouraged perhaps even exhorted to engage in transgressive action against protestors who, in many cases, have been minorities.

This panel seeks to shed light on the Trump phenomenon by drawing upon the rich resources of psychoanalysis and social psychology. Among the questions it poses are the following: 

  1. What premises underlie Trump’s rhetorical uses of love and hate? 
  2. Does Trump offer his supporters narcissistic satisfaction via participation in a renewed sense of American "greatness" in exchange for their abjection, continuing subordination and powerlessness?
  3. Social media highlights some of Trump’s personality traits, such as aggressiveness and narcissism. What elements of identification and fantasy are at play in the relation of Trump and his supporters?
  4. What are the libidinal roots of Trump's apparent charismatic hold over his supporters?
  5. Can Trump's histrionics be compared with those of other authoritarian leaders such as Barry Goldwater, Mussolini, Hitler or Berlusconi? 
  6. What is the social role Trump might be playing within his followers and the US population at large?
  7. To what extent is Trump's appeal based on the construction of an elaborate fantasy that hinges upon re-establishing strong distinctions between the insider and outside, friend and enemy? 
  8. What role has the media's obsession with the minutiae of the races ie. reified metrics and poll data as opposed to understanding Trump in the context of significant transformations in history and society played in Trump's rise? 
  9. Have the transformations in contemporary capitalism weakened individual consciousness and therefore made human subjects particularly susceptible to authoritarian populist appeals by abating their ability to think and judge for themselves?
  10. What can Trumpism teach us about the uses of psychoanalysis in the politics of the public sphere and the American Class War? 
John Abromeit is an Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York, Buffalo State and author of Max Horkheimer and the Foundations of the Frankfurt School (Cambridge UP, 2011).
Jay Frankel is an Associate Editor of the journal Psychoanalytic Dialogues, and an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, at New York University.
Hilda Fernandez is a practitioner of Lacanian Psychoanalysis in Vancouver and a founding member of the Lacan Salon where she serves as its current president. She is also an Associate of the Institute.
Samir Gandesha is the Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University.
Jerry Zaslove is a teacher and writer who studied Comparative Literature teaches Literature and Humanities, influenced but not limited by the traditions of social radicalisms and the arts and psychoanalysis and aesthetics.
Christopher (Kit) Fortune, an Associate of the Institute, is an internationally known historianof psychoanalysis who focuses on the work of Sandor Ferenczi.