My preparations for Monday’s lecture are now complete, with 24” x 36” show-and-tell sheets on which – gasp – little equations are displayed. [This is where I lose my burgeoning audience.] I thought, therefore, that I would take a few moments to comment on the White House scandal involving Chief of Staff John Kelly’s second in command and right hand man Rob Porter. Porter is a tall, handsome upper class guy, a graduate of Harvard, a Rhodes Scholar, a former aide to Senator Orrin Hatch, a Mormon, the current lover of White House Chief of Communications Hope Hicks and, it turns out, a serial wife beater. [You can’t make this stuff up.] I do not care about Porter, who has now joined the lengthening trail of White House staff who have quit or been fired. What interests me is Kelly, and more particularly the talking head commentary on Kelly, which strikes me as exhibiting an important misunderstanding.
Kelly initially responded to the public revelation that Porter’s two former wives had both accused him of serious physical and emotional abuse by defending Porter as a man of honor and integrity. He stuck to this praise even after a photo was released showing a really ugly black eye that Porter had given one of his wives. Kelly only backed off a tad after the public outcry became politically embarrassing, at which point he released a statement condemning spousal abuse.
Beetling around, the TV commentariat quickly surfaced a clip in which Kelly was heard musing sadly last Fall that when he was growing up, “Women were sacred and looked upon with great honor.” This was taken to be in conflict with his defense of Porter, and so the talking heads wondered whether working in the White House had caused Kelly to lose his way.
Such comments, I suggest, reveal a deep and actually rather important misunderstanding of the way many men think and feel about women. There is in fact no contradiction at all between Kelly’s extolling of women as sacred and his embrace of a serial wife beater. For reasons that I explored at length in my videotaped lectures on the thought of Sigmund Freud and will therefore not repeat here, little boys and girls handle their ambivalent erotic feelings about their mothers and fathers by a process of splitting. They separate off the love from the hate and split the image of the parent in two, feeling the love toward the positive image of the parent and the hatred toward the negative image, thus allowing them to preserve both feelings intact and uncompromised. If you want familiar examples of this very common psychodynamic process, look at fairy tales: the sainted [but dead] mother whom the little girl reveres and the wicked stepmother whom the same little girl hates; the safely dead father of Jack and the hated ogre who lives at the top of the beanstalk and can be killed with impunity, enabling Jack to live happily with his mother.
Men who put women on pedestals and worship them as sacred are quite likely at the same time to view other women as whores who need to be beaten up. The very same wife who is revered in public, sincerely so, may in private when the man gets angry become the object, also sincerely, of his hatred and violence.
I do not think for a moment that Kelly has been changed by his White House stint. Nor do I think he is a hypocrite. My guess is that he really thinks he reveres women as saints and equally really believes that a fine man like Rob Porter must have good reason to beat his wives.
I would suggest to Hope Hicks that she think twice about her choice of lovers.