How the American id has unmasked itself and what it means for your weekend

Photo: Eric Thayer, The New York Times

Today, dear readers, we will combine two of the most popular features of this blog: Drumpf Chronicles Quote of The Day and yours truly Important Musings on Psychopathology (IMP), wrapped in an end-of-the-week rant.

First, the quote, from Trump’s court deposition during a lawsuit he filed against Tim O’Brien, author of an extensively researched book TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald; the National Review  writer, Ian Tuttle, calls this exchange, aptly, “a crystallization of the Trump ethos:”

Q: Now, Mr. Trump, have you always been completely truthful in your public statements about your net worth of properties?

A: I try.

Q: Have you ever not been truthful?

A: My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings, but I try.

Q: Let me just understand that a little bit. Let’s talk about net worth for a second. You said that the net worth goes up and down based upon your own feelings?

A: Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling. So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.

Q: When you publicly state what you’re worth, what do you base that number on?

A: I would say it’s my general attitude at the time that the question may be asked. And as I say, it varies.

We talked previously about a narcissistic psychopath’s (NP) disregard for shared human reality with its pesky facts and values which impose healthy inhibitions on those who possess a conscience.

The conscience-free NP is not constrained by such inhibitions. Because of that, he can create reality as it suits his needs at the moment, resulting in its grandiosely or otherwise distorted version that is breathtakingly and laughably false, but for an NP is as real as can be. He can make up alter egos with different names to interact in an official capacity with his critics, but it will not seem in any way strange to him, nor something he should explain to anyone. He can repeat with a straight face that there is no violence at his rallies; or, when no longer able to deny it, will insist that he and his people are the ones being attacked, in spite of the evidence proving otherwise; but he is not lying in the sense of knowingly and purposely twisting the truth.

The NP does not see what the rest of us see and does not value what most of us do. Not having a conscience makes him blissfully free to fly as high as it pleases him in the unreality of his own creation. And if you try to bring him down to Earth, by confronting him with the lack of evidence for his confabulations or pinning him down on some (ah, so irrelevant) detail, he will have a ready and plausible — to him — explanation. In any case, he will not be perturbed by such minor matters, and will accuse you of being petty or nasty or worse for pestering him. Or, better yet, sue you — one of NP’s favorite activities.

This bizarre and infuriating behavior comes across as manipulative — and it is — but the manipulation is not (always) conscious. It is just that NP’s reality is really different from that of the rest of us. His cognitive apparatus is primed to filter and distort data according to his feelings. We all do this to some, often large extent; but the pathology of character disorders like NP lies in the pervasiveness and intractability of those distortions, even in the face of cold, hard facts. Especially in the face of cold, hard facts. The distortions are what makes the NP’s peculiar — and dangerous — character.

It is not, however, as though Trump’s understanding of himself and the world is entirely fact-free. There are three major facts — pillars of Truth According to Trump — around which his whole reality is organized:

  1. I am great.
  2. People unfairly malign me.
  3. I will show them (= they will pay).

Those are not just beliefs, mind you — they are facts etched deep in the man’s psyche, and they evoke corresponding emotional states of 1. grandiose pride, 2. sense of victimhood and resentment, 3. desire for revenge, which form the core of his self and inner world.

This is not a self of a healthy human being, obviously.

Trump is not just a textbook case, however — he is the archetype, if there were such, of this peculiar human malady — and more. Watching him in his element — 21st century America — is a dream, or maybe more accurately a nightmare come true for an observer of human nature.

This is because his pathology, and the havoc it wreaks, represent the workings of an almost unadulterated human id writ large. It is the dark matter of human existence, which, when made visible, becomes the stuff of horrors.

According to Freudian psychology, id is the unconscious part of our psyche that contains the primitive and (rightly) repressed impulses driven by our unchecked sexual and aggressive instincts. Their everyday expression is codified in the Christian tradition as well as in popular culture as seven deadly sins. Pride, lust, gluttony, sloth, wrath, greed, and envy? Donald counts them off on his short fingers in a blink, and still has three more left: for ignorance, misogyny, and bad hair.

Id is the realm of omnipotent fantasy of all kinds (violent, sexual, infantile) and wishful thinking, unencumbered by values represented by superego, and facts and reason, the domain of ego. When id takes over, the constraints imposed by the “grown-ups” of our psyche, our ego and superego, no longer apply. Where id rules, we have narcissistic psychopathy — we have Trump — but also his followers, since they too operate on the same level, which is the major reason for their attraction to him.

In normal people, during times of relative peace and prosperity, our rapacious id is subdued. It is tempered by the values and prohibitions of our superego and the realism of our ego, which teaches us, among other things, how to meet our needs without trampling on those of others — for practical, if not moral reasons (i.e., such give-and-take is just easier for everyone).

But when superego is weakened or absent, in individuals as well as in society — which is what happens in times of uncertainty, crisis, or strife — id easily turns ego into its slave and does what it wants.  Psychopathy is a good example, on the level of individual character organization, of what happens when ego becomes the id’s tool, used to meet its primitive goals; while narcissism enshrines id on the throne that the enslaved ego has dutifully prepared for it.

Group- or state-perpetrated brutality, and especially war, is what the unleashed id looks like on a mass scale. In the case of war, the satisfaction of the destructive appetites of our id has to be sanctified by  imperatives of patriotism and other positive-sounding  “values.” It is because we, human beings with some form of a conscience, are squeamish this way: we like to have good and preferably holy reasons for the raping, killing, and pillaging that our id desires. Those reasons are an example of superego in the service of id, i.e., the co-opting (the weak semblances) of the superego’s higher values to justify our most primitive behaviors. It works like a charm, every time.

But Trump’s character does not represent just a triumph of an ordinary human id; true to fashion, his is its spectacular, American version: the biggest, loudest, most amazing id you’ve ever seen. It is tremendous, folks, truly amazing, for it embodies the myths and desires that have made America great (or so we were made to believe). A self-made man, who really isn’t. A rags-to-riches tale that wasn’t. The classic romance story of a boy meets an Eastern European gold-digging girl (then dumps her for a younger domestic gold-digger, and then dumps that one for another younger Eastern European version). The beliefs that greed is good; America’s business is business; winning is not just the most important thing, but everything; and the winner takes all — and then puts his name on top of it in giant gold letters.

In America, we call it success, and we worship it like the deity that it has become. Why, we pay daily homage to the Holy Market in every newscast, and watch its precious health with concern reserved for our most intimate relations. We do so while believing that this is the land of the free — to consume, if you have money, and to be consumed, if you don’t.  It’s all (p)Art of the Deal, everybody knows it, and nobody exemplifies it as well as Trump. He is truly a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

It is America, the home of a snake oil salesman, that invented self-help, reality TV, and WWE, entirely superfluous enterprises fueled by narcissism and psychopathic pursuit of money, in which Trump, a snake oil peddler if there ever was one, eagerly dipped his slightly less than large hands. We had a taste of his dictatorial ambitions in “The Apprentice,” a real life (as far as reality TV qualifies as such) version of “The Hunger Games,” where desperate nobodies let their inner psychopaths fly in order to appease The Donald and curry his favor. He, in turn, took sadistic pleasure in stoking their fears and watching their self-abasement, the same way he stokes and loves to watch violence at his rallies, disavowing any responsibility for it.

This is id at work. This is how NP sows discord: by inflaming the worst impulses in others and watching the results, while gloating and reveling in his power and glory. He cannot help being destructive, as there are no brakes on his id.

This brakelessness endows him with a reverse Midas touch: everything he comes in contact with turns into disaster — relationships, projects, organizations. His compulsion to erect ever grander monuments to his own glory is a way to divert attention, his own and others, from the destruction he sows everywhere around him.

This is what America and the world would most likely look like under President Trump. Not much bread, but enough destructive circuses to keep our id brimming with bloodlust and fear. And while the unwashed masses fight for the ever-diminishing scraps, Trump will fly his well-heeled chums on retreat to Mar-a-Lago to munch on caviar (or meatloaf) and bemoan the crassness of the plebs today.

It is no accident that Trump has risen in this country. Like it or not, psychopathic narcissism and self-delusion it feeds is as American as mass shootings and apple pie. In fact, it is that narcissism, and specifically its frustrated version called aggrieved entitlement, that makes mass shootings as American as apple pie. That very aggrieved entitlement is what drives so many white men to Trump; they see in him an approval and vindication of their id’s desires.

He’s a winner. He’s made billions. He’s dated beautiful women. His wife is a model. That’s not to sniff at. And a lot of people believe he can bring that kind of success to the White House

says Joe the Plumber.

The working and white middle class men, impoverished, marginalized, and feeling emasculated because of women or feminism or blacks or social justice warriors or immigrants or all of the above, revel in the permission that Trump’s rise to power gives them to release their own so far largely constrained narcissistic psychopath, a.k.a alpha male.

It is no surprise, none at all, that the manosphere and neo-Nazis alike are abuzz about Trump’s candidacy. The New World Order is coming, and with it a chance for their revenge on all those who have made their lives miserable. No, not the corporate/banking overlords — those are untouchable idols of the NP’s glory, to be worshipped in his id-driven wet dreams — but the traditional scapegoats: the weak “others.” The collective id of white male spite voters, squelched all these years, is now salivating at the prospect of being unleashed in America under Trump, their payback candidate. They know him, they identify with him, he is one of them. For they, too, firmly believe in the three unassailable facts of the NP’s existence: 1. I am great; 2. People unfairly malign me. 3. I will show them (= they will pay).

Make no mistake, this is not just about jobs and economy, although the rapidly deteriorating situation of the (white, especially) working and middle class provides the necessary conditions for the id’s unmasking. Because those genuinely interested in improving American economy would support a candidate who has a humane program of reversing the staggering inequality in America and who appeals to reason (ego) and values (superego). The kind of hysterical devotion* to The Leader / Father that Trump inspires, the witnessing of which made a veteran GOP propagandist / pollster‘s knees wobble, is very much the work of id.

Listening to Trump’s speeches makes the id involvement apparent. Like any guru worth his weight in clay, he is not saying anything of substance, but latching directly onto people’s fears, prejudices, hatreds, and desires for revenge. It is id-to-id communication, with its trance-like qualities that lull susceptible people — and their number is always greater than you think — into false optimism fed by their most base desires. Like a good guru / savior, he tells them, I know you are hurting; it is not your fault — they are to blame for it. Follow me and I will take your pain away, while vanquishing your oppressors.

It is the magic of those words delivered in an authoritative tone that appeals to id. Empty (and not) promises of revenge, healing, and glory that will follow, work as well for Trump as they do for any political and religious leader. They create a sense of communion and shared purpose which are restorative at the moment, but always destructive in the long run; and they lead people to act in ways they (or some of them at least) would and do find unacceptable once the trance subsides. The slicker — more charismatic, more archetypal, but also more empty of values and id-driven — the guru, the greater his appeal to the masses.

And no one is as archetypal in the collective American mind these days as Trump.

It is then no surprise that when he promises to make America great again, so many believe him, facts be damned. Because no one is as qualified to do it as he is, according to the dictates of the American id. He is, in a way, the American id personified: nobody in the public life exemplifies its psychopathy and narcissism as flamboyantly and successfully as Trump. In the eyes of his supporters, this makes him the long-awaited savior of the nation, embodying in his grandiose and empty mind and bloated body its most notable features. Not surprisingly, in the eyes of his critics, he is the same, minus the savior part.

So while the shocked, shocked pundits are punditing and politicos politicking, the American id, energized by its own manifestations channeled through Trump, flexes its muscles and impatiently waits for a chance to fully assert its rule, as it always does during the days of an empire’s decline.

Lament as we may, Trump was inevitable; if he did not exist (and why wouldn’t he?), the American id would create him at this moment in time out of its bloodlust and the necessity to keep its false dreams alive, so as not expose the dire and unpalatable reality they try to obscure. The id has its privileges, but also duties in a pathocracy.

As to what it all means for your weekend, I don’t know. But I think I may finally watch “The Hunger Games” in its entirety.

*h/t Clare

Edited on 3/26.


28 thoughts on “How the American id has unmasked itself and what it means for your weekend


      Liked by 1 person

      • I ran out of Alka Seltzer once after a night of binge drinking so I dissolved a Republican in a glass of water and drank that instead. Kinda tasted like very, very old bananas and it actually made my stomach feel worse. Point is, stay away from dissolved politicians. Follow a world order that has Alka Seltzer continually available. Your tummy will thank you for it.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Violet.

      Yes, IF.

      There are positives to Trump’s emergence. No more fake politicking as usual, for one — his bully-in-the-china-shop presence has (somewhat at least) stripped the pretense off of some political rituals. It has also made people interested in politics, and sparked a debate about all kinds of important issues, including values (or lack of them).

      This is potentially a transformative moment in American life. Potentially being the key word.


  1. Perfectly written and articulated. A better movie than the Hunger Games is the Japanese movie it’s loosely based on: Battle Royale. This movie is filled with a brutality that much better fits the world of The Donnie, a world of blood lust and hate so great even children become consumed by it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The “American Id” seems to be a consequence of the unrealized and twisted notion of “American exceptionalism.” Not in the sense that American culture spurs individuals towards personal achievement, but that America itself depends on the extravagant material success of the “best and brightest” individuals regardless of how that success is attained. The former vision is generally positive, that people should strive to be the best they can be in their chosen profession or activity. The latter vision twists it into a moral perversion, that the nation is indebted to those shrewd enough to amass great money and power at the expense of everyone else.

    Like today, The Gilded Age saw a perverse twisting of American exceptionalism. But in between these eras, cultural values were much healthier. When I grew up in the 1960s, people generally strove to be skilled doctors, lawyers, engineers, technicians, social workers, public servants, and a whole variety of other occupations. They knew that personal achievement would be rewarding, financially and otherwise. Now, those expectations have been replaced with the realization that only greed, trickery, and aggression can lead to success.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes to all you’ve said, Robert.

      You’ve described the psychopathization of our society, which, I’d argue, is inevitable under rapacious capitalism. When ruthless competition for dwindling resources rules — and in America, it definitely does — this emotional and moral race to the bottom becomes the social standard and an understandable survival strategy.

      American capitalism with its dog-eat-dog, I’ve got mine, screw you ethos is a moral perversion.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “… only greed, trickery, and aggression can lead to success.” These things plus the luck of being born to people who give you a nice, fat trust fund to live off of. Poor ole Donnie was given “only” a million dollars by his pappy to get him started. And get this, the poor, unfortunate hard-working bloke had to….are you ready?…PAY IT BACK!!!! OMG!!! The poor, poor dear! How’d he manage? He truly must be a superior being to have survived such an unbearable hardship.

    Liked by 2 people

      • And he is also mentally disturbed — character disordered — in ways that make him genuinely dangerous if he gains any power.

        Mental health of our candidates / elected officials (and our society) is — or should be — another aspect of this election that looms (or should) large.

        I believe mental health professionals should be sounding alarms left and right about this man’s pathology. Yet apart from some bemused opinions on how “all leaders are narcissists” from a few psychologists with recognizable names, there has been disturbing silence, at least in the mainstream.

        One reason for it is the more or less sound ethical prohibition against diagnosing someone from a distance; another is the litigiousness of those very people who exhibit the most dangerous forms of pathology (hell hath no fury like a narcissistic psychopath publicly exposed).

        But at the very least we should be having a debate about the importance of our leaders’ mental health — and by this I mean the importance of them NOT being psychopaths / malignant narcissists (and not having an occasional bout of depression, which only shows they are decent human beings with a conscience*).

        If we know that our potential president has a personality profile very similar to Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Un, and a few others like them, it is irresponsible to be silent. We should have ways to communicate this without legal risks.

        Of course another question is whether this would make any difference. I suspect that if we announced the above on front pages, paper and cyber, of our major papers / media, scarcely an eyebrow would go up. Because most people kinda sorta know it already, but either don’t think it really is an issue or believe, like his supporters, that his pathology (which they would never believe is pathological) is what makes him great and an effective leader.

        That’s the collusion between Big Psychopath and his little authoritarian / psychopathic supporters. We have seen it before. It never ends well.

        *Edit: That’s the extent of the typical conversation about mental health of politicians, if there is one at all.

        Liked by 1 person

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