“Trump isn’t crazy, but our society is.”
In this cogent analysis of “societal insanity,” begun before the last presidential election, Frances (Psychiatry and Behavioral Science/Duke Univ.; Saving Normal: Reclaiming the Natural Power, Resilience, and Self-Healing Properties of the Brain, 2013, etc.) explores at length the many societal delusions that have given rise to Trump. The delusions include a false belief in fast, easy solutions to complex problems, such as global warming (God will fix it), guns (they don’t kill people; people do), dwindling resources (there will be a high-tech fix), and so on. Exploiting this societal sickness, Trump, a “skilled snake-oil salesman selling quack medicine…won power because he promised quick, phony cures for the…real problems burdening the significant segment of our population left out of the American dream.” Regarding Rust Belt jobs, writes the author, “most of the jobs were lost to automation, not globalization, and sadly they will never return.” In the election campaign, Trump, a lifelong con man, displayed the common touch, while Hillary Clinton proved “remote and inaccessible, assuming she could rest comfortably on her long lead and past laurels.” Frances makes no secret of his deep abhorrence of Trump: “we have placed the future of humanity in the hands of someone indifferent to facts, proud of scientific ignorance, and ready to act deceitfully on whim and spite.” While Trump “doesn’t qualify for a mental disorder…he does present with one of the world’s best documented cases of lifelong failure to mature.” He is “a distillation, mouthpiece, and terrifying living embodiment of all the worst in human nature and societal delusion.” In his final, discursive chapters, Frances envisions the possibility of a rational post-Trump world informed by progressive populism.
This welcome and insightful book joins a small shelf of essential titles—Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land is another—that help explain why and how the Trump presidency happened.