An Absence of Guilt in He Who Is the Host

10/06/2016 11:59 am ET Updated Oct 07, 2017

I have been wondering for awhile, as I know many others have as well, how it is that so many Americans forgive Donald Trump egregious lying and cheating (the tax returns for one) while the same people survey every action and statement of Hillary Clinton with what seems like merciless craving for attack and judgment.

One aspect that appears to be crucial is the position of Donald Trump in people's minds as the talk show host, in fact the host that hired and fired. He was the power behind "The Apprentice", and he seems now to have the power to do as he pleases, almost as on the show. Perhaps in our belief system he remains superior because he says so. He wears it that way, and for many people that seems to be enough.

This is one intersection where assuming power is confused with being right. And power is something we attribute to someone who has achieved a great deal, especially in the realm of business. Maybe, even the fact that Donald Trump cheated the Government of taxes for so many years, not so secretly pleases many of the would be voters he attracts, because he knows how to be smart, and to get away with things.

In a book entitled "Faith" by the prolific, wise and at times mysterious psychoanalyst Michael Eigen, there is a discussion of the role of people who manipulate other people's minds in the way they want. ( Karnac, 2014). On pages 102, 103, there is a dramatic (to me) discussion of how psychopathic people can manipulate the psychotic anxieties of the rest of us. So as to be reasonably clear and not alarmist only, Eigen points out how our economic and social systems have valued success at any cost, meaning that many of us have to lie about our numbers, our insurance forms and more to get by and make a living. His point includes the notion that we are not in a phase where madness reigns but rather one where some people adept at manipulation, play on the anxieties, i.e. fear of death, apocalypse, etc., that are crazy but part of the human condition. So that all it takes is a leader who wields a particular kind of manipulation, and has the power to do so, that plays with the crazy parts of the rest of us. It is often the person who will tell us that life is very scary and terrible and that he (let's face it, it's usually a he) is the only one to save us.

The self-righteousness experienced by this kind of leader knocks out any guilt, and there is no real existence of caring either. Consider the weapons of mass destruction given to Americans as reasons for going into Iraq, into a war that destabilized a region, killed thousands and thousands of people of all ages, and left cities and lives and families and minds and bodies damaged beyond the beyond. At that moment there was only one vision of how to combat terrorism, and it blended with a notion of America as heroic, saving the world from Saddam Hussein, even as we were not prepared in any way to leave teaching and modeling and safety to the people whose lives were cut apart.

Eigen is speaking here of a phenomenon, not of one person, certainly not of Donald Trump. The book was written way before that was a fantasy yet born. But the dynamic is way important because it reminds us that even while there is a tendency towards the cynical, the underlying wish for salvation and believing and following, is very much intact. Detaching, from the tendency to belong at any cost, to systems that seduce us with their power, would be crucial.

Eigen ponders: "Whether we will keep on evolving I don't know. Can we face our destructive power or the high that power gives us, a self-intoxication that wipes out guilt and sensitivity?" (p. 102) What we are seeing is for me a frightening absence of sensitivity to emotions, and to parts of the population that are openly vulnerable. Of course part of the problem is that many people who seem strong are the most vulnerable and the most frightened of admitting it. With someone like Trump, some are frightened but some feel invincible, merging with his sense of being right, and more so having a right to insult just about anyone in his way.

A word about the words "psychotic" and "psychopath". You don't have to be that extreme to be a psychopath, in that it doesn't mean a complete wacko or violent menace only. It means someone whose relationships are shallow, and who doesn't experience much genuine feeling on an ongoing basis. It means someone who can use inciting doubt and fear in others to win a point, or maybe an election. On the other hand, you don't have to be a wacko to be psychotic. We all have psychotic parts, something Eigen explores in "The Psychotic Core". "Psychotic" means that emotions trump facts (yes, the pun), and that chaos can take over rationality because of the strength of emotions amidst the absence of a strong enough connection to others and to reality.

It's not that hard to be these things. And in the midst of commandments that tell us to atone for our sins in one way or another we can only do so meaningfully if we have awareness of what those might be. One principle that comes to mind for me (I am, truthfully much more into developing a consciousness and conscience than making believe we are following commandments) is the one often attributed to Hillel. The one that talks about treating others as we would want to be treated, you know, the "Love thy neighbor as thyself". It sounds, to my ears at this moment, so far fetched in a world where breaking people's wills down seems more of a winning strategy.

I vote for some reflection.