What thoughtful Americans are asking is, why are Donald Trump's outlandish egotistical, self-aggrandizing, racist and misogynistic rants elevating his political ratings to double-digit leads over all other GOP presidential candidates? Why would a narcissistic bloviator, defined in the Urban Dictionary as a "pompous blowhard, using their celebrity to speak about topics on which they are totally unqualified," generate the largest audience for a political debate in the history of this country? On Meet The Press last Sunday (August 9, 2015), New York Times columnist David Brooks speculated that the answer must lie in the unconscious of America's psyche?
What might these unconscious psychodynamics be?
In the '40s and '50s but rarely today, vanity was not only regarded as one of the seven deadly sins, but also its overt displays, such as bragging, were judged as shameful and lacking character. Parents raised their children to be appropriately humble about their achievements and good fortune, and to realize that it was impolite to show off. They were taught to resist their infantile wishes to trumpet their superiority and privileges in order not to make their peers feel inferior or less fortunate than themselves. Movie heroes portrayed by John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck and Humphrey Bogart served as paragons of quiet, self-reserved integrity.
In his seminal paper, Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud theorized that human beings organize into societies that serve the function of repressing (i.e., banishing from consciousness) and controlling their primordial sexual and aggressive impulses, so that they can get along with one another. In the conservative '40s and '50s, the "Leave it to Beaver" generation, the repression barrier was quite strong, and in the late '60s, '70s and '80s, there was a backlash of narcissistic impulsivity, as if the thin veneer of civilization had cracked wide open.
Christopher Lasch called the '70s, a "culture of narcissism." In 1987, Gordon Gecko in the movie, Wall Street, proclaimed that "Greed was good, "and in the 2013 movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, the same narcissistic premise was enacted, highlighting the fact that it was no longer shameful to be a narcissistic bloviator, like Trump. But what is its appeal?
Some say they like Trump because he is authentic. He doesn't censor himself. He speaks the truth in contrast to politically correct politicians who are so cautious that they seem like hucksters. The psychodynamic in this instance is the pleasure of identifying with someone who doesn't care about social propriety or offending anyone. He does what unconsciously we would all like to do, to express our most primordial aggressive feelings and thoughts without being restricted by guilt, shame or remorse. This is what we did as young children before we were reprimanded for it, and became "socialized." Trump releases us from the straightjacket of being civilized. His unrestricted expulsion of denigrating and devaluing aggression can be confused with truthfulness. In this instance, truthfulness is defined as impulsively saying whatever one thinks regardless of the social consequences. But when Trump says that the Mexican government is sending rapists and criminals across our border, and cites his evidence as the scuttlebutt from some border patrol agents, he is not telling the truth. He is presenting speculative gossip as truthful fact. Or when he says that Iran is financially supporting ISIS apparently without realizing that ISIS is their Sunny enemy whom they are fighting through Shiite militias in Iraq, he is merely vilifying Iran with a calumnious fantasy from his free associations of the moment, like a child who confuses wish-fulfillment with reality.
Why have the other GOP presidential candidates and the American public, including journalists, been so silent about his blatantly racist remarks against Mexicans? Does this reflect an underlying prejudice in the American psyche that he has tapped into in which many Americans silently agree with him? Certainly, this has not been the case in his "blood" rant against Megan Kelly, for which candidates in both parties attacked him. And yet many candidates and prominent politicians have remained silent about this as well.
Trump even had the incredible chutzpah to claim that he will get the Mexican and women's vote and that he will represent and help women better than Hilary Clinton. This brings us to another unconscious dynamic in the American psyche, Trumps competitive one-upsmanship. He presents himself as bigger and better than anyone else. He frequently says, "I can do anything better than you. I am rich. I am successful. I am the best." The American ethos of rugged individualism and the competitive entrepreneurial spirit pervades the American spirit. Many people have said they like Trump because he is a rich, successful businessman. The more he brags about his success, the more they can live vicariously through his egotistical boasting. To quell his braggadocio would be to deprive them of their dreams.
And last but not least, he is exceptionally entertaining. Since he is a loose cannon, one never knows what he is going to say, how he is going to insult someone, or make some absurd pronouncement and upset the "politically correct" applecart of a serious, formal presidential contest. In a way, he's like the king's jester, the only one who can make fun of the king without losing his head. Only in this instance, the king, metaphorically speaking, is the serious formality of a presidential nominating process and civilization itself, writ large. In contrast to the days of old, however, this jester is actually striving to be king. The question on everyone's mind is, Will Trump's unconscious appeal to Americans win the day and confirm Alexander Hamilton's warning about democracy: "distrust the wisdom of the masses" or will Americans accurately perceive him wearing "the emperor's new clothes?"