What is this Thing called Trump? The Little Man Syndrome in all of us

by Kevin D. Annett

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You’re afraid to look at yourself, little man, afraid of criticism, and afraid to be free, to be candid rather than scheming, to be capable of loving, not like a thief in the night but in broad daylight. You despise yourself, little man, and so you must despise everyone around you. - Wilhelm Reich, Listen, Little Man!

Our enemies marvel at our success. It is really no secret. We won the heart of the anonymous man in the crowd by showing him that, while insignificant and mortal, he is nevertheless part of something that is great and eternal. - Adolf Hitler, 1934

Modern society is dominated at every level of its economy, religion, government and law by a medieval paradigm of the dualistic separation of light from darkness and their projection onto either an external savior or enemy. Only by repossessing their own minds and learning inner freedom can a people actually be free. - Erich Fromm


Like all projections, we either hate him or love him. For a third of Americans he’s everything they’ve always wanted to be: filthy rich, on the top of the heap, answerable to no-one. To another third he’s an even more horrid version of Two Tonque Richard Nixon, risen from the nation’s worst nightmare to corrupt and destroy the Republic once and for all. Regardless, neither camp seems capable of ignoring Donald Trump for the simple reason that he is a mirror.

In 1857, America’s bard Walt Whitman reminded us,

O I see flashing that this America is only you and me,

Its power, weapons, testimony are you and me,

Its crimes, lies, thefts, defections are you and me,

Its Congress and President are you and me …

Past, present, future, are you and me.

Whatever he is, Donald and what he represents has emerged from out of America and some unrelieved longing among the often poor and struggling people who gave to him their vote and their authority. I call him Donald because behind his mask of wealth and pretense that is all who he is, a man not a mask, and a desperate man who has become lost in his own psychosis the higher he climbs in the world. Donald: the compulsively deceptive little guy who has to be the big boss over everyone, who can never be wrong about anything, and who bears all the behavioral signs of an untreated narcissistic sociopath.

Insanity in high office, of course, is not unique to Donald Trump but is rather engendered and required by the job. Pathological liars are the ones who are the best adapted people to run corporations, churches and governments. And so Donald’s sickness is really the sickness of the entire system.

In short, the issue is not really about Donald or whatever other latest figurehead embodies for us our unresolved longings and torments. The issue is about us, and why we keep handing over our power and even our identities to our own oppressors.

Some psychologists have called the problem the “Little Man (and Woman) Syndrome”. But I prefer not to hang the plant of theory too far above the soil of experience. Whatever its appellation, we all witness the syndrome every day in those around us and in ourselves. It’s the principle of Deferred Identity that – or so we are told – prevents a complex society from collapsing under the stress of millions of unrestrained egos. We become, to quote a street buddy of mine, “Prisoners in somebody else’s mind”.

To live together in society we must suppress all of our natural inclinations and become molded into people we are not. This makes every citizen a functional neurotic: a frustrated but trapped slave who is estranged from his own nature. And what relief can such neurosis seek except through the medium of another person who does not seem to be as trapped: a “great man” who is mistakenly believed to have the power to express and achieve what the slave cannot and dare not.

I run smack dab into that slave whenever anyone writes to me about our freedom campaign and the common law court movement, and meekly asks me, “What can I do to help?”. Instead of telling them what to do I’ve started writing back to such people, “I don’t know, what can you do to help?”.

In a way, my Socratic response is a pointless question, since if the inquirers knew the answer they wouldn’t be asking me to tell them what to do. But by denying them my own answer I hope to prod them into looking at their own words and inclinations: to gaze into the mirror that holds much more than simply an answer to their plea.

The trouble with slaves, as the ex-bondsman Frederick Douglas pointed out, is that they have surrendered all moral responsibility. They are responsible for nothing, really, except to obey someone else. And with that loss of the capacity to judge and decide things for oneself comes an even more abject mental servitude that defies all reason and proof presented to it. The slave cannot logically reason, for thinking for oneself requires the inner freedom to do so. The slave can think only habitually and irrationally, according to fear, prejudice and the superstitions foisted on him by his masters.

The kind of massive unreasoning of the Little Man who is cut off from himself and his inborn capacity to be free is rampant everywhere on the political scene. It remains the basis of party politics and what is euphemistically called “democracy”. And nowhere is it more abjectly expressed than in relation to Donald’s government, which is not so much a government as a cozy coterie of billionaire CEO’s.

To the mental dependents who equate unthinking loyalty to Donald as the mark of a righteous American, the proof of that coterie’s astounding corruption is denied with a knee jerk absolutism that makes even devout Pope-lovers pale in comparison.

When shown how the Secretary of State’s personal billion dollar investments in Russian oil fields is an obvious factor in his campaign to lift America’s trade embargo on that country, the dependents say it’s all a lie. When Donald Trump fires anyone who gets near to exposing his own crooked inside deals, it’s called an act of wise statesmanship against a mysterious enemy called “the liberal media”. Even when the Secretary of Commerce operates hand in glove with the Cypriot banks laundering Russian Mafia money, and when Donald himself, as the “President”, works openly as an agent of a foreign power, the Donald lovers cling all that more to their chosen hero. Shades of Richard Nixon? No, children: something far, far worse.

Beyond any partisan interpretation of these treasonable shenanigans is the stunning realization that these days, the moral rot has become so extreme that there is no explosion of revulsion or political action to put an end to these things, as there was during the 1970′s. Perhaps a more accurate and basic description is that the capacity to be free has vanished, as in the latter days of any toppling system of power.

To stretch an analogy, the Little Man has become completely unhinged and has gone berserk. At a personal level this is an indication of a total psychotic break, a fleeing from any semblance of provable reality into a dissociated state of permanent detachment. That at least seems to be the major current these days in America, which of course is merely symptomatic of every other “modern” nation.

Of course, not every American is an angry little slave gone crazy. Rather, the others are bewildered slaves wondering why everything is breaking down around them. The latter understand themselves no more clearly than does the berserk Donald Lover, and so must blame their political opponents or the evil man in the White House for the problem. But the mirror is presented to them as well,and indeed to every one of us.

In one sense it is pointless to look for alternatives to the present madness. As Walt Whitman so keenly observed, we are all ultimately responsible for what we have become, as unacceptable as such a notion is to the untreated Dependent. If our world collapses it will be because of We the People, not the wrong people “in power”. Accepting such a responsibility is the first free act of a slave, and can begin to deflate the delusion that some external power is the cause of either our ills or our hopes. That entire world view is a dark age legacy that still determines our approach to everything, and nothing is emerging to suggest that we are collectively escaping this substitutionist mindset. We are, after all, denizens of a post-industrial and post-meaning global culture in collapse, when even the possibility of genuine change is dissipated on the storms of continual crisis and fear.

Time, in other words, to prepare for and endure the collapse. For after the time of famine and fallow comes new life: but not from out of a dead plant.

Perhaps a handful of new seeds are groping upwards out of the present psychic darkness that has all of us enchained. Instead of projecting away our existence we must begin to reclaim our own fears, thoughts and freedom, as the first step towards inner and outer regeneration. But as with anything having to do with our actual and not imagined selves, the dream must precede the deed before anything life giving can emerge.

In the meantime, Donald will carry on, as unmindful of what moves him as are his opponents and his devotees. Our projections matter not. Better instead for each of us to stand alone tonight under the endless night sky and remember ​the eternity of who we are, and why we are alive. And then to be different.

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