• Michael Vlahos

Some Informal Fieldwork on Trump Derangement Syndrome

I have been persuaded, increasingly since 16 June 2015, that Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) should in fact be spelled-out with capital letters, as a clinical diagnosis, on medical merits, afflicting BLUE. To say this is not to rule out various RED clinical disorders. Rather, it is simply to affirm the hallmarks of a sui generis form of hysteria. Hysteria was defined, back in 1888, by William Gowers, the pre-eminent Victorian neurologist, as a “morbid state of the nervous system … in which the primary derangement is in the higher cerebral centers, but the functions of the lower centers of the brain … may be secondarily disordered.”

This is a supremely apposite description of TDS , especially in the manifestation of symptoms, and their relationship between the “higher and lower cerebral centers.”

Here is an exemplary exchange on Facebook — a public comment forum — which, in a professional capacity (Anthropology), I deliberately triggered. Consider it a TDS vignette.

A former colleague of mine at an accredited graduate school (MA degree-granting) exclaimed, to no-one in particular:

At 41 percent approval for Trump this late in the game I have no other option than to conclude that a large number of voters are very poorly informed, cognitively impaired, or morally and ethically bankrupt.

So as to elicit more I replied, with professional objective distance — in the manner of “But how do you really feel?” I was not disappointed:

What should we call people who vote for a racist, tax-dodging, criminal who cuts taxes for the wealthiest, drives up the budget deficit, undermines our civil liberties, fails to protect the nation against COVID, guts environmental regulations, and allies with Putin who offers bounties on America soldiers?

The original, subconscious, and yet irresistible appeal of TDS was its assurance of a series of moral dispensations. Mr. and Ms. BLUE Yuppie — confronted by the inexplicable election victory of RED, and the repudiation of once true-BLUE working class constituents — had “good news” after all: They, themselves, were not to blame at all. Instead, this was devil’s work: Of the wizard, the schemer, master of the dark arts, the Evil One. This is the first dispensation.

Going further, rather than faulting themselves for dismissing and dissing their own bedrock voting bloc, they could hold close their second dispensation: The very act of acclaiming Orange Man, made once-BLUE white working class, all-in apostate. Followers of the Evil One are themselves evil, right? Or as another former colleague responded:

These were not people voting because they somehow felt insulted by intellectuals. They are a TV addled, racially resentful and aggressively uncivic [sic] group of people who wanted to be entertained with bread and circuses … the people who enthusiastically supported Trump, and who enthusiastically support him now, have a basic problem of a defective moral compass. Far worse than calling them deplorable is patronizing them by making up excuses for why they are bad citizens. We are a nation riven by petty *ressentiment* and we should stop making excuses for it.

This old colleague is a well-known commentator in marquee media outlets, as his trotting out ressentiment shows. Yet it also shows how Yuppie BLUE has found a way to deal with its faults, failure, fragility, and fear — through elegant projection. This colleague is using “ressentiment” correctly: Only on the wrong group.

As used by Friedric Nietzsche, ressentiment is a group or class feeling of weakness, inferiority, and jealousy is alleviated by blaming another group or class for your own misery and angst. This “Othering” works by making the cause of your group’s distress the inferior party, and their visitation of distress on you wholly unjust. Thus, your group is both insulated from the need for objective self-analysis and also encouraged to objectify the Other as evil (their inferiority + the injustice to you).

Are the former yeomen class of BLUE, as Yuppiedom insists, now so deplorable as to represent the full and true guilty party? Are they the pushers of resentiment now tearing the nation apart? Yet seriously, think about it: In the barren lands of coal and fracking, steel mills and lost manufacturing, the grievances of ye olde Yeoman BLUE cut to the bone — with Yuppie globalists wielding the hacksaw. The raw pain of the white working class is not resentiment: It is real.

In revealing contrast, actual resentiment seems to reside almost wholly within Yuppie BLUE. My two former colleagues offer two cris de coeur of boiling jealousy and rage of a ruling class thwarted by a populist — Of the People? — moment that for them was never supposed to happen.

Keep in mind, no American in higher social strata would ever — at least since 1929 — dare to call regular American citizens as do these high-functioning professors: As primitive, savage, and almost sub-human. This is the third dispensation of TDS: It provides an approved venue for vocalizing open hatred and contempt of the “lower orders” — license to indulge indecent passions in a state of utter righteousness.

Hence, if the second dispensation permits assigning official apostasy to millions of citizens — for supporting the Evil One — the third dispensation encourages emotional venting that is not only therapeutic, but also a theologically correct, messaging that you are among the Virtuous, and one “Of The Body.”

Such bilious yet joyous venting indeed underscores the Victorian apt-apposite in William Gowers definition of hysteria: A “morbid state of the nervous system … in which the primary derangement is in the higher cerebral centers, but the functions of the lower centers of the brain … may be secondarily disordered.”

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