|The Salvador Dali Painting in Hitchcock's Spellbound|
Minority Whip Dick Durbin's head must have been spinning to the point of whiplash from all that awesome proximity to power in the Oval Office. Because when Donald Trump repeatedly described Haiti and African countries as "shitholes," the senior senator from Illinois apparently did not confront him. He was rendered as mute as a Democrat can be when negotiating how many expulsions of black and brown people might be acceptable without opening up the United States to charges of overt racism and xenophobia.
Just as Trump was ironically issuing a proclamation honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on his upcoming birthday, he found himself in the awkward position of insisting that although his language may have been "tough" during immigration talks, he certainly Did. Not. Have. Verbal. Relations. With. That. Word. Period.
Meanwhile, it's finally become acceptable to call Trump a racist as well as a senile ignoramus. It's even become acceptable to print and say the word "shithole" and for the media to pretend to agonize over all the deep soul-searching involved in finally deciding to print and say the word "shithole," despite the fact that newsrooms all over the country are notorious hotbeds of unabashed profanity.
"It is exceedingly rare," writes the New York Times's Michael A. Grynbaum, "for the country’s biggest news organizations to publish a quote that includes an expletive; usually, they employ a censored or blanked-out version. On Thursday’s network evening newscasts, NBC News was the only organization that quoted Mr. Trump in full. Anchors at ABC and CBS used the word “blank” instead. But several media executives said on Thursday that the news value of Mr. Trump’s remarks, which the White House did not dispute, was undeniable."
Donald Trump is not only the Gaslighter-in-Chief. He is also the Spellbinder-in-Chief, and his audience is behaving like the typical Ingrid Bergman damsel in distress. Just witness the supposedly powerful Dick Durbin's helpless shock and awe in the face of it.
Andrew Lobaczewski, the late clinical psychologist and author of Political Ponerology, the study of contagious societal evil, described the paralyzing effect that the spellbinding Trumps of the world can have on the people around them:
'Persons with an innate talent for intuiting psychological situations tend to take advantage of this gift in an egotistical and ruthless fashion. In the thought process of such people, a short cut way develops which bypasses the handicapped (brain) function, thus leading from associations directly to words, deeds, and decisions which are not subject to any dissuasion. Such individuals interpret their talent for intuiting situations and making split-second oversimplified decisions a sign of their superiority compared to normal people, who need to think for a long time, experiencing self-doubt and conflicting motivations.In a healthy society, Lobaczewski wrote, the activities of spellbinders can usually be stifled fairly quickly. But in an unhealthy society, riven by extreme wealth and social inequalities, the spellbinder finds that people are amenable to his influence. And all that "normal" people like Dick Durbin can do in response is to moralize and express disgust, rather than do anything concrete to stop the madness. That would necessarily include acknowledging the evil of their own policies, which gave rise to Trump in the first place.
"Such characters traumatize and actively spellbind others, and their influence finds it exceptionally easy to bypass the controls of common sense. A large proportion of people tend to credit such individuals with special powers, thereby succumbing to their egotistic beliefs. If a parent manifests such a defect, no matter how minimal, all the children in the family evidence anomalies in personality development.
"Subordinating a normal person to psychologically abnormal individuals has severe and deforming effects on his or her personality: it engenders trauma and neurosis. This is accomplished in a manner which generally evades conscious controls. Such a situation deprives a person of his natural rights: to practice his own mental hygiene, develop a sufficiently autonomous personality, and utilize his common sense. In the light of natural law, it thus constitutes a kind of crime - which can appear at any social scale, in any context - although it is not mentioned in any code of law."
There are many psychopaths behind the scenes who steer and/or enable Trump even as they pretend to condemn his words. Even the "good" Democrats seem increasingly exhausted by the futile effort of telling the president he ought to behave himself so that the quiet work of the oligarchy can proceed apace, and they can pretend that droning people to death in foreign countries and sending thousands of American troops to Africa is not also a form of hideous racism.
Trump's deviant personality is no more deviant than American hegemony itself. He is simply the exception to the unwritten rule that it's the skillfully discreet psychopaths who, after careful corporate vetting, win high office because, as Lobaczewski wrote, "they have thought-processes more similar to the world of normal people; in general, they are sufficiently connected to the pathological system to provide a guarantee of loyalty."
Since Trump threatens the ruling elites by oafishly ripping the mask right off of them, the only weapons they have left in their arsenal are hapless outrage and helpless moralizing. There's no putting the mask of democracy and freedom and equality back on the face of Ruling Class America once it's been exposed in all its ugliness.
So we ordinary people have to protect ourselves both from Trump and from the equally dangerous, reactionary, self-righteous and ineffectual ruling class reactions to Trump. Our own psychological health as individuals and as members of society depends upon it.
We should be neither the helpless Ingrid Bergman wife in Gaslight nor the hapless Ingrid Bergman therapist in Spellbound. We can't play the part of analysts and critics only to succumb and let our emotions of fear and disgust rise above our intellects. We can't be good citizens if we criticize the villainous Trump one minute, and then besottedly fall for the next slick political marketing campaign and neoliberal savior the next.
Howard Zinn was right: "The really critical thing isn't who's sitting in he White House, but who is sitting in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating? Those are the things that determine what happens."