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Trump’s Illness and Ours

Eli Zaretsky

Last Friday Donald Trump appeared on television to announce that he had contracted the coronavirus and was going to hospital. ‘I want to thank everybody for the tremendous support,’ Trump said. ‘I think I’m doing very well, but we’re going to make sure that things work out.’ To my recollection, this is the only time during his four-year presidency that he has spoken to the entire nation, as opposed to his ‘base’. It is also the only time that he has tried to unite the nation instead of dividing it.

For those who believe that an awareness of one’s mortality is morally uplifting, the days since have proved disappointing. Trump and his team of doctors soon reverted to form. The date on which he first tested positive kept hazy, raising the question of whether Trump knowingly exposed donors and supporters to the virus. Reports from Sean Conley, the president’s personal physician, obviously orchestrated by Trump, painted a rosy picture of his prognosis, while revealing that he had received supplemental oxygen on two occasions, and was being treated with a variety of drugs: the antiviral remdesivir, an experimental ‘antibody cocktail’ made by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, and the steroid dexamethasone. Most doctors commented that these treatments, especially the steroid, suggested a very severe case of Covid-19, but no one outside the inner circle knows the truth.

On Sunday, Trump had the Secret Service take him for a spin around Walter Reed hospital, endangering his aides if not himself. Meanwhile, Conley was forced to make an awkward apology for his lack of clarity: ‘I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction and in doing so it came off that we were trying to hide something, which wasn't necessarily true.’ He was ‘trying to reflect the upbeat attitude that the team, the president, his course of illness has had’.

The episode dramatically reveals what may be the key to Trump’s character. He is a gambler, a risk-taker of a sort familiar to a frontier society. When the virus hit, he pooh-poohed it, promising a quick turnaround. Above all, he refused to wear a mask, even shouting at White House employees who wore them: ‘Get that damned thing off!’ Behind in the polls, he tried to recast the presidential election as a choice between a daring, energetic, manly leader who did not let a few viruses scare him, and a doddering, older, cringing Joe Biden, who held few if any rallies, hid out in his basement and invariably wore a mask. ‘I don’t wear masks like him,’ Trump said during last Tuesday’s debate, gesturing at Biden. ‘Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking two hundred feet away from it, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve seen.’ Since testing positive, Trump has doubled down on his bravado. ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid,’ he tweeted as he left hospital yesterday evening.

Trump’s followers admire this sort of behaviour, wishing only that they could be more like him. They idealise Trump’s daring and masculinity, as they see it, just as once before – in childhood – they idealised themselves. Given the narcissistic infusion that Trump provides to his supporters, his faults count for little. As long as he possesses his supporters’ typical qualities in what Freud called a ‘clearly marked and pure form’ that gives the impression ‘of greater force and of more freedom of libido’, they follow him gladly.

What of Trump’s opponents, the Democrats, liberals and progressives? Coverage in the New York Times, on CNN, MSNBC and other venerable liberal outlets boils down to shaming Trump. ‘We told you so,’ they have repeatedly (and understandably) said. ‘This was inevitable, and even deserved.’ Shaming is a major and necessary form of social control in any public health emergency. We shame people who cough without covering their mouths or who do not wear masks or do not wear condoms – and we should. But there is more going on because shaming in particular, and the moralisation of politics in general, has characterised the huge shift toward identity politics and progressive neoliberalism in recent years, and has played a major role in provoking the Trumpian backlash.

Above all, Democratic Party moralism and Trumpian macho risk-taking are internally related to one another. Gambling, with all its macho undertones, has a special if covert appeal to the evangelical or Puritan mind. It allows individuals to throw off the slow, painful and laborious burden of subordinating their wishes to the superego with one manic play of the dice. Running around without a mask in the face of a pandemic could serve as a huge relief from the endless self-examination of the hypertrophied Protestant conscience. Finally, it’s out of our hands; everything will be decided by ‘fate’.

This unspoken connection between a guilt-ridden, identity-driven mass culture and a risk-taking, macho opposition to it can tell us a lot about American politics. During the New Deal era, a fractious citizenry was held together by the understanding that capitalist greed was a common enemy. To be sure, Blacks and women were not full equals in the New Deal coalition, but they were more prominent than is sometimes realised today. In any event, the decline and marginalisation of the socialist left since the 1970s opened the path for the widespread moralisation and psychologisation that marks our politics today.

A series of catastrophic events – including 9/11, the economic crisis of 2008 and the deeply disappointing character of the Obama presidency – led to the disastrous Trump presidency. The latest catastrophe, the Covid-19 pandemic, has revealed the deep untruth underlying Adam Smith’s claim that ‘individuals, without desiring or knowing it, and while pursuing each his own interest, are working for the direct realisation of the general interest.’ The truth is that individuals pursuing their own interests produce group identities that have no sense of the general interest, but are rather marked by feelings of oppression, resentment or both. Only social trust and collective action, involving not only democratic co-ordination but genuine leadership, have a chance of returning us to a sense of the collective interest. In the US, a great anti-Trump coalition has formed but to what end after 3 November remains unclear.


Comments


  • 6 October 2020 at 6:28pm
    DrVanini says:
    Please can we leave Freud and the libido stuff out of this? About the only relevance is that both Freud and Trump are examples of people who believe that they are right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong (or, in Freud's case, psychologically impaired).

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:28pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ DrVanini
      Dr. Vanini: why not learn from Freud along with other thinkers. What is it about Freud that we should exclude his thought? Why not judge the ideas, not worry so much about the thinker?

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:38pm
      gary morgan says: @ DrVanini
      Why, when the likes of Erich Fromm wrote well on politics by taking Freud on board? And pointing out that people cleave to someone who more-than-epitomises what they most want for themselves is interesting.
      Next you'll be cautioning us for invoking "the narcissism of small differences" when discussing nationalism or some such. He may have been no scientist but on politics like art Freud could be very penetrat.....erm, acute.

    • 6 October 2020 at 9:23pm
      Felix Schulte says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Because Freud’s theories have no scientific groundings and offer no more insights than astrology or tea leaves readings.

    • 7 October 2020 at 1:26am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Felix Schulte
      What a truly unfortunate use of the idea of "science." Not all science is positivism. Not all is quantitative. We need a scientific approach to ourselves and our society. That wont look like physics. In fact, even biology doesn't look like physics. The anti-Freudians are themselves true believers.

    • 7 October 2020 at 2:55am
      Thomas Lowe says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Karl Popper wrote that Freud’s theories did not imply or lead to a method that could disprove them. Therefore they were not scientific.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:03am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Thomas Lowe
      there is a huge literature on this and many different points of view. I think the question of what science is is incredibly complicated. Many branches of science are not falsifiable, eg cosmology, many aspects of geology, etc. I also don't agree that philosophers get to decide what "science" is. Roger Penrose who recieved the Nobel Prize for physics today is one of my heroes. Read him on consciousness and get some senseof how complex the question is. Freud is not the last word, but he opened the door.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:29am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Well said, Eli Zaretsky.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:22pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      thanks, eli

  • 6 October 2020 at 6:45pm
    RM says:
    I think this article, essay, what have you, is a laboured attempt at saying something really deep which is not. Btw, Clinton did tell them so, four years ago!

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:28pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ RM
      what did Clinton tell them?

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:30am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Something memorable, it appears.

  • 6 October 2020 at 6:47pm
    HankUS says:
    The Obama presidency was disappointing, of course, because people expected too much. He appointed competent people; he got some environmental regulations established; he got medical insurance for 20 million people; etc. Some would say he was too passive in the face of massive Republican resistance. But who else would have done more?

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:28pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ HankUS
      Bernie Sanders for one.

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:51pm
      Laurena Gane says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Sanders appeals to graduates who have read (and liked) Marx et al.
      Maybe 15% of the electorate? Be realistic!

    • 6 October 2020 at 8:09pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Laurena Gane
      actually more like 35%. He was heading for the nomination before Obama and the DNC blocked him.

    • 6 October 2020 at 10:00pm
      Laurena Gane says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Sanders is certainly a much better prospect than Biden in every way
      - but in the real world he still remains unelectable

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:04am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Laurena Gane
      He is a great leaderl Whether or not he was electable.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:34am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Yes and in concert with Corbyn enough to arrest our toboggan run to the bog at the bottom of the grassy knoll. But we are governed by men so ignorant they will serve history as exemplars for a precise operational definition of the word.

    • 7 October 2020 at 10:11am
      Steven Kurt Klein says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      What, specifically, did Obama and the DNC do that stopped enough potential Sanders voters (even presuming they exist), from making him the nominee this year? Threats to kill their children? Telepathic mind control? LSD in the water supply? I'm not a fan of Biden's and agree with Bernie on most things, but he got a lot more votes and accumulated too many delegates on Super Tuesday for anyone to catch up.

    • 7 October 2020 at 11:47am
      prwhalley says: @ Steven Kurt Klein
      I think he was referring to 2016.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:29pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Steven Kurt Klein
      Sanders was way out in front until the South Carolina Primary. Sanders was going to lose that primary because 1) the Southern black vote was loyal to Biden (who had consistently come in around 5th in previous primaries) out of their loyalty to Obama. And 2) S Carolina has an efficient Democratic party machine under Clyburn. Sanders could have withstood that loss but immediately after the primary, and 2 days before super tuesday, both Butticegg and Klobuchar pulled out throwing their support to Biden. This was coordinated from the top. Both Obama and former President Jimmy Carter called Buticegg and Klobuchar according to newspaper reports. Obama also had consistently undermined Sanders before these events, refusing to say that he would support him if he won the primaries. Its hard to get the nomination when the head of the party opposes you, especially when he is regarded with quasi-religious overtones by much of the party.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:29pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ prwhalley
      no, 2020 too. See my response to Klein below.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:06pm
      Charles Evans says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Eli, are you drunk? This a rambling conspiracy theory that has no basis in reality. It's also pretty revealing - your idea is that Sanders should have won provided the non-Sanders vote was sliced several different ways. Essentially: 'my guy will never have the support of a majority, so it's unfair if he can't win on a minority!'.

      The facts are plain: a large majority of Democratic party members didn't want Sanders as their nominee. Why can't you accept that fact? If the Democratic party is so biased against Sanders, why does he keep trying to get their nomination? I think we all know the answer - Bernie isn't very popular, so wants to hitch a ride on a popular vehicle, the Democratic party.

      You've also managed to mis-spell Pete Buttigieg's name twice. Quite a feat for someone named Zaretsky!

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:48pm
      Rod Miller says: @ HankUS
      Obama Could have done Much more. He could even have fulfilled his promise. Instead, he tossed his campaign image away and reverted to his true Dempublican self.

    • 7 October 2020 at 6:03pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      If he's such a great leader, why was his 2020 campaign a mere shadow of the 2016 one? Why did he cosy up to DemCentral, who (he knew) would Never allow him to be candidate? Why didn't he go after Biden's transparent claptrap in the debates?
      Why has he spinelessly backed Gibberish Joe as candidate? (Why did he back Hillary?)

      No, Sanders frankly lacks the courage of his convictions. Otherwise he would have run an independent campaign. Sarscov2 would have given him a Fantastic Boost, highlighting the major plank of his platform. He might just have split the vote and come up the middle.
      The US desperately needs an Opposition Party to replace Tweedledee & Tweedledum. If he weren't such a pathetic weakling, Sanders could have started to build one.

    • 8 October 2020 at 9:58am
      davidovich says: @ Steven Kurt Klein
      You know very well that the DNC rigged the ballot . Let my fellow Australian Julian Assange out of HM Belmarsh political prison for an update. But the real scandal was that Sanders let them get away with it.

    • 8 October 2020 at 12:58pm
      davidovich says: @ Charles Evans
      I thought it was his political role not his name.

    • 8 October 2020 at 4:31pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Charles Evans
      The vital pulse of the Democratic Party comes from Sanders. He completely revived a walking corpse-- can you imagine anything more foolish than "there are no red states; there are no blue states." If you watched the debate last night you could see that Kamela Harris was powerful because she was true to the issues that Sanders brought into the party. As to Butticieg, it is true that U have a bias against his plasticity and obvious phoniness, and this is reflected in my refusal to spell his name correctly.

    • 8 October 2020 at 4:46pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Rod Miller
      this is much too harsh.

    • 9 October 2020 at 12:25am
      davidovich says: @ Laurena Gane
      This is a completely asinine remark. Sanders appeals to people who want a US NHS which is every US worker not scared off by the evident racism of idiots like Mirvis...who thoroughly alienated the Black vote and at the same time immensely encouraged antisemitism with his abysmal remarks about Sanders’ UK Socialist Left counterpart Jeremy Corbyn.

    • 10 October 2020 at 6:03pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      The poor way this page is designed ensures that I don't know what you mean by "this". (printed Far away from any post of mine) I assume it's my remarks on Sanders.

      Look, I want everything he says He wants. But when the DNC cheats him in 2016, rather than joining his delegates in a walk-out from the convention, he rebukes them. He endorses Hillary. Then in 2019 he woos the DNC (like a seal-pup wooing a shark). He runs the predicted tepid campaign during which he wastes the hard-earned contributions from many poor people by being nice to his "friend" Joe. And when he's done in by Obama&Co he meekly accepts it and starts telling us what a great prez Gibberish Joe is going to be. Etc.

      No. If by a wondrous miracle he landed in the White House, he'd lack the guts to wield that bully pulpit the only way that would get anything done.

      People say he most fears being a second Ralph Nader -- shunned by the mainstream as a "spoiler". Apparently Sanders stopped taking Nader's calls after 2000. (Nader: "Worried about my legacy? No, I don't think they'll outlaw seatbelts.")

      Sanders could have pushed this thing in a completely different direction. But flinched all the way down the line.
      Is that "harsh"? I don't think so. Just the truth.

    • 11 October 2020 at 3:25pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Steven Kurt Klein
      Obama and the DNC commanded or bribed all candidates except Biden to stand down (in the space of 24 hours, right?). They left EWarren to hoover up as many leftist votes as she could, before going Biden.

      There's nothing 'illegal' about this. That's politics. And Sanders knew damn well something like this was going to be pulled on him.

      More the fool Bernie for having anything to do with the Dems.

  • 6 October 2020 at 6:53pm
    Matthew Everett says:
    This piece hints at some useful insights but does not manage to quite bring the reader to them. I do appreciate the analysis of the psychodynamics of a bullying, alpha personality and his cringing dog-like followers, but am not sure the brief Freud invocation is enough to help us parse that interaction.

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:29pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Matthew Everett
      I wrote a longer blog on Trump and his followers that is in the LRB archive Should be easy to retrieve.

    • 6 October 2020 at 8:31pm
      Thomas Jones says: @ Matthew Everett
      Here it is:
      https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2018/september/the-mass-psychology-of-trumpism

      These, too:
      https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2019/june/trump-s-charisma
      https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2019/december/to-turn-the-mass-into-a-class

    • 9 October 2020 at 12:29am
      davidovich says: @ Matthew Everett
      Germaine Greer moved heaven and earth to get to Oxbridge only to declare it preposterously fake right down to the ridiculous architecture sponsored by Newman’s followers. I concur heartily. Release our journalist and smarten up, you pompous asses!

  • 6 October 2020 at 7:15pm
    Donald Dewey says:
    Shaming is a damn good start.

    • 6 October 2020 at 7:30pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Donald Dewey
      If only it were just a start. Too often its the end point as well.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:07am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      It is in practice the be all and end all and the material cause of a social collapse that will make the chaos that ensued from the last Great Pandemic look like tea and scones at Lambeth Palace.

    • 7 October 2020 at 9:48am
      Peterson_the man with no name says: @ Donald Dewey
      Shaming is doubtless useful for deterring certain kinds of selfish behaviour during a pandemic; but when it starts being used against people merely for expressing opinions, then it becomes dangerous.

      In Wales, we've now reached the point where the First Minister is publicly shaming local councillors just for questioning some aspects of new regulations in their areas; this, apparently, is "disgraceful" and an incitement to break the law. (The dispute is over Welsh government travel restrictions, which seem to relate more to a political need to be seen to be doing something different from Westminster, and outflank any keep-out-the-English calls from Plaid Cymru, than any solid evidence that they will do much to slow the spread of the virus.)

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:30pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      I think so.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:31pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Peterson_the man with no name
      Interesting
      Always good to learn about Wales.

  • 6 October 2020 at 7:43pm
    Ludmila Pollock says:
    "Only social trust and collective action, involving not only democratic co-ordination but genuine leadership, have a chance of returning us to a sense of the collective interest" in your article is the only thing I can agree with. I continue to hope!

    • 6 October 2020 at 8:10pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Ludmila Pollock
      thats a good basis for us to cooperate on

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:20am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Gawd.

  • 6 October 2020 at 7:52pm
    Cullum Rogers says:
    "During the New Deal era, a fractious citizenry was held together by the understanding that capitalist greed was a common enemy. "

    There wasn't that much togetherness. In 1936, the Republicans ran a stridently anti-New Deal campaign and around 37 percent of the country voted for it.

    • 6 October 2020 at 8:11pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Cullum Rogers
      having 63% of teh country agreeing on anything was a big deal. Agreeing on what was actually a social revolution was really something.

  • 6 October 2020 at 9:51pm
    Joy Martin says:
    I agree up and including :there is more going on because shaming in particular, and the moralisation of politics in general, has characterised the huge shift toward identity politics and progressive neoliberalism in recent years, and has played a major role in provoking the Trumpian backlash." but I think you could just as easily and more simply say really people hate being condescended to and even someone who agrees with every criticism of trumps behavior (such as myself) finds all the finger pointing less than useful. there is a class and regional (rural urban) divide which has many causes but 'liberal elites' are mostly clueless about why their critiques fall on deaf ears. Whether one can get past this is dubious. I am a 'liberal' or more left in my own opinion, but I am always running into people who assume I am not based on very trivial (IMO) differences. And identity politics (which I believe is also a very unuseful category but is hard to get past in most discussions ) is maybe part of it. My view is BLM and other liberation movements are not identity politics but some how (and how is really a long and historical question) we have begun operating ideologically as if they are/were. Really my guess is people who are 'liberal' are mostly white and of a certain class and have never been able to really see political issues outside of their particular class race bubble. Whereas labor, and other related movements , do but have been coopted and portrayed wrongly by people who are anti labor and liberation in general, and inability of those controlling discussion (Democratic party and most 'media) to really address issues. But plenty of blame goes around for this including people like me who hated party politics and worked on specific issues. And I did not when I was younger have any idea why or how I was not really very much like people who I agreed with (I thought) on politics. And we have now younger people who really know only how US politics has been since they were alive. Earlier eras and the divisiveness which was only being slowly wakened @ the time have no real reference in how to see anything beyond our continuous move rightward by very focused use of 'wedge' issues and economic theory which has been accepted almost without question.

    • 6 October 2020 at 10:26pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Joy Martin
      thanks for many good ideas. I do not regard BLM as identity politics. A genuinely structural analysis, which connects different wrong to one another distinguishes BLM from a movement that is purely based on a sense of a wronged identity. To be sure, all movements combine elements of both.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:49am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      The genuine connections are rigorously ignored. It is a mere advertiser’s logo. It proponents in Australia In the liberal-left politically enforce semi-official police persecution of indigenous, non- English speaking and disabled people in the very name “raising awareness”.

  • 6 October 2020 at 10:02pm
    Graucho says:
    Provided he recovers fully, Trump may have unwittingly performed a great service to humanity. If it turns out that very early intervention with monoclonal anti-bodies is the key to a cure, then that is a very significant outcome not just for covid, but for a host of viral diseases. I trust that somewhere new clinical trials along these lines are being conducted as well as efforts to produce said anti-bodies on an industrial scale. As for Freud, his great contribution was to destroy the myth that human beings are totally rational, Trump being an exemplar of what he was getting at.

    • 6 October 2020 at 10:27pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      You are absolutely right. If Trump's treatment helps, then it should be widely used. Too bad we are deciding on treatment according to the fame and power of the victim.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:50am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      And off I pop. Pick up no dogshit insists my therapist. Bye, bye.

  • 6 October 2020 at 11:08pm
    Robert van Krieken says:
    Eli...nice piece, thanks for writing. Some random thoughts: there are lots of potential connections here, with all the literature on ressentiment, and Will Davies's book, Nervous States comes to mind as well. Anand Giridharadas also had some interesting things to say about masculinity, which would link up with what you've said about gambling: Trump is 'the weak man's idea of a strong man'. Overall there's an interestion question about how the operation of shame differs under different circumstances - it's worth trying to work out the meaning of the historical parallels, and I guess here I'd want to query your emphasis on the more recent shift to identity politics, suggesting that the moralisation and psychologisation of politics only characterizes the post-1970s period. There have been other times and situations where shame's capacity to buttress existing norms weakens - Joe McCarthy springs to mind, but so does Hitler, and there would be earlier examples, too. You say this yourself in your Mass Psychology and Charisma blog pieces... :)

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:34pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Robert van Krieken
      Thank you so much for this Robert. These are great points and recommendations.

  • 7 October 2020 at 1:05am
    T Aspromourgos university of sydney says:
    The alleged quotation from Adam Smith in the last paragraph of the blog is not a quotation from Adam Smith at all. If I am wrong, please cite a precise Smith work, edition and page number to contradict me. Smith's invisible hand doctrine, in its various dimensions, is a rather more nuanced idea than this.

    • 7 October 2020 at 10:05am
      davidovich says: @ T Aspromourgos university of sydney
      Yes, one of his successes was at the club, pointing out that it was the means by which one and all of the company present picked the workers’ pockets.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:42pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      yes

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:11pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ T Aspromourgos university of sydney
      You are right. I took the quote from Elie Halevy. The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism, p. 16, but Halevy was summarizing Smith not quoting him. I said "Smith claimed" but I should have been more precise. However, while Smith's full range of thought is complex this is surely true to it. Samuelson put together some quotes from Smith: "Every individual endeavors to employ his capital so that its produce may be of greatest value. He generally neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. He intends only his own security, only his own gain. And he is in this led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." Emma Rothchild has a terrific piece in the Cambridge History of Nineteenth Century Political Thought showing the ubiquity of this idea.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:12pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ T Aspromourgos university of sydney
      see my reply to this important intervention below

    • 7 October 2020 at 7:32pm
      Alan says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Samuelson is notorious for misrepresenting Smith. Much of the current understanding of Smith in the discipline of economics and beyond arises from generations of students 'learning' about Smith from Samuelson's popular textbook. People have actually graphed the rise of the 'Theory of the Invisible Hand' from the date of his textbook's publication. See for example: https://asociologist.com/2012/03/07/the-20th-century-myth-of-adam-smiths-invisible-hand-in-two-graphs/

      Very few people read Smith or engage with serious scholarship on Smith's writings so the professional economists' disciplinary origin myth, selective quoting, and imaginative interpretations tend to dominate the understanding of Smith both in and outside the academy. For a short critique see: https://aeon.co/essays/we-should-look-closely-at-what-adam-smith-actually-believed

    • 8 October 2020 at 6:00am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Ubiquity is right and so is elision. It assumes the non-existence of the working class and the proceeds to butcher them as units of used up production.

    • 8 October 2020 at 6:03am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      As in I might now exploit YOU or that YOU have a use in mind for me! Lol.

    • 8 October 2020 at 8:19am
      davidovich says: @ Alan
      Yes, of course . Smith warned against unfettered and particularly trade empire free trade for example: arguing that ideas must flow freely between nations but goods less so that monopolies might not develop. He would have been appalled by the idea of social risk and private profit that our existing infrastructure rests upon. Most of the Wealth of Nations indeed consists of warnings against bakers forming tyrannous monopolies, promoting Lenin to quip that under socialism “a baker could run the state. “ But Smith’s main enemy was the idea of class and hereditary capital of one kind or another to which he opposes ideas of inventiveness and spontaneous democratic solidarity. Something this pompous discussion of the various annotations of Smith completely lacks.

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:01pm
      davidovich says: @ davidovich
      As in “prompting”...but autocorrect is vulgar and monomaniac.

  • 7 October 2020 at 3:00am
    marlow says:
    An interesting article though the idea of a “frontier society” still being a relevant cultural or psychological force seems a bit of a stretch. It shows up in fiction (Blood Meridian, Lonesome Dove, etc) and films but how much of that is interpreted as an authentic representation of the zeitgeist is debatable.

    As to the negative reactions to invoking the good doctor of Vienna, I have thought from time to time that in the end Freud will come to be seen as the most important of the minor 19th century novelists.

    However, even if that were true, the antagonism he generates almost always reveals more about the accuser than it does about the merits or faults of his ideas.

    The idea, such as it is, that he fails because his methods are not “scientific “ is as useful (and ultimately reactionary) as rejecting Joyce or Proust or Faulkner‘s (feel free to make your own list) insights into human consciousness, psychology, history, culture, and politics, because, they are not “scientific.”

    Trump is a malignant troll, and if not a fascist, a gangster and the result is a distinction without a difference.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:06am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ marlow
      many good points here. but Freud a minor novelist? At least major. up with George Eliot, no?

    • 7 October 2020 at 2:02pm
      XopherO says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Or perhaps Joseph Conrad (a real contemporary of Freud) and the thin veneer of civilisation that is very fragile, of a rules -based society that must be maintained at all costs - otherwise barbarism is at the door. Not exactly Freud, but perhaps closer than Elliot! Is this what we see with Trump and the Republican's - the breakdown of a rules-based society? Trump as Kurtz? Sitting in his jungle White House manipulating the sycophants around him to do his will? The heart of darkness of the American Dream? As to 'scientific', it is true that Popper's demarcation criterion declares Freud (and Marx) as metaphysical. But he is not saying the metaphysical is nonsense. How could he? There is a lot of it about, and much of it in scientific theories!

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:41pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ XopherO
      Conrad has a lot in common with Freud, it is true. Eliot less so. That is fair.

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:12pm
      marlow says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I’m not sure about the minor/major idea and am open to persuasion. Generally though I find Freud hampered by an ideology that limits the reach of his style versus the other novelists, poets and play writes who have, it seems, greater flexibility.

      There’s a quote in, A Most Dangerous Method (the book, not the film) from, I believe, Eugene Bleuler, to the effect that, Freud was on his way towards creating either a religion or a political party. (Apologies if I’m wrong about the source).

      Haven’t read G. Eliot in so long I will defer to you but I see someone has referenced Conrad who I would rank above both Freud and Eliot with the caveat that greater and lesser instantly push us into matters of personal taste versus objective criteria.

      And yet, I suspect, Heart of Darkness, will (assuming anyone survives and still cares) outlast The Interpretation of Dreams et al, for many reasons including but not limited to, being both about the muck of dreams, and a dream itself, that reveals and mystifies, succeeds as philosophy and ideology, without demanding adherence, but as with psychotherapy, “asks that you ask the questions you may have otherwise forgotten to ask.”


    • 7 October 2020 at 5:19pm
      marlow says: @ XopherO
      Agreed!

      I’ve only read one cogent analysis of all things Trump, that contextualized him via literature and that was in TLRoB, by Sydney Blumenthal, and he used Gatsby and the “foul dust.” (Just reprinted last week).

      There is, I think quite obviously, a lot to be made of Trump himself having gone down river and gone mad, as much as one could make of Trump as “America” having gone down river and gone mad.

      With at least two caveats: As with other goons, Trump did not suddenly appear but has been building for generations, and: as we live in a society that is dominated by functional illiterates, I won’t hold my breath waiting for anyone outside the pages of this platform or the NYRoB, to write such a piece.

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:20pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ marlow
      we cant really compare literature and psychological and social theory in this way. To say Shakespeare is the greatest psychologist of all time sounds smart but really, wasnt he a dramatist. Freud is a very careful, systematic thinker.Yes there re a few wild shots, but he does all the things we teach our students to do in making an argument.

    • 8 October 2020 at 2:06am
      marlow says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Not quite sure I understand what you mean by “in this way” - what way, exactly, or just more precisely?

      And, if I didn’t make myself clear previously, I wouldn’t say Freud is scattershot, or lacking in discipline, even if, beyond the wild shots, as you call them, there are a host of problematic issues (nicely excavated in, A Most Dangerous Method, and exemplified by Blueleur saying Freud was on his way to establishing either a political party or a religion).

      There is a great deal in Freud that’s useful.

      The men and women we call “Shakespeare” are pre modern with all that entails. However, as the plays are plastic enough to be constantly adapted to and for contemporary events, the themes (regardless of how the authors intended and or understood them) could be useful for sifting psychological and social theory issues.

      Generally I agree “Shakespeare” as “the worlds greatest psychologist” sounds smart until one starts poking around and the notion collapses.

      On the other hand, the suggestion that a “dramatist” is confined to a particular lane and can’t be used or is incapable of intelligent commentary on social and psychological issues, hardly seems a serious assertion. But perhaps I misunderstand your point.

      Off the top of my head, Arthur Miller, Brecht, and Strindberg and O’Neil cough “ahem” and certainly others are available for consideration. After all, one might wonder, who really is, afraid of Virginia Woolf, and why?

      As I mentioned in another post, the LRoB just last week reprinted Sydney Blumenthal's piece on Trump. It was contextualized by Blumenthal's use of Gatsby as a filter by which we might understand Trump historically, and as a social and psychological issue both in terms of his own radioactive personality and the wider culture.

      Blumenthal’s piece is problematic in several areas but surely Fitzgerald was, at least with Gatsby, a “systematic thinker” as were/are any number of other authors.

      So I’m not sure why we can’t or wouldn’t make use of them in regards to those areas - though, the long shadow of Plato’s ideal city state ( and contemporary issues around tenure and the politics of the academy) still seems to linger and there is the sense (if not a prejudice) that seeks to keep the poets, et al, in exile.

      And, on that note, it’s worth considering Sarah Churchwell’s piece in the current NYRoB about Fitzgerald: The Oracle of Our Unease.

      Still, thanks for the article, which, as I said, is interesting.

    • 8 October 2020 at 9:47am
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      This is splendidly incoherent. Have a little consideration for the dull student not cottoning on to the parlour game in the venerable late afternoon half-light.

    • 8 October 2020 at 12:12pm
      XopherO says: @ davidovich
      I really can't help you if you don't pick up fairly well known references which are not at all 'lefty'. Conrad and Popper were both conservatives with a small 'c' for what it is worth. But why express your ignorance by trying to be a clever dick?

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:03pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Just trying to fit in, gov.

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:06pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Popper ‘s The Open Society and Its Enemies argued most persuasively against jailing journalists for exposing crimes of state. But then Popper was a conservative with a small ‘c’ not a small ‘c’ sucking up to a party of large ‘Cs’

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:30pm
      marlow says: @ davidovich
      It is not, nor should it be, a crime to not have read Conrad o be unfamiliar with Heart of Darkness, or, for that matter, Apocalypse Now.

      In this instance, a search engine is useful.

      Heart of Darkness, Kurtz (he dead) Francis Ford Coppola, etc, will all add some context and information.

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:30pm
      XopherO says: @ davidovich
      Why not try to be yourself, or would that be even more incoherent without the cocky cover? Sorry, I hate ad hominem 'arguments', but you just bring out the bad.

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:30pm
      davidovich says: @ marlow
      Why do the senile resort to condescension. I ask in all naïveté. I have read Heart of Darkness, The Secret Sharer , Nostromo and the rest of the Conrad canon. You might like to google my degree at the Deakin Alumni association and the Latrobe English department.

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:32pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      You arguments when not the chummy name-dropping version are mere ad hom. ...when they rise to any kind of hom at all!

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:33pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Elitist drip.

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:34pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Why don’t you do something a bit more useful than wank on in the middle of all this misery?

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:35pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Who by the way are you?

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:36pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Or is that self a bit too private for public consumption?

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:42pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      Oh, so sorry. You don’t know my “real“ identity , do you? Well what are spooks for! What an unfunny authoritarian laugh you are!

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:42pm
      davidovich says: @ marlow
      Look under email address and ISP. Absurdity that you are!

    • 8 October 2020 at 3:51pm
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      It will relieve the monotony of calling up old bibliographies. Our friends teach in schools where classes are held in hallways. One of them has a head injury from going arse of head of department in a doorway blocked by a desk. Frankly it would be risking subjudice to ad any hom to your capon status.

    • 8 October 2020 at 5:00pm
      marlow says: @ davidovich
      My comment was made in good faith as your comment clearly indicated the references to Conrad were mystifying to you, and describing yourself as a dull student seems odd given your pique at being treated as a dull student.

    • 8 October 2020 at 5:02pm
      marlow says: @ davidovich
      “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.”

    • 8 October 2020 at 6:40pm
      davidovich says: @ marlow
      This is mere pontificating. If my understanding of anything is deficient be so good as to point it out. I may well be dull or not dull. But I am as sure as night follows day that you are unlikely to enlighten me about this or anything or anyone else seeking enlightenment about anything, and certainly not about anything vital. You are a dusty tap that sends forth advertisements of the venerable oafs who sink profitless springs in soil more useful for other kinds of commercial exploitation....but only for their own companies and their endowed colleges.

    • 8 October 2020 at 6:43pm
      davidovich says: @ marlow
      I can give as good as I take despite not taking an excess of what I give. Humbug!

    • 8 October 2020 at 9:38pm
      XopherO says: @ davidovich
      Well, well. You think you and your friends are the only ones? Hardly, in this time! Why do you assume the one excludes the other? Or can you only think in straight lines? I perhaps understand your anger, but it seems pretty much firing blanks. Calm down and talk without the incoherence you accuse others of.

    • 8 October 2020 at 11:40pm
      marlow says: @ davidovich
      “In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”

    • 9 October 2020 at 12:38am
      davidovich says: @ XopherO
      If equivocations could butter parsnips you could pose with a lily in Flanders fields ..

  • 7 October 2020 at 3:52am
    davidovich says:
    If you base a system of murder by neglect on mere shaming ; and then bring out riot police and phosphorus bombs in the name of some system of bizarre authoritarian hygiene you will sow a cold , unpleasant wind and reap a fiery whirlwind. You now have your warming, peregrinating airs. Congratulations!

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:06am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      not sure I follow this. Clarify?

    • 7 October 2020 at 7:01am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      The withdrawal of any means of having a life from the working class on the basis that it is such a shame that they cannot amass capital and then to supplement such atrocious cant with permanent racist confrontations in the ME , South Asia, etc, etc, is the action of wits totally beneath a capacity for merest copulation. Alles Klar.?

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:35pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      the light is starting to dawn

    • 8 October 2020 at 9:50am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I do not doubt it dawned and faded long ago. But this far east we are stationary and do not consult sextant or chronometer. Moreover the master will not show us how. We will surely eat him if we decide he does not know himself.

    • 8 October 2020 at 4:34pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      good one.

  • 7 October 2020 at 5:09am
    jrobertson@tamu.edu says:
    Nonsense. Trump is a product of the Republican establishment’s strategic decision dating to Reagan to demean government as a positive worth, and a white grievance against a transforming American society. Politics, especially when motivated by a common ground, always disappoints, so why hold Obama to an impossible standard. A nation that ODs on reality TV deserves a fool as president, and doesn’t deserve anyone seeking to find common ground built on values of respect and tolerance. That takes time and patience and critical reflection. This is not something Repubs and Trump value or accept. They are in their current format reactionary. Their failings should be called out and appropriately “shamed”. There’s always blame on both sides, not, however, equal blame. Not by a long-shot. No one should excuse the side whose guilt and damage is disproportionately at fault. This essay is typical Pseudo- intellectual scrum interested more in style than insight.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:37pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ jrobertson@tamu.edu
      so you didnt like it? I do agree that the blame is not equal. The Republicans are more to blame. I voted for Biden, not Trump. But I think it is important to see the problems the "good guys" have and especially the relations between the two. Demonization of Trump will not help. devil though he is.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:49pm
      Graucho says: @ jrobertson@tamu.edu
      Forgive me for repeating the quote, but Galbraith summarised the end goal of the right in politics rather pithily as "Private affluence and public squalor". No deeper analysis is required.

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:25pm
      davidovich says: @ Graucho
      Yes, of course. He also said there was no reason patricians like himself could not build cities of such public splendor and so little genuine private squalor as to rival in reality the mere legend of Periclean Athens. ..(that cloister hugging twits with their small ‘cs’ trotting behind the large ‘Cs’ in all the illustrious ‘Cs’ of Oxford and Cambridge apparently dote upon.)

    • 8 October 2020 at 4:34pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      actually that was the endpoint of capitalism according to Galbraith.

  • 7 October 2020 at 9:59am
    stacemeister says:
    Thank you for this excellent article. In demonising Trump (no difficult task) “liberals” necessarily see themselves as his pure, unerring opposite. So their reaction to his victory and any criticism of them (especially when it suggests that beneath the surface there are not quite so many differences) is extreme. As the response to your article shows. They have little in common with the type of liberalism expressed in On Liberty.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:38pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ stacemeister
      excellent point. JS Mill should be seen as one of our heroes. He always insisted on questioning ourselves (ie the liberals).

    • 9 October 2020 at 1:58am
      davidovich says: @ stacemeister
      They have nothing in common with the “liberalism” of Nye Bevan and J K Galbraith either. They are pack of packed lunches making their way to Davos for an invigorating mud bath. ...using mud other people‘s dismal bogs.

  • 7 October 2020 at 10:54am
    Jenny Rogers says:
    This is a tremendously male discussion. The article does not explain Trump's appeal to his female followers. I don't think many women yearn to have sex with prostitutes, marry a model, play golf all day, and when not doing that, occupy yourself with a barrage of tweets IN CAPITAL LETTERS AND THREE SETS OF EXCLAMATION MARKS!!! Might there be women who admire men like this? Possibly, but not enough of them to explain why there are so many women who will vote for him.

    • 7 October 2020 at 3:40pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Jenny Rogers
      I did say that many women dream of marrying or at least having love affairs with macho, heroic figures. This has been shown in many (feminist) studies of female "romances." No doubt there is more to be said. I welcome hearing about it.

    • 7 October 2020 at 4:53pm
      Graucho says: @ Jenny Rogers
      Some people would say that women are attracted to wealth, but I could scarcely comment. If the hypothesis is true then his tax returns may have lost him a lot of female support.

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:15pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      Trump won a majority of the female vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It would be good to understand why.

    • 7 October 2020 at 6:15pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I meant to say he got a majority of the WHITE female voters, about 53%

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:30pm
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      People who import pornography into politics and think they are being adult are letting down both adulthood and pornography. Since I have have a great deal of respect for both in their proper places (ie, sound judgement and sound regression in the service of the ego) I consequently find resort to this hackneyed trope offensive.

    • 8 October 2020 at 4:35pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ davidovich
      which hackneyed trope?

    • 9 October 2020 at 2:56am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      The idea that women cannot distinguish between good pornography and good policy.

  • 7 October 2020 at 4:09pm
    Charles Evans says:
    I'm truly impressed by Thomas Jones' ability to present us a seemingly endless slew of embittered Bernie Bros and Corbyn Cultists. The LRB Blog really values thought and ideas - so long as it's groupthink and the *right* ideas...

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:16pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Charles Evans
      I wasn't aware that the left had any monopoly on groupthink. Also, I don't read th LRB blog this way.

    • 7 October 2020 at 5:33pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      I would also like to say that in my view my kind of politics is very much censored, so I appreciate the opportunity to present a minority point of view. The bien-pensant liberalism that is ubiquitous is in my view smothering. Do we need another article telling us that Trump threatens our democracy? Why not consider another point of view?

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:31pm
      davidovich says: @ Charles Evans
      Good grief! Why would anyone be EMBITTERED!

  • 7 October 2020 at 5:17pm
    FRITS ZERNIKE says:
    Could you elaborate on how "the decline and marginalisation of the socialist left since the 1970s opened the path for the widespread moralisation and psychologisation that marks our politics today"?

    • 7 October 2020 at 6:57pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ FRITS ZERNIKE
      This is the heart of the matter. The short answer is that it removed the common enemy (capitalism), which is in fact the force that holds the whole thin together but a deeper answer is beyond me at the moment. I think Nietzsche's writings on the slave revolt in morality will prove the most helpful. Freud follows Nietzsche on this point.

    • 8 October 2020 at 1:34pm
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Yes and no. But mainly it was because the revolt against immiseration had to continue and couldn’t. The counter revolution was accompanied by some pretty serious repression and for a very trusting and naive generation some astonishing betrayals.

  • 7 October 2020 at 5:33pm
    Tofu says:
    "Shaming is a major and necessary form of social control in any public health emergency. We shame people who cough without covering their mouths or who do not wear masks or do not wear condoms – and we should." I take issue with this. Public health behaviour change interventions these days are markedly anti-shame. Shaming logics are based on unnuanced ideas of why people behave the way they do - "if you make bad choices you should be shamed!" It holds no curiosity as to exactly what goes on when people make choices we'd discourage.

    I find the reference to imperfect use of condoms particularly egregious. One of the most enduring lessons of the AIDS crisis is that shame is simply ineffective when supporting condom use. Shame doesn't prevent the condom from breaking or slipping off; it doesn't stop partners being too drunk to remember to use one; it doesn't make condoms free, accessible, or desirable. The literature is clear that people manage their use of these health technologies in ways that are heavily contingent on social, cultural and political factors (the research I'm referring to centres condoms, but it's likely some of the findings will apply to masks too). Kane Race's Pleasure Consuming Medicine is a good reader for more on this.

    Of course, shame *is* a major form of social control. It renders some behaviours (and people) marginal. It makes including them in public health measures more difficult.

    • 7 October 2020 at 6:58pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Tofu
      Interesting and helpful. Certainly historically shame has been crucial. But perhaps it shouldnt be. Thank you.

    • 8 October 2020 at 9:39am
      davidovich says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      As the resident pinhead I will consult my angels. But nothing any of you have said about anything is likely to help anyone I know. “Gasp!” I hear you say. “ the tiresome little antipodean bugger wants more!”

  • 15 October 2020 at 5:02pm
    Norman Ravitch says:
    For a sensible psychological study of Trump, not too Freudian to upset those who have deep psychological hatreds for Freud for reasons Freud would all too well understand, read Dan McCANN's THE STRANGE CASE OF DONALD J. TRUMP.

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