WARNING: This column contains Freudian language.
The ascension and behavior of Donald Trump have given rise to a cottage industry of amateur and professional psychoanalysts who explain Trump along with the amateur and professional political analysts. None have examined him personally, but we hear terms such as “narcissist,” “pathological liar” and “sociopath” tossed around like dice on a craps table.
All this calls to mind “What Makes Sammy Run?” a popular 1940 roman-a-clef by Budd Schulberg about the rise of a ruthless Hollywood mogul. Sammy Glick clawed his way up from poverty, stealing ideas, stepping over people, sharply elbowing others out of the way, lying, cheating and betraying friends until he achieved the pinnacle of power in La La Land. For generations, even people who hadn’t read the book knew of the “Sammy Glick” syndrome.
One line from the book has long stood out in my mind: a character described Sammy as “the id of our society.”
The id, if you recall Psych 101, is the infantile, me-first, gimme-gimme-gimme aspect of our tripartite psyches, which includes the ego and the super-ego. Freud’s biographer Ernest Jones describes it as “the primordial reservoir of energy…essentially instinctual…completely unorganized….It has all the negative features of [what Freud called] the Primary System.”
The super-ego, simplified, is what we essentially call “conscience” or our sense of what is morally and socially the right thing to do–a function controlled by the ego, which sort of monitors the id and the super-ego.
Were I updating Schulberg’s book, I would write “What makes Donny Run?” about a guy whose demonstrable lies, sometimes contradictory, spout like an oil gusher. He takes another cue from a John Wayne line in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”: “Never apologize–never explain–it’s a sign of weakness.”
Therefore, Donny can never recant or apologize for the stupidest or most dangerous of lies–from the relatively harmless egoism of claiming the largest inauguration audience in history to accusing a past president of criminally wiretapping his phone. He keeps doubling down and when cornered shoves the blame off on someone else.
Yes, Trump is Sammy Glick blown up to Jumbotron proportions with an id the size of Godzilla filling the screen and no identifiable super-ego. He is the id of our society writ large. He believes he can do or say nothing wrong.
For example, he currently claims all is well after the very worst week in his administration, where his Trumpcare legislation began crumbling in Congress; bipartisan Intelligence Committee leaders found no truth to his wiretapping accusations; two federal judges ruled against his revised Muslim ban; his budget was widely assailed; his first national security advisor was exposed as a lobbyist for Turkey who took illegal payments from Russia; he refused to shake hands with Europe’s leader Angela Merkel; he offended our ally Britain with a false claim they spied on him at Obama’s behest–and his new secretary of state brought us closer to war with North Korea.
Freud himself acknowledged there are some cases like his where psychoanalysis can’t really help. Examining Trump’s psyche requires a colonoscopy.
This post originally appeared on Don’s blog.