All right now, let us take some deep breaths and relax. This presidential campaign is driving all of us a little bit crazy, and it has not even, technically, begun! If I am going to survive until November, and if you are as well, then we must agree to certain ground rules.
Let me begin with something that Freud taught us. It is not possible to make well-grounded psychiatric judgments about someone who is not one’s patient [an important truth that Freud himself then forgot when he undertook to make such judgments about famous historical figures whom he neither had nor could ever have encountered!] There are several reasons for this caveat. First of all, one can only have available the invaluable products of free association in the setting of a psychoanalytic therapy. And since, as Freud humorously reminded us, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar [rather than a phallic symbol], only through the techniques of the analytic couch do we have access to the symbolic meaning of the manifestations of the unconscious. Second, judgments of psychiatric disorder rely on extremely subtle signs of body language, tone of voice, pacing of speech, facial expressions, and the always complex phenomena of transference and countertransference.
Now, I have never so much as seen in person or been in the same room as the people I have been evaluating and judging, let alone engaged in a therapeutic relationship with any of them [a relationship for which I am not trained.] So quite clearly I am not professionally competent to conclude that Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton [or Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein or Barack Obama or Cedric the Entertainer] is a sociopath or a psychopath or even, if I am using the terms properly, a narcissistic personality.
Therefore, I am going to stop using the powerful [and, in a non-therapeutic context, extremely judgmental] language of psychotherapy, and I suggest that all of you do so as well, unless you are professionally trained and have had access to the person you are discussing.
This does not mean that we must stop making judgments about Trump and Clinton. What else is a political campaign for? We are perfectly at liberty to form considered judgments of their character on which we base predictions about their probable future behavior. To do that is simply to be human. Some of us are good at sizing up people, some of us are not. Every day, we make such judgments and find them either confirmed or disconfirmed by subsequent events. I have been observing Hillary Clinton from afar [and seeing her on television is observing from afar, remember] for many years, and I have been observing Donald Trump for more than a year now [although it seems vastly longer!] I think I have become pretty good at making judgments about public figures and predicting their behavior, but of course my judgments may be wrong and have been in the past.
On the basis of past experience with American politicians [but not, note, with French or Chinese or Russian or Argentinian politicians], I have concluded – to take one example among many – that Hillary Clinton’s embrace of several of Bernie Sanders’ signature policies is a temporary shift to the left to win the nomination and secure her left flank in the general election, rather than a change of her firmly held opinions about policies. I therefore anticipate that if she is elected, neither the fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage nor free public college will be a proposal on which she is willing to expend much political capital. On the basis of my observation of Donald Trump, I have concluded that he has very little ability to control, even for his own benefit, his impulse to lash out at those who have attacked him. I predict, therefore, that in the next three months, he will repeatedly engage in politically unproductive verbal battles with Republicans whose support he could use to win the election. And so forth.
I shall continue to make such judgments, but I shall try to avoid expressing them in the language of psychoanalysis – “narcissistic,” “sociopath,” “psychopath,” and the rest. I think it would be well if we all adopt this course.
Finally, a word of political advice from someone old enough to have seen and engaged in six decades and more of political struggles on the left. Social change is not like brain surgery – a delicate, precise activity in which a single wrong move, however slight, can lead to disaster. Social change is much more like a landslide, with rocks, boulders, bushes, twigs, trees, and great gobbets of dirt rolling down a mountainside. Most of us are pebbles, a few are bushes, and a tiny handful – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, for example – are great trees and huge boulders. What matters most is that you are rolling down the right side of the hill. Social change in a nation of three hundred million and more requires coalitions of vast numbers of people who find a way to make common cause with one another, even if on very important matters they disagree. I think most of the people who visit this blog would be said to be on the left rather than on the right in American politics, although that is certainly not universally true. It would be politically wise for everyone who comments here to treat other commentators with courtesy. Believe me, in the context of contemporary American politics, we are all the good guys!