The Trump Phenomenon

Apparently we live in a “Momism” culture. I was not aware of this, but John Carroll notes that respected sociologists and anthropologists such as Margaret Mead, Geoffrey Gorer, Erik Erikson, K. Keniston, Herbert Hendin in the late 1960s and early 1970s

“all wrote on the theme, stressing the dominant power of the mother. . . . The psychiatric literature of the period tended to point in the same direction . . . The overall impact of the psychoanalytic, psychiatric, and sociological literature of this period is to suggest that mother dominance has become pervasive.”

What it means is that we have moved from the age of the patriarch, the father with absolute authority in the home during, say, the Victorian period. The image is that of the father with rod in hand whipping his son into shape, taming him like a wild animal, breaking his will. Ours is an age in which we have become softer, gentler, more compassionate — an age in which the rod has been replaced with a fishing rod and the father urged to take his son out in the canoe for some “quality time.”

This certainly makes sense in that we know ours is a permissive age, an age in which we reason with children rather than “whip them into shape.’ In fact, any whipping would quickly bring the sheriff and the child would be taken away from his abusive parents. This is a good thing in so many ways, but it also brings with it certain rather sobering consequences — such as our age of entitlement where spoiled children run wild and parents are warned at every turn not to damage their potential and to be their friends rather than the authority figures they require.

In fact, ever since Freud we have known that despite the image sketched above, that authoritarian father with his firm hand did, in fact, help the child become a mature, responsible adult. It turned the aggressive impulses that every child has inward building a Super Ego, or conscience, in the process. The result is what we call “character” and the sublimation of those impulses brought about creative and constructive results — what we call “civilization.” Greater permissiveness, as I have noted in the past, results in the turning outward of these impulses, a lack of character, and even violence. This is all well documented and we must live with the consequences. It’s a “trade-off” I suppose.

But let’s also suppose that what we might call the “Trump Phenomenon,” which we struggle to understand, could also be the result of this excessive permissiveness. Let’s suppose that for a great many people in this country Donald Trump represents the father figure, the firm, decisive, rod-in-hand figure of authority that they crave on an unconscious level. For all his faults, and there are many, the man is quick to make a decision — for many of us those decisions are invariably the wrong ones, but nevertheless he does make decisions. He “cuts to the chase.” Quickly. In a democratic system where decisions seem to come at a snail’s pace, if at all, when the powers that be seem involved in endless bickering and nothing seems to get done, the notion of a decisive leader, one who takes charge, might be very appealing to a great many people — especially if those people have been handed the dirty end of the stick for most of their lives, convinced that the power elite, those with more money and a better education, have always made the decisions that affect their lives.

In any event, folks like Christopher Lasch and John Carroll, who have read their Freud and take seriously the notion that we all need a firm hand, seem convinced that our age suffers from a lack of authority, that “Momism” is not necessarily a good thing because it creates more problems than it solves. To be sure, it takes the rod from the hand of the snarling father, but it leaves the child with no guidance and a lack of character. Thus do we stumble about and wonder where we are going, noting the increase of violence, the loss of manners and restraint, the glorification of the quick fix, and the election of fools to positions of power.

10 thoughts on “The Trump Phenomenon

  1. Patriarch. Matriarch. I’m so beyond trying to understand what is happening…the short and long term consequences of…everything. Such despair. And now Boris Johnson added to the field of “Igits” in charge?

    Peter, Paul and Mary please forgive for this theft…Where have all the wood sheds gone?

  2. While I agree that there is an element of society that is spoiled, that is arrogant, greedy, and cares not a whit for their fellow humans, this is one of the few (only?) times I must disagree with you, at least in part. I think the authoritarian father figure who ‘cracked the whip’, was long past due for extinction. I don’t see ‘momism’, or a gentler touch in and of itself being a bad thing, but like all other things, it must be in moderation and there must be balance. But, what better way to teach a child kindness and compassion than a mom who teaches those lessons by example? I do agree with you that the culture of being a child’s ‘friend’ rather than parent fails to teach the child some of life’s harsher lessons, such as responsibility, commitment, the value of hard work, etc., but there is no reason that a mom who isn’t trying to beat the kid every time he looks cross-eyed, cannot teach those lessons by a combination of example and education. It requires balance, requires the mom to be capable of being stern when needed, but still loving.

    As for the part about Trump … if some would see him as a father figure, then they truly must crave the wicked step-father who creeps into the child’s room with a machete and arsenic every night!

    Good post … thought-provoking as always!

    • I did not mean to imply that momism is a bad thing in itself. I thought I made my qualification clear. But the child needs a firm hand, a solid authoritarian figure who makes clear where the lines are drawn. If those things are lacking — and moms can provide them as well as dads, it’s just that the roles have changed since the Victorian era — then the child wanders aimlessly and is confused about right and wrong. Lacking a strong Super Ego his aggression directs itself outwards and, being unsublimated, often takes the form of violence in one form or another.

      • Oh, I know you weren’t advocating a return to the “spare the rod and spoil the child” era! And I agree that in far too many cases, parents are letting the tail wag the dog, and we can look around and see the results of that on a daily basis. But … some parents must be doing things right, for look at some of the young people I write about in my ‘good people’ posts, and look at Greta Thunberg, and the Parkland survivors.

      • Indeed. What happened with the Parkland survivors, by the way? Have they stayed the course? There are good kids out there. I speak in generalities, as you know. And in general the kids are spoiled rotten as both their parents (if they still have two) feel they must work to maintain the standard of living they aspire to.

  3. Hugh, I think we need to define Trump by his mentors as well as his parents. His five biographers note his problem with the truth. He had to learn the art of lying from somewhere. Is it inherited or gleaned from a marketing schtick to always be selling, to lie or embellish – Bill Maher said it early on that he knew several guys that act like Trump from Jersey.

    The mentor who gets mentioned the most is Roy Cohn, one of his early attorneys. Cohn taught him to never apologize and sue everyone. Think of those two learnings given the role Muchael Cohen played – suing or threatening lawsuit to get Trump’s way. And, apologies are hard to come by with Trump – it is almost always someone else’s fault. Keith

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