Sunday, October 16, 2016

Burning Down the House: Trump, Degradation Ceremonies, and Narcissistic Rage

A person will not choose less behavior potential over more.  Peter Ossorio, Place

If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.  Matthew 18:9

A group is impulsive, changeable, and irritable. It is led almost exclusively by the unconscious.  Sigmund Freud agreeing with Gustave Le Bon, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego

Narcissistic rage is characterized by the relentless and ruthless need to exact revenge and rectify a perceived injustice, accompanied or proceeded by intense shame or humiliation.  Auchincloss and Samberg, Psychoanalytic Terms and Concepts

"Blinded by Medieval Vampire"  Ashley Sinclair

The great analyst of narcissism, Heinz Kohut, quoted Matthew to describe the intensity of rage against a self that sees its fall.  I'm going to use it another way: The urge to destroy the witness of one's humiliation and the denouncer who pointed out the awful deed.        

We're watching the rise and expected defeat of a grandiose narcissist for the Presidency of the United States claim he's being cheated, denying what should evoke shame and humiliation. Apparently immune to mature guilt, Trump's entitled and thin-skinned grandiosity cannot tolerate the insult of being seen for what it is: a compensation for God knows what. Here is a man who has mostly gotten away with it. But what will happen when he doesn't?  And what will happen with his most vulnerable supporters, folk without advantage who've been taken along on his ride, identifying with his promise of greatness and revenge? For many of them, Trump shouting his free associations tells it like it is and evocatively gives voice to their understandable but suppressed desire for vengeance. Justified with grievance, inflamed by betrayal, what will his base do with their frustration when he loses and they've been told the election was rigged? Impotent to redress real social and economic problems, will they seek satisfaction in the spasm of the mob? Trump is inviting this.

We are watching the spectacle of Degradation Ceremonies played out across the American community. Harold Garfinkel described the ritual of the degradation ceremony as involving a denouncer, witness, and perpetrator. The denouncer and witness present themselves as community members in good standing, represent the community's values, and indicate that the perpetrator's actions are both a violation of those values and a true reflection of character not to be explained away or otherwise excused. The effective degradation demonstrates that in some significant way the perpetrator is not one of us. From where I stand, Trump is a perpetrator that deserves a degradation ceremony. 

There are various ways a perpetrator can regain good standing in the community or undo their degradation.  The normal path to regain status is repentance and reparation but that requires authentic guilt. There are darker options: in reprisal, the degraded can attempt to discredit the denouncer, blind the witness, or blow the whole thing up.  

Regardless of merit, a degradation ceremony can be effective or ineffective, accepted or rejected.  And don't forget that the actions one community finds degrading, another may affirm. Turning the table on his denouncers, a charismatic perpetrator like Trump may attempt to change the community's acceptable values or remain within the crowd, now organized, of those who already value what others despise. Here the perpetrator becomes the denouncer and Trump's base the witness. A Trump media platform and a third party would serve this goal.

When this election ends, there's going to be a large population of painfully insulted, angry, and betrayed people. And their Leader who needs adulation to compensate for injured pride.  Trump will want someone to degrade to feel whole. His crowd will want to direct their rage, and Trump has been pointing the targets out.

Continued in November's The Man in the High Tower....

Dana Milbank writing in the The Washington Post added  Trump Can't Just Be Defeated. He Must Be Humiliated.

On Trump's vulnerability to humiliation: What Drives Donald Trump? Fear of Losing Status, Tapes Show

Trump is vulnerable to Degradation Ceremonies and this suggests he will have profound reason to undo humiliation by establishing a media platform and perhaps a third party. He needs to keep admiring attention. And violence committed in his name, vengeance for his "stolen election" would also serve this narcissist's grandiosity. Where Trump support remains a large part of a population, support that isn't fundamentally anti-Clinton but instead an identification with Trump's racist and ultra nationalist rants, targeted violence is something to worry about.

Trump will not admit defeat if he can claim he was robbed. From the 10/16/16 NYTimes on Trump's claim that the election is rigged.

This from the Washington Post: Trump supporters are talking about civil war.  Could a loss provide the spark?

Earlier I wrote about Degradation Ceremonies in Everyday Life.

And on what turns an American Conservative into a reactionary: A Note on American Reactionary Politics.


  1. What's in a name? Trump's personal historical arc as the outsider has made him into the ultimate accreditor of himself. As a good ol' narcissist he recognizes himself as the only community status assigner, so ,no matter what, he is immune to degradation- or at least he claims to be immune. What anti Trump voters are stumped by is the fact so many people find him appealing. They criticize Trump as having no substance beyond bluster and demonstrating arguably incompetence or at least questionable competence as a legitimate businessman. The best analyses recognize "The Donald" as a master huckster, Ad man ("Mad Man") whose status does not depend on accomplishment but depends on having a certain eligibility with or without the necessary competence. Appropriately his businesses have devolved into his "name" only. He sells his name but carries no risk or responsibility for the building or businesses adorned with "Trump". Quite a gig if you can get it! Of course, this is a kind of status with a kind of competence required to act successfully on that status, but it does sound like Pete's image of the two mayors- the one who wants to do what mayors do and the one who just wants to be mayor, i.e. in name only.

  2. I am, rather, reminded of John Wilkes Booth's pronouncements about the end of the Civil War: "Lying wide awake in his bed at the National Hotel, he wrote his mother that all was well, but that he was "in haste". In his diary, he wrote that "Our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done"". How many Booths will he breed?