The Party of Lincoln has devolved. Republicans have become the Party of Id. Let me first state the obvious, then move on to more troubling concerns.
The obvious is that Donald J. Trump, President Trump, personifies the naked id of Freudian fame. In Freud’s theory of personality development, the id is curbed by ethical ideals and normative constraints, which normal children — after graduating from their “Terrible Twos” — internalize as humankind’s superego. But, of course, there are always exceptions to every rule.
Undeterred by his failure to matriculate the Terrible Twos, Trump recklessly advances as a toddler-adult, uncurbed and unrestrained by ethical ideals or normative constraints. Guilt-free and shameless, Donald J. is compulsively energized by the narrow rewards of self-indulgence and self-gratification. Superego? There’s no such thing for Donald J.
Even the conclusion that he is pure ego misses the point in Freudian speak. In Freudian speak, the rational ego is supposed to moderate between the primal urges and demands of the id and the rigid moralism of the superego.
Moderate? In the strange case of Donald J. Trump, his perversely schooled ego barely puts a spit-shine of moderation on his ravenous id. In his case, the id rules, not the ego. In the annals of psychiatry, individuals handicapped by Trumpian ids are, of course, not so rare. What is rare is the fact that Trump was actually elected president of the United States.
This is the truth that requires us to confront the most troubling concern about contemporary democracy in America. Who are the people who elected this belligerent, self-aggrandizing, toddler-adult to the highest office in the land and why? Why do they continue to lustily cheer his disgracefully unmonitored, unpresidential pronouncements and impulsive, destabilizing actions? And how did this sordid political state of affairs metastasize in the world’s oldest democratic republic?
These are very worthy questions, the answers to which would fill volumes. (They already have.) But let’s oversimplify in order to make some sense of the craziness.
First, collective id impulses have stained our political history from the get-go, especially in matters racial: slavery, genocide, misogynistic rape, ethnic cleansing, Indian reservations, broken treaties, Jim Crow laws, ghettoization, voter suppression, border walls, etc., ad nauseum.
Second, American populism has long provided fertile soil for rabble-rousing demagogues who exploit the id-based fears, resentments and prejudices of ordinary folk against nonwhites, foreigners and snobby cultural elites as the wicked sources of their troubles.
A good demagogue speaks the language of the resentful, the punitive language of hatred and blame. A good demagogue gives the folk permission to vent their fears, resentments and hatreds. In collective gratitude they rally to his side to politically validate the hoarse expression of their id-impulses.
To a greater or lesser degree, political parties in America have always hypocritically alternated between employing demagogic campaign rhetoric to win elections and restraining their rougher edges when actually governing in order to comport with the lofty ideals of civic civility. But, has any major political party in America ever embraced and committed itself to the brazenly unapologetic similitude of Donald J. Trump as its standard bearer and leader of the country—as the nation’s civic model of what it means to be an American to our children and the rest of the world?
The contemporary Republican Party has a great deal to answer for. Stodgy, stingy and conservative in its 20th century guise, the Party of the Great Emancipator today has grotesquely morphed into The Party of Trump, The Party of Id.
Republican Party officials have cynically and opportunistically enabled Trump, but they scarcely control him. To the contrary. Fearful of the electoral id impulses he has recklessly unleashed and legitimated through petulant tweet-storms, circus tent rallies and impetuous executive orders, Republicans from red state houses to the halls of Congress fecklessly do his bidding and echo his strident bellowing. This is not a normal state of affairs.
Normally, id passions are eventually checked and some form of moral, rational restraint is restored. If and when that happens, please wake me from my nightmare daze. But, by then, will it be too late to salvage the country’s erstwhile democratic institutions, civic pride and self-delusion as the beacon of freedom, decency and social equality to the modern world?
A mere 75 years old, I hope to live long enough to find out.
Gordon Shepherd, Conway, Ark., was born and raised in Salt Lake City, educated in Salt Lake City public schools and is a retired professor of sociology at the University of Central Arkansas.