It is not really about ideology right now, is it? In this election, America is not divided primarily by different ideas about how to govern. No one has been more shocked by the Trump phenomena than conservative Republicans. We are now most frighteningly divided along the lines of mental stability. There are bats in the belfry.
But what is this Donald Trump phenomena telling us about the stability of the American mind? Where did it come from? And what can we do about it? This is a problem that will outlive Donald Trump.
The human mind is a vulnerable thing. Eight years ago in my book State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind (St. Martin's Press, 2008), I described the dangerous long-term effects of the psychological bombardment that has been impacting the more vulnerable minds in American politics over at least the last two decades. I described how the deliberate manipulation of psychological states like envy, paranoia, and sexual perplexity amplified through modern technology was causing a psychological "regression" luring people away from the demands of reality into the wishful delusional states that we now see with increasing shock each time we watch a Donald Trump rally.
What Donald Trump provides his followers is a psychological extravaganza of emotional self-indulgence and gleeful defiance of the demands of reality each time he speaks. As the demands of that reality have become increasingly too much for many burdened American minds, the more alluring the drug he offers them has become. The more one partakes of that experience the harder it is to resist, let alone repudiate, the psychological high it offers. And, at the same time, the less capable one becomes of struggling with the more taxing demands of rational thought.
Over the next three months we will watch with increasing horror the inner structure of Trump's mind reveal itself. It will be something to behold. Attacking the grieving mother of a deceased war hero because of her ethnic background, as Trump did, is not exactly an effective political gambit, even for the most despicable political demagogue. Instead, what we are seeing now is the complete insistence of a primitive maniacal mind that whatever experience reality presents, if that experience taxes the beleaguered mind it is "bad," if it indulges that mind, it is "good." Reality shall not be allowed to intrude or given its due. And even this determination can change moment by moment, as the internally driven dictates require. This is the critical mental operation at the threshold that separates rationality from irrationality, and it has nothing to do with liberal or conservative, progressive or libertarian. This is the great American crisis today. It is psychological in nature, and it is a question of mental instability, not political orientation. The problem has simply infected our political process at this particular point on the political continuum.
To increasing numbers of Americans of all political persuasions, especially moderate conservatives, it has been hard to understand why with increased exposure to Trump more people of their presumed persuasion did not see Trump's primitive facial expressions for what they are. It is here at the breakdown in this psychological calibration that mental dysfunction has replaced political ideology as the relevant variable in American politics. For many Americans the demands of change have become too much and the mind succumbs to dangerous psychological toxins that feel good at the time.
In psychology we have a concept called "testing the limits." When we are assessing the psychological strengths or weaknesses of an individual or a group, we try to ascertain just how strong the psychological tendency we are measuring is. In this case, just how fixed is the American mindset that has so turned away from reality? What, if anything, does Donald Trump have to do before his supporters are convinced that a Donald Trump presidency just might not be a viable solution to their psychological confusion and fear? How disconnected are they from reality? The implications of that question for our future are enormous and extend far beyond November.
I am afraid even with what we have seen to date we have not found an answer to that question. No matter how bizarre the behavior we have seen, the allegiance to Trump does not change significantly. When John McCain criticizes, Donald Trump replies he prefers soldiers who do not get captured when they defend us, and when they die he demeans their grieving mothers who do not speak. And, could her son speak from the grave in her defense, Trump would presumably reply he prefers soldiers who do not get killed.
And yet the polls remain close.
So while we are pretty far along in our limit testing, the avoidance of reality continues. At what point do minds repudiate Trump or, more frighteningly, at what point do more join him? We are now a nation with millions of Americans, irrespective of politics and ideology, who are repudiating nothing less than reality itself.
This election is not about the appropriate size of government, fiscal responsibility or taxation, whether to be a hawk or a dove. This is about mental stability and not just Donald Trump's. It is about the state of the American mind. The American mind has been assaulted from many directions for decades and the weakest among us have now turned away from reality.