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Shrinking the President

The American Psychoanalytic Association gets to work

Just how crazy is Donald Trump? It’s impossible to say. But you, the brave and fearless amateur diagnostician, are determined to find out. You sit the President of the United States down on a nice little chair, and he sprawls there with his edges bloating over the sides and his chin wobbling into his chest, and he talks to you. All the while you try to peer into that puckered little cat’s-anus of a mouth, as it folds itself open and closed—Russiah, Chai-nah, loser, very great, very, very great. It swallows you, binds you in saliva and menace, helpless in full cacoscopic fascination. And then you announce, after a brief dip into the DSM-5, with a behaviorist’s glibness, in a chattering chorus with every other sane person fussing over their own Donald Trump in his own little chair, the exact same thing as everyone else. Isn’t it obvious? Trump has dementia, psychosis, and most of all he has narcissistic personality disorder: grandiosity, “fantasies of infinite success,” resentment, hidden insecurities, “no form of empathy,” case closed. But you’ll never get Trump on your chair, and you’ll never be able to talk to him. All you have is his image, wittering away on a TV screen, because the TV screen is where he’s always lived. You were never analyzing the man, you were watching him on TV. And as you make your notes, you can see your own reflection hover dimly in front of him, grandiose and resentful and insecure.

The problem isn’t just that trying to undermine Trump by branding him with this or that condition turns madness into the worst kind of weapon, that it ends up stigmatizing the people who are actually suffering from mental health problems. It really does, and it’s a genuine problem, but that case has already been made. The more basic problem is this: How do you distinguish the man from the screen? The vectors of Trumpism are all as nebulously unhinged as he is himself. TV news is insane. The internet is insane. The office of the presidency is insane. Trump thunders screaming through a vast hall of mirrors; the world is full of his homunculi. His illness is not his own; it’s a mass social phenomenon, shuddering in the pout of every crooked car salesman, splashing from the flows of capital and media and loneliness, secreted in squelching bursts from a little nub of matter buried eternally in the human brain. He didn’t come to power in January of this year; Trump was inaugurated a hundred thousand years ago on some lost savannah burning under a pitiless, primeval summer and clouded by the long night of consciousness, when the first orangey ape-thing reached out its hands and decided it could wrench down the sun from the sky.

Trump thunders screaming through a vast hall of mirrors; the world is full of his homunculi.

Diagnosing Donald Trump is not a job for psychiatrists, who can only see madness as a deviation from some healthy norm. It might be a job for psychoanalysts. Freudians know that everyday life is marked by the exact same pathological phenomena that constitute madness and that character-traits are only secret psychoses; Lacanians know that the healthy subject is always barred from itself and speaks in words that, in the end, only ever refer back to its fundamental brokenness. Adornoians know that capitalism has turned us all into wriggling nexuses of misery, and the sick only suffer in a distorted form from the profound mutilation that turned the rest of us into conscientious citizens.

In any case, the psychiatric community has recused itself from the job: under the “Goldwater rule,” the American Psychiatric Association forbids its members from trying to diagnose public figures unless they’re actually their patients. Freud, meanwhile, himself put Moses and Hamlet on the couch to work out what was really animating them. But meanwhile, the American Psychoanalytic Association—a group of around 3,500 (presumably) charming oddball shrinks—has decided that, as “the field of psychoanalysis addresses the full spectrum of human behavior,” the rule should not apply, and Trump is fair game.

What could they find in there, buried under pulsing cheeks, deep in the foul interior of Donald Trump’s mouth? What’s really wrong with this man? How can you properly psychoanalyze Donald Trump?

To do it properly, you’d have to begin with Trump’s mother. Trump’s father was bald, and Trump himself may well be too, but he disguises it. First with those bright red caps. Trump senior, a tie-wearing businessman, would have never have been seen dead in one himself, but Trump passes by the actual father for the symbolic father, America, a bearded, lecherous, potent uncle, father-adjacent but eternal—except that America is weak, and must be made great again. Trump resurrects the infantile potency of the oral stages; he, and nobody else, has the phallus. But Trump also covers up his baldness with his own hair, combed delicately in a bright, ephemeral mane. A double effacement of the father. It resembles his mother’s hair, the hair of Mary Anne MacLeod Trump, who—look it up—wore in her later years a vast curling golden-blonde swirl on the top of her head. Trump never managed to enter the symbolic order; his whole life has been spent stuck on Mary’s tit, flowing infinitely into the universe.

Donald Trump shat, and the world came into being.

That’s the oral Trump. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Trump codes his mouth as an anus. It sucks nothing in, because he is impermeable, but splatters itself wildly across the world. Baby Trump never learned when to shit and when not to, and it’s far too late for him now. Watch, in particular, the way he talks about the size of the crowds whenever he talks. They’ll say it wasn’t very big. But it is, it’s enormous, it’s huge. He isn’t talking about his dick; he’s talking about his turds: with the grinning pride of a child who’s just deposited one on the Persian rug—look what I made—and the woundedness of a child who’s learned far too late that other people aren’t as proud as he is. Trump talks through his anus and people come out, millions of them, chanting and cheering in fecal happiness, as proud of him as he is of them. Trump is the king of the turd-people. He is a pre-Oedipal god. As Julia Kristeva notes, the breath by which God breathed life into Adam may well have been a fart. Donald Trump shat, and the world came into being.

But something about Trump resists the usual Freudian progression from mouth to anus to genitals. His body is too shapeless, too overflowing, a smooth space of chaotically distributed intensities, a blasphemous explosion of flesh. He shits from his everywhere. He is a Lovecraftian creature, a Deleuzian creature, saturated with anuses, crowned with a halo of dicks. And his sickness is the sickness of the world. Of course he could never properly go through castration, or identify with the father: he is every streak of poison skidding out from a burning oil well, every dust cloud that billows from the stubble of what was once the rainforest, every crazed whale that heaves itself onto the beaches to stink and rot. He is sickness itself.

The analysis is finished. Donald Trump sprawls in front of me on his chair, with his edges bloating over the sides and his chin wobbling into his chest. And peering in front of his face as he talks to me, someone else.