Tuesday Reads: Trump TraumaPosted: August 30, 2016
Last night Lawrence O’Donnell had a psychologist named Bill Doherty as a guest on his program “The Last Word” to talk about Donald Trump. Here’s an excerpt from Doherty’s bio at Psychology Today:
William J. Doherty, Ph.D., is Professor of Family Social Science and Director of the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota. He is also a practicing marriage and family therapist and co-founder of The Doherty Relationship Institute, LLC, a new venture designed to help engaged couples through couples on the brink. See DohertyRelationshipinstitute.com
Bill is a past-President of the National Council on Family Relations, the oldest interdisciplinary family studies organization in North America. He has received the Significant Contribution to the Field of Marriage and Family Therapy Award from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
You can read his cv at the University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development. Doherty has established a website, “Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism” where he posted a manifesto that has so far been signed by 2,400 mental health professionals. From the manifesto:
As psychotherapists practicing in the United States, we are alarmed by the rise of the ideology of Trumpism, which we see as a threat to the well-being of the people we care for and to American democracy itself. We cannot remain silent as we witness the rise of an American form of fascism. We can leverage this time of crisis to deepen our commitment to American democracy.
What is Trumpism?
Trumpism is an ideology, not an individual, and it may well endure and grow after the Presidential election even if Donald Trump is defeated. (Variants can be seen all over Europe.) Trumpism is a set of ideas about public life and a set of public practices characterized by:
- Scapegoating and banishing groups of people who are seen as threats, including immigrants and religious minorities.
- Degrading, ridiculing, and demeaning rivals and critics.
- Fostering a cult of the Strong Man who:
- Appeals to fear and anger
- Promises to solve our problems if we just trust in him
- Reinvents history and has little concern for truth
- Never apologizes or admits mistakes of consequence
- Sees no need for rational persuasion
- Subordinates women while claiming to idealize them
- Disdains public institutions like the courts when they are not subservient
- Champions national power over international law and respect for other nations
- Incites and excuses public violence by supporters
At the political level, Trumpism is an emerging form of American fascism, a point being made by social critics across the political spectrum, including Robert Reich, Robert Kagan, and Andrew Sullivan. As journalist Adam Gopnik points out, whether or not the term “fascism” fully fits, it’s clear that the American republic faces a clear and present danger when the candidate of a major political party embraces an anti-democratic ideology. At the cultural level, the Urban Dictionary has defined Trumpism as “the belief system that encourages pretentious, narcissistic behavior as a way to achieve money, fame, and power.”
Go to the link to read about the effects of Trumpism and the reasons why therapists are so concerned. One thing that Doherty said last night really struck me. He said that therapists around the country are seeing clients who are very stressed and anxious about Trump’s campaign.
I’ve been writing for some time that I go through a struggle with myself every time I write a post because it’s so difficult for me emotionally to deal with the Trump phenomenon. I always knew that the attacks on Hillary would be vicious and that we’d have to deal with ugly and escalating sexism and misogyny; but I wasn’t prepared for the Trumpism to be piled on top of the Hillary hate. I guess I’m suffering from Trump stress.
Months ago there were a few articles about this topic. The Washington Post in March: Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting ‘Trump anxiety’ among clients.
To the catalogue of anxieties her patients explore during therapy — marriage, children and careers — psychologist Alison Howard is now listening to a new source of stress: the political rise of Donald Trump….
“He has stirred people up,” Howard said. “We’ve been told our whole lives not to say bad things about people, to not be bullies, to not ostracize people based on their skin color. We have these social mores, and he breaks all of them and he’s successful. And people are wondering how he gets away with it.”
Hand-wringing over Trump’s rapid climb, once confined to Washington’s political establishment, is now palpable among everyday Americans who are growing ever more anxious over the prospect of the billionaire reaching the White House.
With each Trump victory in the GOP primaries and caucuses, Democrats and Republicans alike are sharing their alarm with friends over dinner, with strangers over social media and, in some cases, with their therapists. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 69 percent of Americans said the idea of “President Trump” made them anxious….
Type “Trump” and phrases such as “scaring me” or “freaking me out” into Twitter’s search engine, and a litany of tweets unfurl, including one posted two weeks ago by Emma Taylor as she lay in bed in Los Angeles: “I literally can’t sleep because I just thought about how Trump may actually win the Presidency and now I’m having a panic attack.”
“It’s like a hurricane is coming at us, and I don’t have any way of knowing which way to go or how to combat it,” Taylor, 27, a Democrat, said in a phone interview. “He’s extremely reactionary, and that’s what scares me the most. I feel totally powerless, and it’s horrible.”
Read much more at the link.
The Guardian, also from March: How to cope with anxiety caused by Donald Trump: experts lend advice. I’ll let you read the suggestions for yourself. I didn’t find them all that helpful, because I don’t think the article takes seriously the nature of the Trump threat to our country.
A couple of days ago, JJ posted a link to a piece by linguist George Lakoff: Understanding Trump’s Use of Language. Lakeoff suggests that you first read his earlier article, Understanding Trump. Lakoff has long studied the differences between conservatives and liberals as a function of their uses of language.
In the 1900’s, as part of my research in the cognitive and brain sciences, I undertook to answer a question in my field: How do the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together? Take conservatism: What does being against abortion have to do with being for owning guns? What does owning guns have to do with denying the reality of global warming? How does being anti-government fit with wanting a stronger military? How can you be pro-life and for the death penalty? Progressives have the opposite views. How do their views hang together?
The answer came from a realization that we tend to understand the nation metaphorically in family terms: We have founding fathers. We send our sons and daughters to war. We have homeland security. The conservative and progressive worldviews dividing our country can most readily be understood in terms of moral worldviews that are encapsulated in two very different common forms of family life: The Nurturant Parent family (progressive) and the Strict Father family (conservative).
What do social issues and the politics have to do with the family? We are first governed in our families, and so we grow up understanding governing institutions in terms of the governing systems of families.
In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right. Many conservative spouses accept this worldview, uphold the father’s authority, and are strict in those realms of family life that they are in charge of. When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth. Responsibility is thus taken to be personal responsibility not social responsibility. What you become is only up to you; society has nothing to do with it. You are responsible for yourself, not for others — who are responsible for themselves.
Of course Republicans are believers in the “strict father family,” and Trumpism is an extreme example of that world view.
The strict father logic extends further. The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, America above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above nonChristians, Straights above Gays.
We see these tendencies in most of the Republican presidential candidates, as well as in Trump, and on the whole, conservative policies flow from the strict father worldview and this hierarchy
Family-based moral worldviews run deep. Since people want to see themselves as doing right not wrong, moral worldviews tend to be part of self-definition — who you most deeply are. And thus your moral worldview defines for you what the world should be like. When it isn’t that way, one can become frustrated and angry.
I hope you’ll go read the entire piece as well as the follow-up article on Trump and language.
Right now it looks like Trump will not win the presidency, but he has already done immense damage to our foreign policy, out national security, and to political discourse. If Trump loses, he isn’t going to go away. He’ll still get plenty of attention from the press and his comments on a Clinton administration will get heavy play. I find this very frightening.
Trump’s “strict father” attitudes have certainly triggered deep feelings from my own childhood in an authoritarian family with an angry and violent father. I would guess the effect is quite widespread. Combined with the media’s irrational hatred of Hillary Clinton and their lies about her, we are becoming a traumatized nation. You can even see this in Republicans. I don’t know what the answer is, but this is something that is really happening.
The Peter Max paintings and posters are there to cheer me up. I hope they work for you too.
What stories are you following today?