Sunday, April 1, 2018
Donald Trump’s Oedipal Complex
Having commented month’s ago on Trump’s clearly exemplifying a narcissistic personality disorder, I turn now to reviewing his equally-disturbing, and highly active, Oedipal Complex.
The Oedipal Complex is often misunderstood.
Falsely interpreted as meaning children wish to literally have sex with their opposite-gendered parent, the Oedipal complex really refers to the transition from infancy to adulthood.
Infants tend to develop dyadic, that is, intensive two-person relationships with their caregivers. They may bond most with mother; alternatively, they may bond most with father or with another caregiver. Bizarrely, Trump seems to have bonded most with his predecessor in the White House.
Babies bask in the glow of feeling the only apple in their caregivers’ eyes. The Oedipal complex, roughly speaking, consists of the transition from this immersive, one-on-one experience, gradually, over time, into comfort with living in broader interpersonal contexts. A gradual weaning occurs during which the infant, and then the toddler, slowly, painfully realizes the presence of others beyond the blissful sphere of the initial party of two.
After the destruction of the illusion of perfect two-ness, children gradually adapt to configurations of three, four, or more others. They become part of a family, part of larger groups, and ultimately members of society. The loss of that exclusive love is immeasurable; some, like psychoanalyst and philosopher Jacques Lacan, think we spend the rest of our lives re-seeking it. In any event, maturity consists, at least in part, of relinquishing that amazing two-ness.
For some children carelessly weaned, the realization can be terrifying; for others, it is more gentle. For Trump, no transition appears to have occurred. He seems entirely obsessed with the competition with Father Obama.
The use of the one mythological metaphor of the Oedipal Complex has many limits, particularly its tragic arc and its inherent sexism. Nonetheless, it offers one archetypal view of this universal developmental transition.
Validating his failure to navigate such a transition, consider Trump’s remarkable behavior in his first year of office. He viewed Obama as a father figure who he must attack.
In the past year, Trump has almost literally undone Obama’s achievements one-by-one. These include:
- Pulling the country out of the Paris Climate Accord which Obama helped to craft;
- Actively contemplating withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal;
- Gutting Obama’s Affordable Care Act;
- Attempting to ban believers in a specific religion, namely Islam, from entering the country.
The only independent action—free of his unresolved competition with Obama-the-father—were the pardons issued to two turkeys during last year’s Thanksgiving.
Even if Trump intended the Obama reference as a joke, it remains 100 percent true that he is obsessed with the former president.
How caught up in a destructive, Oedipal enactment must one be to literally reference your father, namely Obama, in pardoning two turkeys?
We can find some comfort, however feeble, in Trump’s inability to undo that one, tiny aspect of President Obama’s legacy. Dumb though it may be, undoing the pardons remained firmly out of his grasp.
Obviously the Oedipal Complex is a metaphor. Long ago, it was replaced by many other ways to view the transition from childhood to adulthood. It continues, nonetheless, to offer one way to describe the transition.
How sad that our country’s fate, and our reputation around the world, lies in the hands of a child who cannot transcend his preoccupation with his “father” and develop his own identity.
Instead, and now surrounded by a nearly complete set of sycophants (with John Bolton only the latest), we can anticipate only more immature, impulsive, and self-centered actions.
We can only hope that Trump’s infantile behavior does not drag down the rest of humanity with him.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP