Friday, February 07, 2020

President Trump is well-versed in “projection” as a dark art of illiberal and anti-democratic rhetoric

I thought to share the following material because President Trump so routinely exemplifies “projection” in a pathological sense (given his megalomaniacal narcissism). The most recent instance of this occurred yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast in which he indulged in his penchant for rambling, disjointed, and angry diatribes (another ‘stream-of-consciousness monologue’), apologizing to his family “for having to go through a phony, rotten deal by some evil and sick people,” namely, Democratic members of Congress and all those who assisted them in his impeachment. As the article in today’s Los Angeles Times notes, Trump “veered from sarcasm to scorn,” “toggl[ing] between brash triumphalism and maudlin self-pity, at times vindictive and vulgar, blithely attacking Democrats and basking in ovations from scores of Republican lawmakers, aides and political allies who crowded into the East Room of the White House.” 

Here are a couple of definitions of “projection” from dictionaries for psychoanalysis:

Projection (it has a slightly different meaning in Kleinian thought with the notion of ‘projective identification’)—“A mental process whereby a personally unacceptable impulse or idea is attributed to the external world. As a result of this defensive process, one’s own interests and desires are perceived as if they belong to others, or one’s own mental experience may be mistaken for consensual reality. The ideas or feelings that a person cannot tolerate may unconsciously undergo a transformation before they are projected, as is often the case in paranoid projection.”  [….] Projection is arguably “ubiquitous in both normative and pathological states. The difference lies in the degree to which one believes in the validity of the projection as one’s idea or another’s, that is, in one’s capacity for reality testing.” 

Projection—“A mental operation by which feelings and desires that a subject rejects or refuses to recognise are treated as if they emanate from within another individual. It is a defensive operation in that the subject is able to disavow unacceptable affects and wishes. Projection figures prominently in, for example, racist attitudes, where disavowed ideas are attached to some hated group; in paranoia, where self-criticism is experienced as reproach from others, and in phobias, where some internal danger is felt to be emanating from an external source, which can then be avoided to produce a greater sense of safety.”

For more extensive treatments of and elaboration upon this fundamental Freudian concept, please see:
  • Laplanche, Jean and Jean-Bertrand Pontalis (Donald Nicholson-Smith, trans.) The Language of Psychoanalysis (Karnac Books, 1988/first published in 1973 by Hogarth Press).
  • Moore, Burness E. and Bernard D. Fine, eds. Psychoanalysis: The Major Concepts (Yale University Press, 1995). See the word in the index, as it is not the subject of any one chapter topic.
  • Spillius, Elizabeth Bott, et al. The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought (Routledge, 2011/based on R.D. Hinshelwood’s A Dictionary of Kleinian Thought, 2nd, 1991).


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