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"Civilization is Repression."

Sigmund Freud said that “Civilization is repression.” It is important to know what he meant in the context of today's politics. Repression means suppressing wishes that if acted on would be risky, destroy communities and friendships and even be suicidal. We need to understand this because dangerous, combative urges that have been repressed are reemerging and driving what is happening in our beloved country and in the World.

Trumpism is all about permitting repressed urges to reemerge. It is Trump's brand and his appeal. He permits himself and others to say and do things that are not consistent with peaceful societies. He derides our heroes like John McCain and Captain Humayun Khan, who died protecting his American platoon in Iraq. These men are rivals for admiration and attention, so he has to destroy their reputations and attack their standards replacing them with his own --- how many hooker notches and sharp deals did they have in their belts.

Trump permits himself to viciously attack an endless list of opponents, critics, and even friends. He permits himself to call down violence on those who fail to grovel when he demands it. He feels no need to disguise his bullying, and some of his followers feel that they no longer need to repress their own very human instincts in this direction.


He permits himself to demean unwilling women who he believes should yield to him because he is a powerful person. Others of course share this view of women, not always wrong, and feel less need to hide them. He lies and dares people to punish him for it. This permits and encourages others to act out rather than force themselves to repress dangerous instincts for the sake of society as a whole.

Most important, Trump believes and tries to convince others that civilization/repression does not put America first. The U.S., he believes can win, in effect be first, in a World without limits and rules, one that in the words of Thomas Hobbes “life of man (is) solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Many of us understand Trump's appeal because we all have wanted to unleash angry attacks on rivals and understand lust, but we repress these urges to protect our civilization and its safer and more limited goals. We usually are willing to repress our unlimited desires even though we would love it if we did not have to do so.


Trumpisms viciousness is often seen as refreshing because he says what his followers would like to believe --- that repression of violent and primitive urges is not dangerous because a powerful country like the U.S. can win a game without rules. This is life as Trump sees it because he has been protected during his whole life by a huge fortune from his father and a phalanx of lawyers in a legal system that allowed him to make very big mistakes without consequences. This approach to domestic and international politics, however, is hugely risky for the U.S. because we don't have such a fall back if we make mistakes with our democracy and our place in the World. Family money and a corps of lawyers on that stage will not save us from disaster.