Donald Trump’s extraordinary success represents a political paradox to many opponents who reject what they perceive as his extremist xenophobic, simplistic politics. Critics continue to be perplexed as to why the richest man to run for President attracts such passionate support from the poorest white constituency.
Or are politicians like Donald Trump simply more astute psychologists than their rivals?
Jay Frankel, from the postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis at New York University and the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, has recently published a paper entitled “The traumatic basis for the resurgence of right-wing politics among working Americans.”
He suggests that grasping the appeal of a candidate such as Donald Trump requires psychoanalyzing the electorate’s relationship with him. What, internally, does he represent to them? Simple politics isn’t enough to account for all that Donald Trump symbolizes.
The more conventional interpretation for why an impoverished electorate poll for the super-rich is they also hope to ‘make it.’ Politicians like Donald Trump represent an aspirational vote. Hence, why voters underclass, destined never to realize the ‘American Dream,’ believes a billionaire, enjoying a lifestyle completely alien to their own, will indeed represent their interests when elected.
Jay Frankel points out, contrary to the national myth, intergenerational income mobility in the U.S. is worse than in most other developed countries. Maybe certain politicians, perhaps like Donald Trump, grasp that popular electoral appeal is often more about fantasy than reality.
It is notable, Frankel writes, that the U.S. is on track to become a “majority-minority” country, with non-Hispanic whites drifting into the minority in just 30 years. Perhaps this injects a sense of paranoia among swathes of the white population, a feeling rendered more acute by the election of a Black president.
This group may also feel abandoned by their own society because of the economic consequences of the recent recession. Both financial and cultural shifts lead this part of the electorate to have lost a sense of a secure place in their own nation. If you no longer feel you belong to your own country, maybe this especially heightens paranoia and anxiety in a way that can be exploited by a canny candidate.
Identification with the Aggressor
In particular, Frankel believes that these various psychological forces combine to allow into the election the famous psychoanalytical concept of ‘Identification with the Aggressor.’ It is this powerful unconscious force which may be driving underclass support for remote elites.
Fearful unease about survival and abandonment drive ‘Identification with the Aggressor.’ Increased fears of a terrorist threat following the attacks of September 11th, 2001 have also been exploited by the political right, compounding a widespread sense of insecurity across the USA.
Frankel contends that what happens in an abusive family may be analogous to what unfolds in an unjust harsh society.
‘Identification with the Aggressor’ might therefore resolve the paradox of why those who have been most economically dispossessed are often more likely to support political movements that appear to oppose their own economic interests.