Blog, Politics, Psychology

The Psychopathology of the Republican Candidates

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Originally published November 24, 2015 on Nation of Change

As a lifelong student of psychoanalysis, I am led to the proposition that the behavior of the current crop of Republican candidates and their supporters can only be properly understood, if that, in terms of psychopathology. Conventional explanations such as Washington is more partisan than ever, American power is in decline, etc. explain part of the anger of the Republican electorate, but they cannot account for its sheer intensity.

Conventional explanations also cannot account for why when challenged the candidates not only deny actual facts, but engage in out-and-out lies and deception. For example, Donald Trump receives major amounts of campaign contributions from his supporters. Contrary to his repeated claims, his campaign is not fully funded by his own fortune. For another, Dr. Ben Carson did appear as a spokesperson for a questionable product. And so on!

Yes, the Republican candidates are certainly engaged in pandering to their base, but this only raises the fundamental question why the base lives in a fantasy world that is increasingly out of touch with reality. For instance, it’s complexly unrealistic, if not insane, to believe that one could actually get Mexico to pay for a wall thousands of miles long that would keep its citizens out of the U.S. What interests of Mexico would this possibly serve? Why does the base so readily accept anything that literally pops out of the mouths of the candidates? The more preposterous the idea, the more fervently it’s embraced.

In times of great stress, underlying fears and anxieties that have not been dealt with adequately rise to the surface and take over people’s reasoning, if not their minds. Thus, enormous anxieties and fears having to do with: (a) underlying racial and ethnic differences, (b) the fact that white men, in particular, are no longer in complete control, (c) a world that is so complex that no one can fully explain, let alone control it, (d) the ever-present danger of terrorism, and (f) the seemingly loss of power and influence of the U.S. in world affairs—all of these and more are sufficient to drive sizeable numbers of people into the most bizarre fantasies. Gaining control by whatever means of an uncertain, dangerous, and precarious world becomes paramount.

I cannot emphasize enough that in times of great stress, people revert to earlier, primitive stages of development. That is to be expected. Nonetheless, the extent to which the Republican candidates and voters have regressed to earlier primitive stages of human development is absolutely scary.  It’s nothing less than mind-boggling.

One does not overcome great anxieties and fears by facts and logical reasoning alone. If anything, cold facts and logic only drive people deeper into fantasies. One requires calm, soothing voices that can address deep underlying anxieties, fears, and fantasies not by naming them directly, but by telling stories that provide reassurance. But this requires candidates that are strong enough to face reality in the first place, and then to fashion stories that make unpleasant truths palatable. True leadership is telling people what they can’t bear to hear. Sadly, I see no evidence of this whatsoever in the current crop of Republican candidates.

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