November 1, 2020

1. Trump

In the last issue, I argued that Trump has no regard for truth. Why? What makes Trump what he is?

I noted that the French writer Jean-Paul Sartre “had little contact with his father, who died when Sartre was 2.” Sartre said he had “no super-ego”1 because he had no father-influence. A man’s conscience (super-ego) comes from his father. If Trump has little conscience, we would suspect little father-influence.

I noted that both Gide and Proust had “an aloof father, busy with his career.” Trump’s father was also busy with his career, and if he had any parenting energy, it was probably expended on his first son, Fred Jr. So Donald Trump probably grew up with little father-influence, hence little conscience. That he later became his father’s business associate has no significance for his development.

Trump aims to enjoy himself, and many people find him enjoyable to be around; people flock to his rallies because they enjoy being with someone who’s enjoying himself, they enjoy being with someone who never feels guilty, and is never made unhappy by a feeling of guilt. Trump’s hedonism has helped his business career and his political career. One might compare Trump to Bill Clinton, who also had little father-influence and little conscience. Such people seem to do well in our society.

Has American society always rewarded hedonism? In earlier times, American society may have had some sort of culture-hero or religious ideal, some sort of “national super-ego,” some sort of leader-figure or father-figure to admire and emulate. In recent times, however, we’ve lost that national super-ego, and replaced it with the pursuit of pleasure and self-interest, or as Trump likes to say, “winning, winning, winning.” Trump is a product of his time as well as his upbringing.

The situation that Freud described a century ago seems more pronounced today. Freud wrote,

The danger of a state of things which might be termed “the psychological poverty of groups” [is] most threatening where the bonds of a society are chiefly constituted by the identification of its members with one another, while individuals of the leader type do not acquire the importance that should fall to them in the formation of a group. The present cultural state of America would give us a good opportunity for studying the damage to civilization that is thus to be feared.

The phrase “leader type” should not be limited to contemporaries, it should include leaders from all times and places, hero-figures who function as an ideal, a conscience, a super-ego. In earlier times, Americans probably admired such hero-figures. Perhaps one function of literature/history/art is to present such figures, to prompt individuals to admire and emulate such figures. It’s important for culture to be accessible rather than scholarly, so culture can help to create ideals, ideals that can inspire the individual, and unite society.

“Higher culture” presents inspiring ideals. American society has lost touch with higher culture. So we pursue self-interest, wealth, pleasure, “winning.” In Trump’s view, the worst thing you can be is a “loser.” Since Trump has no ideal, no sense of duty, no respect for sacrifice, he seems to have referred to American war dead as “suckers and losers,” and he scoffed at the sacrifices made by John McCain.

Trump’s biggest success, and the launching-pad of his political career, was his TV show, which presented an image of success, of “winning,” of wealth and power. His TV show was completely devoid of higher culture; it was American pop culture in its crassest form.

Can higher culture be accessible? Can Americans unite around some sort of ideal? Or are we destined to follow the Roman path downhill, the Roman path to increasing vulgarity, civil strife, etc.?

American voters face a difficult choice in 2020. I confess, I couldn’t steel myself to vote for either candidate. In many ways, Trump is the worst President in American history. On the other hand, if the Democrats take power, they’re planning the greatest crime in American history — packing the Supreme Court, packing the Congress, seizing the federal government.

If Trump wins, the Democrats may wish that they’d kept quiet about their coup plans. Now all the world knows that they have no regard for the rule of law, except as a means to their own hegemony. Court-packing is utterly inconsistent with the rule of law, though it may not violate the letter of the Constitution.

I’m not suggesting that liberals want power for the sake of power. I’m prepared to admit that liberals sincerely believe that, if conservatives have power, they’ll ruin the country, and maybe the world. But I hope liberals will admit that conservatives believe just as sincerely that, if liberals have power, they’ll ruin the country. Maybe the best approach is a compromise — each side gets a little of what they want, both sides abandon the hope of hegemony. The country continues to decline, but it’s a long, gradual decline, without revolutions or coups or civil wars. The ship of state leaks, but it stays afloat.

The conservative pundit George Will is very critical of Trump, as many conservative pundits are. He wonders, How can people continue to support Trump? Do they really want four more years of this turmoil? But the average American doesn’t focus on politics, he’s more interested in his family, his job, his house, etc., he only spends a couple minutes per day watching Trump on TV. So four more years of Trump isn’t a problem for the average American, it’s only a problem for people who focus on politics. Furthermore, the average conservative doesn’t think the election is about Trump, he thinks the election is about Biden & Co. — their support for criminals, their support for more open borders, their appointment of liberal judges, etc.

* * * * *

Who’s going to win the election? After the 2016 election, I discussed the predictions of Allan Lichtman, Nate Silver, and Robert Cahaly: “If we had listened to Lichtman, Silver, and Cahaly, we wouldn’t have been shocked by Trump’s victory. In 2020, we should listen to these three, we certainly shouldn’t bet against them.”

Lichtman’s prediction-system is always somewhat ambiguous. A few months ago, he predicted Biden would win, partly because Trump had no foreign-policy successes. But if you consider the recent Arab-Israeli treaties as foreign-policy successes for Trump, you might say that Lichtman’s system favors Trump.

Nate Silver is giving Biden a 90% chance of winning, while the prediction markets give Biden a 65% chance of winning. Robert Cahaly of the Trafalgar Group predicts a Trump victory, as do a few other pollsters. Cahaly’s 2016 predictions were more accurate than Silver’s. Cahaly thinks there are “shy” Trump voters who don’t want to tell pollsters that they support Trump.

2. The Sons of Jocasta

Here’s a summary of the essay on “Jocasta mothering” that appeared in the last issue (I wrote this summary for my chapter on genius):

A writer named Matthew Besdine argued that one cause of genius is “Jocasta mothering,” which he describes as “exclusive, intense and symbiotic.” Besdine calls it “Jocasta mothering” because, in Greek mythology, Jocasta is the mother of Oedipus, and also becomes the wife of Oedipus.

The Jocasta household, Besdine writes, has “a strong, dominating, overprotective, intense mother and an absent, weak, inept or gentle father with little authority in the home.” One of Thoreau’s biographers wrote, “John Thoreau, the father, was a quiet, gentle man.... John’s wife, Cynthia, was, on the other hand, a bustling, strong-minded woman.” As a result of Jocasta mothering, the genius views love as bondage, fears love and marriage, and has ambivalent feelings toward his mother and toward women in general. Thoreau was cool toward women, never married, and probably never had a sexual relationship with a woman.

Jocasta mothering leads to a mother-infant relationship in which ego boundaries are dropped. Perhaps any kind of love requires a dropping of ego boundaries, a merging with the other, followed by a return to ego boundaries. It’s important for an adult to be able to drop ego boundaries, and fuse with another person, or with an ideal. Conversely, it’s important for an adolescent to establish ego boundaries, and become independent.2

Besdine says that Jocasta mothering affects girls and boys in much the same way. He says that many female geniuses experienced Jocasta mothering. He discusses a writer named Violette Leduc, who was an illegitimate child, grew up without a father, and wrote a well-known memoir called La Bātarde. Like the son of Jocasta, the daughter of Jocasta often has homosexual tendencies.

Jocasta mothering means a merger between mother and child, a lack of boundary between mother and child. Perhaps this gives the genius an ability to abandon himself, abandon the ego, and immerse himself in the artistic work, even immerse himself in the world as a whole, perhaps even have a love for the world as a whole. Thoreau wrote, “For joy I could embrace the earth. I shall delight to be buried in it.”

© L. James Hammond 2020
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1. Besdine, p. 588 back
2. Besdine writes, “While separation-individuation and finally the establishment of one’s identity are the central problems of childhood and adolescence on the road to maturity, it is highly questionable whether this is central in adult life. Perhaps larger identities, like loving someone else, broadening one’s identity in movements connected with art, science, religion or humanity, offer a necessary challenge to adulthood and a richer fulfillment of life.”(p. 593) back