Don't Expect a Miracle

05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Robert D. Stolorow Founding Faculty Member at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles

When a society has been subjected to collective trauma, as Americans have been by the attack of 9/11 and the current economic crisis, its members tend to fall under the spell of one or another form of what I call "resurrective ideology"--shared beliefs that seek to restore illusions shattered by trauma. One form such reactive ideology may take is the attribution of messianic powers to an admired leader, an attribution that, when it is disappointed as it inevitably must be, brings further traumatization.

In the context of the economic crisis, President Obama has been wisely discouraging such messianic attributions, letting us know that we need to keep our expectations of him and his administration within the limiting bounds of human possibility and fallibility. Although he has repeatedly demonstrated, as he did at the G-20 meetings, that he is a calming presence with an acute grasp of the complexities of our collective situation, he has also consistently emphasized that the road to economic recovery will be a long, difficult, and painful one, requiring perseverance, hard work, sacrifice, patience, and self-discipline.

Obama can no more miraculously save us from the cumulative consequences of many years of economic foolishness than Bush's holy war against the "forces of evil" could resurrect our lost illusions of grandiose invincibility.