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Trump is our id, the Left is our super-ego

Freud would not be at all surprised by our current political struggles

21 January 2017

9:00 AM

21 January 2017

9:00 AM

Trump’s inauguration will be loathed by many. While the meltdown of his enemies are too long and varied to document, the ceremony will symbolise one of the worst defeats for traditional feminism. But it should be seen as a penalty for overreach, not as a denial of liberal principles. The victories for women’s rights in the past half century across the Western world are appropriate and extraordinary. Gender relations in both workplaces and family life have been transformed. This is not how it will be painted by large swathes of the prestige media however, heavily populated by radical feminists.

The Saturday pages of the Sydney Morning Herald are a great example, dominated by women like Anne Summers crying foul about the lack of female power. After Trump’s win Summers hypothesised it could only have been ‘internalised misogyny’ that led to so many white women voting against Hillary – gender studies’ speak for ‘stupid’. Journalism was once a profession for working- class men with a nous for words, whereas now it is a job attractive to privileged, white women. In spite of their doubtless capabilities, this steady shift in the make- up of journalists could be an analogy for the Left’s priorities in general.

But to what extent is Trump’s victory a triumph of so called ‘toxic masculinity’, a term of male brutishness in its worst excesses of aggression and sexually predatory behaviour? Or perhaps it is better seen as a major blow for ordinary maleness, stigmatised for decades as some kind of pathology to be steadily diluted in public and occupational life. The leftist movements towards so called gender neutrality were social programs to feminise public spaces by stealth. When transgender bathrooms become a cause célèbre, as they did among urban hipsters, a lurch towards greater sexual certainties seems understandable, embodied by Trump, in his primitive, imperfect glory.

Adam Smith called it animal spirits. Freud referred to it as the ‘id’, the force of our unconscious instincts grounded in fear, aggression and sexuality. If Trump is its manifestation in his unpredictabil-ity and capacity to enrage and disrupt, then his rise marks the possible end of an era during which the Left focused on psychology and authenticity. This came at the expense of economics, not least in no longer demanding secure jobs for the working class.


One of the movement’s traits is that of political correctness or the sacralisation of non-offence, particularly towards groups deemed to be vulnerable. In psychological terms this could be seen as the workings of the super-ego, the annoying, ‘goody two shoes’ voice telling us what is morally appropriate. I hear mine whenever I contemplate a two piece feed at Kentucky Fried Chicken or find my eyes drifting to attractive, young females. It is aided by my field of mental health, as terms like abuse, prejudice and trauma have become increasingly diluted in their definitions. The trend known as ‘concept creep’ is a key contributor to our growing sensitivity to the perception of psychological harm.

Hillary Clinton embodied the over- sensitive, super-ego perfectly, which is why she came across to many as an irritating school teacher disciplining the deplorables. The modern Left was no longer egalitarian, but focused on the meritocratic, opening it to accusations of elitism. It also eschewed the provincial, and viewed traditional masculinity as inherently predatory. Trump’s populism and palpable aggression are the perfect foil.

Likewise, the super-ego as the epitome of the Left explains the sheer intensity and hysteria of Trump’s critics. According to Freud, the super-ego intrudes into our thinking via commands, anxieties and do’s and don’t’s. The Trumpian id instead deals in our repressed suspicions and resentments. His victory is a pointer to how stultified Western political discourse has become in the past two decades, particularly in areas like Islamic extremism, where leaders and authorities go to farcical lengths to minimise offence to Muslims. Chris Kenny wrote in the Australian late last year that the majority of our debates in public occur between the hard Left (depicted in media such as Fairfax or the ABC) and the most controversial figures on the conservative side, such as One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts or Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi. In Freudian terms, this could be translated as clashes occurring between the moralising superego as channelled by the Left with the id-like, instinctual forces as embodied by One Nation. Both err towards the irrational. Meanwhile, the so called rational mediator in Freudian terms, the ego, is sidelined.

This overlaps with the long-standing debate among political strategists whether the electorate is primarily a herd of primitive animals prone to bursts of fear and misled by passions, or whether the majority really are independent and well-informed. American academic and author of Political Freud, Eli Zaretksy, argues if Freud were alive today he would most likely see recent trends as a lurch to the primeval Father, particularly at a time when the original father figure, God, is in decline.

Several of my white, working class patients attracted to resentment-based groups such as Reclaim Australia or the men’s rights movement give histories of fatherlessness, part of the largest genera-tion of young men raised without the regular presence of their biological fathers. Studies of those who voted for Brexit or Trump link such an outlook with broader support for authoritarianism, such as sympathy for the death penalty. Trump best embodies this symbolism of the protective father, from the promise of strengthening security through tighter borders to his forthright manner in dealing with critics and opponents. It is curious such forces in Australia have been captured by a female in Pauline Hanson. Perhaps Australian masculinity is not as traditionally rugged as is often suggested.

But whether Trump’s victory translates into anything concrete for those looking for a better deal for men and boys in areas such as the Family Court or male suicide remains to be seen. Much like with other issues, nobody really knows what Trump’s administration will do. Leaders of the men’s movement in the United States are pleased their views are no longer considered fringe, but are circumspect about its translation into outcomes. One certainty is that the Left’s overreach in the gender wars, exposing progressivism’s foundations in an unconscious, gendered prejudice, has well and truly been pricked.

Tanveer Ahmed’s latest book ‘Fragile Nation’ is out now (Connor Court)

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