It's dark

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By BRUCE E. LEVINE*

Three intertwined themes: a sick society, Donald Trump worshipers and the drama triangle

On March 3, 2024, the survey The New York Times/Siena reported: “Donald Trump leads over Joe Biden; polled 48% to 43% among registered voters.” Some millions of Americans are horrified by the fact that millions more Americans are ready to elect as president not just a scoundrel, but a scoundrel who makes no secret of his scoundrels.

So a terrified question arises: what will it take for Donald Trump's supporters to finally be horrified by him? How much financial fraud? How much electoral interference? How much incitement to new insurrections? How many obstructions of justice? How many more thefts of national defense documents? How many more construction companies will go bankrupt? How many sexual assaults? How many comments about “grabbing the pussy”?

In 2016, Donald Trump recognized that his faithful are not bothered by his legal crimes and moral missteps, saying in a lighthearted way: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and I still wouldn’t lose any voters.” , OK? That’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Among the millions of Americans who are horrified by Donald Trump and his enchanted supporters, only a small minority are horrified by the society that created them.

Erich Fromm – a sick society

How did a society become sick enough to create a Donald Trump, as well as his worshipers?

Psychoanalyst and social psychologist Erich Fromm in Escape from Freedom, published in 1941, sought to explain the spread of fascism and authoritarianism, focusing on Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain, and Stalin's Soviet Union. Erich Fromm concluded that freedom from medieval institutions and their traditional ties, “although it gives the individual a new feeling of independence, at the same time it makes him feel alone and isolated in the social environment; and this condition fills him with doubt and anxiety, which lead him to a new form of submission, as well as compulsive and irrational behavior.”

Such compulsive and irrational activities include varied escapes from being truly alive and forming romantic bonds. One type of escape consists of submission to authoritarian people such as Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin (but also Putin, Trump, etc.). Human beings also stray, Fromm noted, toward destructiveness and conformity, whether as automaton workers or as submissive consumers in a materialistic society. While there are worshipers on Trump's red team, there are also worshipers on Apple's blue team – and they are all running away from freedom, escaping into compulsive and irrational activities that make them soulless people, with no love to give, maddened and mortified.

Alienated in their professional lives, little committed to their non-communities, Americans are also increasingly distant from their social institutions, which the vast majority do not trust. A 2023 Gallup poll reported that only a minority of United States residents have confidence in the police (43%), the medical system (34%), banks (26%), public schools (26%), newspapers (18 %), the criminal justice system (17%), television news (14%), large corporations (14%), and the three branches of the US government: the Supreme Court (27%), the presidency (26%) and Congress (8%).

The term alienation, recalls Erich Fromm in his 1955 book, The Sane Society, was used in the past to designate a crazy person, but now its use is more extensive, since – he states – “this alienation and automation have led to increasing insanity. Life has no meaning, there is no joy, there is no faith, there is no reality. Everyone seems 'happy', but they don't feel that way, they don't reason from that perspective, they don't love others.”

Erich Fromm was a democratic socialist who, in The Sane Society, harshly criticized both Western capitalism and the bastardization of communism in the then existing Soviet Union: “both are completely vulgar materialists in their outlook… they form no more than cogs in a machine that has to work well.”

If a society is organized solely around capital and the accumulation of material goods – in other words, it cultivates shit – it is no surprise that it can be a toxic, unhealthy environment that creates sick families. Either it is like this or the family rebels against such an environment. The professional and more polite term for all this shit is dysfunctional. As a family becomes dysfunctional, it will exist without love. In the absence of loving bonds, only transactional bonds remain in which family members narcissistically satisfy their needs for attention, security and power through mutual objectification and manipulation.

Karpman's drama triangle

Fifty years ago, there were leading psychiatrists who focused on these dysfunctional mutual objectifications and manipulations. Today, this information may surprise young critical thinkers, because what they only see are psychiatrists who think of themselves as prominent people, but who act as prostitutes for pharmaceutical companies. Behold, pseudoscientific theories about mental illnesses are pouring out of their mouths, which aim to maintain the status quo Social. To do this, they attribute emotional suffering and behavioral disorders to non-existent biological-chemical defects in the individuals themselves, instead of judging them as social evils to be challenged.

Fifty years ago, there were well-known psychiatrists—including Eric Berne, Murray Bowen, Nathan Ackerman, Salvador Minuchin, Don Jackson, and Stephen Karpman—who observed interactions and transactions in families and other groups, distinguishing between narcissistic bonds and romantic bonds.

The drama triangle, described by Stephen Karpman in 1968, depicts a destructive interactional drama that occurs in dysfunctional families and other groups lacking mutual love. The “actors” of the drama triangle play different roles, but they are all narcissists committed to objectifying and manipulating others, aiming to selfishly satisfy their needs.

The actors play three different roles: the stalker, the victim and the rescuer; however, their selfish lives are hidden or shown openly. The same person may take on a different role when their needs are not met. So, for example, victims and rescuers who cannot have their needs met routinely turn and become persecutors.

Donald Trump's wicked genius – akin to Hitler's wicked genius – is that he can dramatically project all three of these sick roles in rotation. And this works magnetically for the damaged individual who is stuck in one of these roles and aspiring to another. For this individual, this drama is not seen as drama, but as reality – a reality in which objectification and manipulation are the only ways to get his needs met.

The role of stalker: The bully in this drama is sometimes called the villain or the bully. When things go wrong for themselves or others, the persecutor likes to blame and humiliate others for their uselessness, stupidity, and weakness. Stalkers are not responsible for anything bad that happens to themselves or others. They make it clear that the opinions of others are worthless, as only they know who is to blame and why that other person is to blame.

Persecutors satisfy their need for power by always choosing a pathetic victim to beat or take advantage of. In clinical practice, a stereotypical persecutor role may be played by parents or spouses of destructive/self-destructive drug addicts; the persecutor maintains a bond with this victim, sustaining substance abuse, but also causing humiliation.

It is regularly seen how Donald Trump enjoys the role of persecutor, whether by cursing his opponents or attacking anyone who wavers in maintaining total loyalty to him. By unabashedly enjoying this persecutor role, he magnetically connects with millions of Americans who are ashamed of their victim role and long to be persecutors, even if they are also ashamed of that role.

The role of victim: victims demand in a manipulative way – aggressively and/or passively-aggressively – the rescue of others. The victims' objective is to convince others of the unfair treatment received by the world, including family and society. Behold, the latter are to blame for their misery and their failures. Victims take no responsibility for their lives and pressure others to rescue them, routinely trying to blame others. In clinical practice, a stereotypical victim role is played by users of toxic substances. They attribute their destructive and self-destructive behaviors to the persecution they suffer from the world; Therefore, they try to manipulate others into coming to rescue them.

Donald Trump puts himself in the position of a victim in many ways – he screams that an election was stolen from him and that now an unfair justice system wants to take him out of the game. By shamelessly playing this role, he magnetically connects with millions of Americans who are ashamed of their victim role.

The rescuer's selfish motivations are more covert than those of the other participants in the drama, but the rescuer is as narcissistic as the persecutor and the victim. First responders – unlike caring, loving coaches or teachers – are not truly committed to helping other people. In fact, stereotypical rescuers need victims to depend on them so that their needs for control and attention are met.

First responders also meet their status needs when they are seen as heroes. Now, this provides the rescuer with a savior identification, making him deeply dependent on a helpless victim so that he can obtain that identity. In clinical practice, a stereotypical rescuer role is also played by parents or spouses of destructive/self-destructive drug addicts. Because, such rescuers allow these victims to remain in this role, keeping them financially and psychologically dependent on them.

Donald Trump also relishes the role of savior and hero: he promises to “make America great again.” Thus, he orders the construction of an immense wall to save the United States from the Latin invaders; he talks tough to the bad Chinese who steal American jobs; Furthermore, he peremptorily asserts that he will save real Americans from the dreaded liberals. By shamelessly playing the role of savior of the homeland, Donald Trump magnetically connects with victims who desperately yearn to become a savior hero himself.

Donald Trump's perverse talent consists – it must be repeated – in simultaneously projecting the roles of persecutor, victim and savior – the unholy trinity that occurs in dysfunctional and loveless families and societies. Donald Trump's shameless embodiment of this unholy trinity and his shameless objectification and manipulation of others make him irresistible to those ashamed of their own darkness.

Donald Trump's great luck is to appear on the scene when American society has become so sick that playing such “drama triangle” roles does not imply a loss of social status. In the 1960s, American society was sick enough to elect lying presidents, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon; however, at that time American society was not yet so sick as to worship victims and persecutors.

Thus, after his presidential defeat in 1960, Richard Nixon began to believe that an electoral victory had been stolen from him (a belief similar to that of Donald Trump, which at that time had at least some justification). However, he expressed his victimization only in private, knowing full well that public victimization at that time would end his political career.

Actor Richard Nixon would only openly present himself as a victim when he began to believe that his political career was over and that he had nothing left to lose. Now, this occurred when he lost the election, in 1962, for governor of California. Then, at a press conference, he famously commented, “Now, you no longer have a Nixon to kick; because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.” In 1962, Richard Nixon's victimhood performance was seen by much of the public as pathetic, ignoble, and inhumane. However, since then, times have clearly changed.

Do you want it to be even darker?

In October 2016, shortly before the death of singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and the election of Donald Trump as president, his album was released You Want It Darker. Under the album title, You Want It Darker, Leonard begins his song like this:

If you're the drug dealer, I'm out of the game.
If you are the healer, it means I am broken and lame.
If you are the glory then mine must be the shame
If you want it to be darker,
We will put out the flame

If everything seems darker now, maybe it's because I was too exaggerated, maybe, also, because I lost my good manners. See, however: in The Mass Psychology of Trumpism, social psychologist Dan P. McAdams, author of The Strange Case of Donald J. Trump (2020), fearlessly stated: “my argument, as strange as it may seem, is that the lasting attraction exercised by Donald Trump among broad masses stems from the perception – which is his, but also that of his followers – that he does not He’s quite a person.”

Why is it that a real person – a human being capable of loving relationships – now makes many Americans uncomfortable? Is this because American society has become more inhumane? Does this appear to be possible because it is now strongly governed by objectifications and manipulations? Is this why a growing number of Americans now feel obligated to worship a non-person?

Dan McAdams reminds us that the “victim-persecutor-rescuer” mutant archetype is found in Satan, known as a mythological character who is capable of manipulating people to the point that they begin to worship him: “A malignant narcissism rages at the core of the personality of Satan. Cast out of heaven because of his domineering pride, Satan wants to be God. He resents the fact that he is not God. He therefore insists that his supreme worth entitles him to privileges that no one else should enjoy, even as he upholds his reign as sovereign of the mortal world. Totally self-centered, cruel, vindictive and devoid of compassion and empathy, Satan, however, possesses a very substantial charisma and charm. Completely contractual in his approach to interpersonal relationships, he perfected the art of business. In Luke's Gospel, Satan tries to attract Jesus to the entourage of his flatterers by offering him earthly powers and riches: “if you worship me, everything will be yours”.

Dan McAdams' portrayal of Satan bears another uncanny resemblance to Donald Trump: "He is untroubled by a complex inner life, by doubts, ambivalences, and moral dilemmas, which routinely cross the consciousness of mature humans." All those who feel ashamed for having humanity consider it “weakness” to take marital fidelity, friendship, civility and human decency seriously. Thus, Donald Trump, who is irritated by these “weaknesses”, can be adored by the embarrassed.

Donald Trump sees himself as different from other humans, highlights Dan McAdams: “He has often compared himself to a superhero. He described himself as a 'steady genius' who never made a mistake.” Donald Trump's belief in himself is also the belief that his worshipers have in him. They see the dramatic triangle as the essence of life itself because they live it every day. Therefore, they always see themselves as victims who need a persecutor/savior, a superhero as such, to save them.

Escaping the drama triangle

Psychotherapists routinely see clients who report depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other emotional distress, as well as behavioral disorders; Not all, but many of these clients grew up in a family in which the dramatic triangle presented prevails. Perhaps, they naively entered this drama through an abusive relationship. Conscientious therapists view the emotional distress and behavioral disturbances of such clients not as “symptoms” of “mental illnesses” that are innate to them, but as warnings of the reality that they are being threatened by participating in an unhealthy drama.

Good, socially useful therapy begins with the client gaining awareness of his or her role and that of others in this drama. Therapy then allows the client to gain strength to escape this unhealthy game. It is helpful for some clients to discover that there are alternatives to the “up” and “down” roles inherent in the drama triangle. One of these alternatives is the empowerment dynamic created by David Emerald.

In this author's alternative of loving empowerment, instead of playing the role of victim, the patient is encouraged to become a creator (or a problem solver). In other words, someone who sees life's challenges as problems that drive learning and lead to the discovery of solutions – the biggest rule says that you need to focus on finding solutions.

The alternative to the persecutor is the challenger (or truth-teller) who, instead of intimidating and humiliating, lovingly facilitates others to see crucial realities. And the rescuer is encouraged to become a teacher who, rather than allowing a victim to become dependent, sees others as capable of solving their own problems, helping them through questions rather than lectures to examine goals and whether. Focus on the consequences of your choices.

However, if a client appears and is involved in a given drama triangle – for example, as a victim – the therapist needs to be very talented. But he cannot also assume the alternative conditions of this disease, that is, he cannot become a persecutor or a rescuer. Behold, one remains sick when one chooses any of the three roles in the dramatic triangle.

It is difficult to predict what will happen in North American society. As noted at the beginning of this article, only a small minority of those millions of Americans who are horrified by Donald Trump and his worshipers recognize this as symptoms of a sick society. Only a small minority see that the increasing alienation and automation in American society, in the words of Erich Fromm, “leads to increasing insanity.” There are few who see that “life like this has no meaning”, that there is no joy, that there is no faith, that there is no good reality. Everyone seems 'happy', but they don't feel, they don't reason, they don't love.”

Insane societies, devoid of reason and love, submit to authoritarians and their henchmen, who can be quite intelligent. However, even if they are obtuse, they may be more or less capable of causing great damage. In the past, Americans, at least relative to Europeans, have been relatively luckier in this regard. But it's insane to believe that this luck will last forever.

*Bruce E. Levine is a clinical psychologist. Author, among other books, of A profession without reason: the crisis of contemporary psychiatry (AK Press).

Translation: Eleutério F. s. Meadow.

Originally published on the portal counter punch.


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