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There is no cult of Trump

Author’s note: I could not write this post until after Trump was defeated; I’m not sure why. But he will be with us in one form or another for some time.

There is no cult of Trump.  He is a skilled politician who allows others to share in his narcissism and his rage.  To suggest that Trump has a cult-like following suggests that his appeal is extraordinary in some way.  It’s not.  Trump is an extremely clever politician, adept at manipulating nativism, racism, and rage.  He gives voice to what is already out there.  To treat Trump as a cult leader risks mystifying the appeal of authoritarian leaders.

What’s this have to do with PTSD?

Submerged deep inside the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is a category that designates the victims of cults, labeled Other Specified Dissociative Disorders, 300.15.

Identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion: Individuals who have been subjected to intense coercive persuasion . . . by sects/cults . . . may present with prolonged changes in, or conscious questions of, their identity.

In The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 35 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, Jennifer Panning describes what she calls “Trump Anxiety Disorder,” a “unique postelection anxiety syndrome that has emerged as a result of the Trump presidency.”  It is characterized by “increased worry, obsessive thought patterns, muscle tension and obsessive preoccupation with the news.” (p 229)  In the same volume, Betty Tang (p 215) writes of the “parallels between the anxiety reactions suffered by increasing numbers of concerned Americans and the symptoms of PTSD.”

Certainly, there is/was much to worry about with Trump as President; indeed, as long as he remains on the national stage.  However, to refer to “PTSD-like symptoms” that afflict not only soldiers and other victims of terrible trauma, “but many of the rest of us as well” (Tang, p 215), risks trivializing PTSD and misunderstanding Trump.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to look at Trump from a psychological and psychoanalytic perspective.  On the other hand, looking at Trump from only this perspective risks ignoring the power of ordinary politics to exploit our anger and fear.

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