Trump's Friend Freud and The Wave Of American Discontent - Interview
6 November, 2016

Marci Shore is a Yale University professor who specializes in 20th-century history, especially that of central and eastern Europe. In an interview with Hromadske's Nataliya Gumenyuk just days before the U.S. presidential elections, Ms. Shore explains how she thinks broad social discontent combined with primitive thinking are fuelling Donald Trump's campaign for the White House. The academic also argues how the Republican candidate's campaign is reminiscent of events in 1920s/30s Europe and how President Barack Obama was really the best chance the U.S. had in years of succeeding.





"This is an election that is unlike any that has ever happened in my lifetime. Unfortunately not in a very happy way. If Trump wins this election, it will be the end of liberalism. It will very likely be the end of American democracy. I fear in my more catastrophist moments that it could be the end of the world; that he could have a narcissistic moment of a desire to blow up the world.


I've had throughout these elections, but in particular, in the last few months, this kind of creeping, nauseating Weimer-esk feeling as if we were back in Germany in 1932 and the new right has taken over the political spectrum.  

This phenomenon, [I'm not sure if all foreigners understand this] really began here in the 2008 elections with Sarah Palin. The alliance between Sarah Palin and John McCain struck me at the time and now as that frightening marriage between the old right and the new right that we saw in Europe in the 1930s - not only in Germany. You also see it in Romania with Antonescu (a wartime dictator) and the Iron Guard, you see it in Hungary with (Miklós) Horthy (a wartime admiral) and the Arrow Cross. But in 2008, even McCain got scared at a certain point. He's not someone I would have voted for anyway; he was not someone I particularly liked but he was not a lunatic. He represented an old conservative elite with a certain traditional sense of American values and, if there's a racism there which I think there is, it was, in any case, a subtle racism and not an over 'let's go out on the street and lynch people' racism. Sarah Palin opened the door to 'let's go out on the street and lynch people' kind of racism.



It is understandable why people are angry. This anger against mainstream politics, frustration with the system, the sense of being disenfranchised. That's understandable and it's understandable that a large percentage of the working class angry. Unfortunately, they're  not directing their anger in a constructive direction and that don't particularly understand well the causes of their disenfranchisement and their causes of their hardships.


It's a resort to a very primitive and very old scapegoating mechanism. 'You know, if I'm struggling, if I'm working a minimum wage job, if I can't feed my family, if we don't have access to decent healthcare, if our neighborhoods are infested with gun violence, if our schools are terrible, then it must be because of the Mexicans or the Muslims or the African Americans who are exploiting our welfare system'. Of course, it's not because of any groups of these people. There are deep pathologies in the system.


I've become very disillusioned with the system since Obama's presidency and not because I've been disillusioned with Obama per se. I think he was the person coming in who understood better perhaps than anyone else, with the possible exception of Bill Clinton, although I'm sure of that, during my lifetime, what the pathologies of the system are. He had spent time on the streets of Chicago. He understood the despair of the violence, he understood the class problems, he understood how race was overlaid on class problems. He understood if you don't guarantee people some basic, decent conditions of living, you can not then expect good behavior from them. You can not then expect them to buy into a social contract.


The ideas he had, especially domestically. I mean he's much weaker in foreign policy than he is in domestic policy; that we need universal healthcare, we need gun control laws, that we need to make upward mobility possible by making it possible for kids from poor families to get the kind of education that will get them good jobs. He understood what needed to be done but he was unable to do it. He was unable to do it because the political system was blocked because the power of the lobbyists to buy Congress has gotten so extreme that effectively we are now an oligarchy, because of the power of billionaires to buy elections, especially since the Citizens United ruling has become so extreme. And when I saw how he threw all his energy that first year in office into getting health care reform passed which we desperately needed and he couldn't do it. In the end, we get a very watered down version which was better than what we had but, by far, not enough. He threw an extraordinary amount of energy into it and my feeling was, he was the best chance we had. That was the A-team. We don't actually have a better team than that and if he failed, then my feeling was the system is stuck, the system is not working; you know, there's something deeply broken in American politics.




It's understandable that people are frustrated. The primitiveness of the scapegoating mechanism that resorts to identity politics. And what I think is most important; that license to express your frustration and your anger in any kind of cruel way that feels satisfying to you. It really is this Vse Dozvoleno {translation: everything is permitted} moment like in Dostoevsky. You know, it's the liberation of feeling like everything is permitted; that's what Trump gives to people. And Trump, also in this way is right out of the 1930s. When Freud describes civilization and its discontents. You know that repression is the precondition for civilization. We have these instincts of Eros (life) and Thanatos (death), of lust and desire and of death and aggression. Civilization is about controlling those instincts; it's about repressing them and for that reason, it will always make us unhappy because we will always be repressed. But Freud says there is no other way. The alternative is barbarism. This is why he loses to Marx because Marx promises you a happily ever after; Freud promises you no happily ever after. He says this is deep in the fundamental preconditions for the functioning of any kind of civilization at all. And what Trump brings people is a release from that repression. He says 'it's OK, there are no more rules. I don't recognize rules. Now you can give full expression, you know, to all your anger, to all your desire for violence, to all your desire for lust. Now everything is permitted and that feels very liberating. But the price we pay for that is the destruction of civilization.



The divide we have in New Haven is, on the one hand, extreme and on the other hand is extremely typical of inner city problems in America. What perhaps makes it more extreme in New Haven is because New Haven is a small city whereas a place like Detriot is a much larger city. The industry here collapsed decades ago. There was a port industry, a shipping industry. There is a very large section of the population with a high unemployment rate and, with a high rate of living below the poverty line. And what perhaps is not always understood is that while Americans have public education, those public schools are funded by local property taxes. So if you have an area, or a district, or a town or part of the town where property values are low, that means those school districts effectively have no money. That means the schools are bad; and once the schools are bad, then the kids don't have a chance and so then you're in this cycle of poverty.


We also have a violence problem. We have a huge gun violence problem in New Haven. There are shootings constantly in New Haven. There are also shootings constantly in other American cities. Europeans do not always understand this. It's not political violence per se. It's just ordinary street violence. It's the same kind of violence you get in other countries when, you know, drunk men are coming home at night and somebody says something about somebody else's girlfriend and, in another country, they would beat one another up but here, because everybody has a gun, they shoot one another and other people 'accidentally' get shot because bullets don't always go exactly where they are intended. So there's a climate of violence.


A lot of the schools themselves are dangerous and the kids don't feel safe going to school. Even for philanthropic groups, trying to support those failing schools districts; it's very hard for them to hire tutors or hire people to even go into the schools because people don't feel safe going into the schools. There are whole neighborhoods the police have essentially given up on and then you have the whole cycle of poverty and violence and high rates of teenage pregnancy and improper healthcare because we don't have a universal healthcare system and weak education puts people in a vicious cycle of never being able to get out of this kind of poverty.