Trump, Conservatives and the Sanders Alternative

One of the great mysteries of the current election is why so many low-income people support Donald Trump. One explanation is that people suffering from low wages and limited opportunities want to blame someone beside themselves or the economic system for their socio-economic status. Trump helps them act out this displacement and projection by using Mexicans and foreign workers as the cause for their problems. This is the traditional model of scapegoating that is inherent to many forms of prejudice and discrimination. Like the Nazi use of anti-Semitism, the idea is that if the Jews would be eliminated, then the obstacle to economic progress and national unity would be removed. As Slavoj Zizek has stressed, this fantasy structure is centered on the idea that there are no problems with our economic system; rather, some external element blocks our access to success.

Trump not only feeds racism and prejudice by demonizing illegal immigrants and Mexicans, but he also helps to feed nationalistic desires by arguing that Muslims have to be banned from coming to the U.S. because they are the internal-external enemy threatening to destroy our country. Once again, through displacement and projection, the foreign other is blamed for our own sense of insecurity, and this focus on the other also allows us to ignore our own homegrown terrorists and right-wing extremists.

Trump's message also feeds into people's narcissism by arguing that he can make America great again. This slogan contains several different elements: it claims that we were once great, that we can be great again and he can deliver the lost greatness. The fantasy here is that at one time we had no problems, and we can be led to get rid of our current problems and return to a state of idealized greatness. In this cultural fantasy, the follower identifies with the idealized leader who will give full access to limitless freedom and enjoyment.

Freud's work on group psychology adds a fourth aspect to this psychological political structure. In comparing hypnosis to blind love and blind devotion, Freud argued that the followers of the political leader regress back to the relationship between the all-powerful father and the helpless child. In this regression, the individual loses his or her ability to test reality and follow moral principles, and the leader becomes the moral conscience of the group.

Psychoanalysis, then, helps us to understand how Trump's popularity is derived from multiple unconscious sources, and the result is the idealization of a man who idealizes himself. It is also important to stress that Trump can appear to get away with anything because his followers have suspended their disbelief and critical faculties. Moreover, people identify with the great man who has everything because the followers want to attain this same level of power and freedom.

What is so remarkable is that even the people identified as Evangelical Christians support Trump, and here we see how Christianity has always been used as a cover by Republicans to hide their real motivations, which are power, money, and total freedom. The fact that Trump shows no understanding or involvement with religious principles should disqualify him in the eyes of fundamentalist Christians, and yet he is getting people to vote for him because he speaks to their underlying anger and hatred of people who are not like them.

Of course Trump's first move into politics occurred in 2008 when he claimed that President Obama was not really an American. Here we see how at the heart of his political popularity is a nationalistic hatred for people of color, Muslims and immigrants. Perhaps this explains why white Christians can support him: he represents a direct attack on liberals, immigrants, people of color, and non-Christians.

Ultimately it is hard to imagine more than 35% of the voters supporting him in a general election, and so it is very unlikely that he will become president. However, the incredible service that he has performed is to expose the underlying hatred and irrationality dominating the Republic party. His campaign helps to break apart the fragile coalition of free market capitalists, Christian fundamentalists, racist nationalists, and anti-government libertarians. These four sectors of the conservative coalition have been united by a shared hatred of liberals, and now Trump is disbanding the group by exposing all of the internal contradictions. In other words, like a good psychoanalysis, the unconscious emotions supporting the conscious decisions are being brought to the surface.

Trump also exposes how the Republican party is the party of the financial elites who try to seduce the other classes into supporting the rich by pretending that the real enemies are the liberal media, professors, and politicians. People are drawn to Trump's trumped up authenticity because they feel that his hate speech represents freedom from the oppressive forces of liberal political correctness. These followers would also like to speak their minds and feel free to attack every social group that is not like them. In a sense, they are voting for the right to hate other people in an open and unchallenged way.

This backlash against feminism, civil rights, worker's rights, and gay rights represents the real culture war, which has found its spokesman in a Reality TV persona who pretends to be real. Like the desire for unlimited hate speech, the seduction of reality-based media is that it pretends to be immediate and unscripted, just like a Trump campaign speech. Since in a media-saturated culture, people are tired of scripted shows and fake actors, they want someone who pretends to be authentic and real.

The power, then, of Bernie Sanders' campaign is that it opposes all that Trump represents: Sanders is really authentic, refuses hate speech, takes on the financial class, and does not talk about religion or nationalism. Sanders tells his followers that they will have to lead, and he refuses the dominating leadership that Trump aspires to attain. These differences help to explain why we should all want Trump and Sanders to gain their respective nominations. The problem is that many people will support Hillary Clinton because they are so afraid of electing a Republican like Trump that they will buy into her false rhetoric and ignore her long record of being an establishment elite. Let's hope the voters come to their senses and stop voting for who the media tells them will be the most likely winner. The choice in this election should be clear if people vote with their minds and not their fears, hatred, and prejudic