Recently it was reported that some democrats are questioning President Trump’s mental health. The report referred to the interview given by Sen. Al Franken during a weekend interview with CNN’s “State of the Union” where he publicly claimed that “a few” Republican colleagues have also expressed concern to him about Trump’s mental health.
Questions about Trump’s mental health are not new. It was a constant issue during his unconventional presidential campaign. However, since his assumption of office, and his continued wars with his real and imagined enemies especially the press, this concern has grown. NY Daily News reports that “frightened by the President’s hubris, narcissism, defensiveness, belief in untrue things, conspiratorial reflexiveness and attacks on opponents, mental health professionals are finally speaking out.”
I personally do not think it is helpful analyzing the President’s mental health. Rather, it is his vision, conduct and actions as president which are of concern to me and many people here and abroad. I think that President Trump with his successful election and inauguration is acting like a new American Messiah. However, this messianism—whether it is a psychological problem or not—is a recipe for authoritarianism. If this savior-complex is unchecked and it fuses with a perception on the part of the president that he is an emperor or cult hero of the world’s only surviving superpower, this show might soon turn into a tragedy rather than a comedy.
This false narrative should not be dismissed as being simply the result of President Trump’s supposed mental health problem. Millions of Americans and the hordes who troop to his rallies are buying into Trump’s ‘national movement’ because its roots lie deep in the American psyche and residue of an effete White supremacy mindset.
This psyche is what foremost American psychologist, Robert Jay Lifton calls a ‘superpower syndrome.’ This is what is fuelling Trump’s messianism and populism among his core followers. Superpower syndrome, Lifton argues, is ‘a national mindset—put forward strongly by a tight-knit leadership group—that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it right to hold sway over all other nations.’
This mindset, according to Lifton, creates a sense of ‘cosmic ambition’, and the ‘illusion of invulnerability.’ It also fuels an attitude of entitlement of America to the adulation and gratitude of the rest of the world because of American exceptionalism as the acclaimed greatest nation on earth with a manifest destiny under God. This thinking fails to appreciate that the world is so much interconnected today and that America needs the rest of the world as much as the rest of the world needs America
Perhaps, the greatest problem with Trump’s messianic vision is that he genuinely believes that he will always win even if the cost of winning are chaos, national convulsion, and international opprobrium.
Those who do not buy into this vision are hawkers of false news; and those who do not bow to this new American demagogue are branded as those who do not want to make America great again. This neuralgic reconstruction of the national narrative is troubling because it feeds into all forms of falsehood and polarizes the nation further along time-crusted camps.
First, is the false supposition that hoping for prosperity under Trump translates into any assurance of real and concrete change for the future; hope is not achievement. Second, is the distortion of reality according to Trump’s image and likeness. Blatant missteps based on limited information are dismissed as a stroke of ingenuity; falsehoods are spiced up as ‘alternate facts’, and wrong-headed policies or programs are packaged as the best thing that ever happened to America.
Third, the new American savior has invented an apocalyptic narrative of the world and America in order to justify any and all of his actions. All these you find in the language which President Trump uses to describe American life and present history—catastrophic, darkness, disaster, a mess, horrible, broken, stupid etc.
It is as if America these past years has been traveling on a darkening path, and Trump suddenly ‘appears’ as God-sent savior with this bright light to redeem America. Behold the one and only savior of America! He comes with a ‘fine-tuned machine’ to cure all of America’s ills and usher in an era of unlimited prosperity and progress!
Every savior emerges to supposedly pull people from the irremediable path of perdition; to break the cycle of decay and reverse the cascading forces of history and interrupt the forces of evil.
Is this not the kind of image that Trump paints of America? Everything is wrong in America; and everything about Trump is right about America. He alone can fix America as he boasted at the Republican Convention.
But we have heard such ultra-nationalistic narratives before in many parts of the world. Autocrats who idolize the nation-state through an isolationist nativism often promise heaven on earth for their citizens, stir their passion for a very narrow vision of the future, only to end up leaving their nations with a little taste of hell.
America should be wary of Trump’s uncritical messianism because it is false, unrealistic, and dangerous. It must be rejected, and resisted early in his presidency to save America and the world.