Containing Destructive Populism in Perilous Times
Author: Michael J. Diamond
Publisher: Phoenix Publishing House
Publication date: April 19, 2022
Copyright Year: 2022
This book describes destructive populism and large-group regression as exemplified by Trumpism, the strong allegiance to former president Donald Trump. Through exploring relationships between large-group regression, cultism, destructive populism, delusional thinking, conspiratorial beliefs, and authoritarianism, and using the lenses of American history and culture as well as political and social theory, psychoanalytic ideas on group dynamics, malignant regression, and leadership highlight what became fertile ground for conspiratorial thinking and a dangerous fit between malignant leadership and perverted group containment. In examining prevalent American illusions of unity, utopian fantasies, and the overemphasis on rational thought, approaches are presented to attenuate the potency of the nation’s destructive elements and strengthen the containment of its inherent tensions. Consequently, in confronting the disturbingly destructive factors in the American psyche, the book can help in reestablishing a healthy containing frame that strengthens the body politics’ nonpathological elements.
Whatever their political beliefs, psychoanalysts and other curious individuals will find much to think about in this book’s detailed description of today’s sociopolitics. The author’s unique insights build on the work of social and political thinkers and activists who are deeply concerned about dangers threatening the foundations of democracy in the US and worldwide. Finally, the thoughtful lay person will appreciate the accessibility the book provides to all these fields, and will come away with a much deeper comprehension of what motivates us to stand for or against a given political figure. This distinctive and scholarly book especially rewards those interested in how core psychoanalytic insights can help us better understand our times.
Why I Wrote This Book
Writing can be an effective means of reducing the anxiety one experiences in facing an especially troubling problem. The process of writing itself frequently helps me acquire a deeper, more complex understanding of the phenomenon and especially of the subjectivities—including my own—that I seek to better understand. This book represents the culmination of more than six years of study, augmented by a lifetime of personal experience. Still, much like both the psychoanalytic journey into (and with) an individual psyche and the American experiment itself, this book is far from a finished product. This is how it is with each patient and his or her psychic development; an individual psyche or a group psyche always remains in process, and its stability, coherence, and progress are forever precarious.
My interest in delving deeper into the polity of the United States and the populist movement that led to Donald Trump’s rise to power is aptly illustrated throughout the book.However, despite Trump’s central role, this book is not about him or his character, even though many psychoanalysts and other mental health clinicians could have a field day (and many have, clearly and skillfully) in speculating about, inferring from, and diagnosing this exceedingly flawed yet astonishingly skillful, persuasive human being. Who Trump is and how he persuades others to follow his lead continues to play a truly momentous role in what is happening in the US and, to some extent, worldwide. As this book will make clear, a perfect storm has made for a most dangerous fit between widespread American disillusionment and the populist cult of Trumpism.
“Michael Diamond presents a profound interdisciplinary understanding of the disturbing and dangerous psychic ruptures that currently exist on both the individual and group level, not just in America but around the world. He illustrates how existential anxiety underlies a vulnerability to malignant leadership and is intensified by the perfect storm of physical threat, socioeconomic inequity, climate crisis, and growing individual and large group violence. Diamond argues for the combined containing power of psychoanalytic understanding and social institutions to remedy the threatened loss of humanity in today’s post-truth world. A diverse readership of psychoanalysts, social scientists, politicians, and concerned citizens will profit from the book’s generous cross-disciplinary glossary of terms.” —Harriet Wolfe, M.D., President, International Psychoanalytic Association
“With a remarkably broad scholarship, consistently interdisciplinary vision, and a truly concerned heart, Michael Diamond offers us fresh insights into the deeply polarized political scene in today’s United States. He links his psychopolitical perspective to the psychoanalytic notions of group regression, malignant narcissism, and projective identification---without losing an anchor in the social anthropology of manufactured truths and the lure of fundamentalism. In both his ‘diagnostic’ understanding and ‘therapeutic’ recommendations to what he sees as a society in peril, Diamond strikes us as compassionate, theoretically grounded, and generous of spirit. The addition of a glossary of the terms used in this book and a comprehensive bibliography further enhances the book’s value. This is applied psychoanalysis at its best!” —Salman Akhtar, M.D. Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia
“Michael Diamond, well known in the psychoanalytic world for his brilliant writing, brings his deep psychoanalytic understanding of a growing sociopolitical problem that threatens democracy throughout the world. Diamond has accomplished a remarkable feat by bringing in a vast amount of data from the social sciences and integrating it with a wide variety of psychoanalytic perspectives. This is an important book for anyone concerned about the state of our global politics and will reward those interested in how psychoanalytic insights can better help us understand this crucial time.” —Fred Busch, Ph.D. Training and Supervising Analyst, Boston Psychoanalytic Institute
“Michael J. Diamond reminds us that despite Donald Trump’s loss of the 2020 election, the cult of Trumpism continues in the United States....Psychoanalytic understanding of large-group regression, destructive populism, authoritarianism, malignant narcissism, paranoia, and other related situations becomes not only important, but a much-needed element in examining ruptures in the American psyche....The author also reminds the reader that psychoanalytic findings are beneficial when they are synthetized with discoveries from other disciplines, such as political science, history, and sociology. This book will inform the reader not only about what is happening in the United States, but also about events worldwide.” —Vamik Volkan, M.D. Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, University of Virginia; Founder and President Emeritus, International Dialogue Initiative
“The publication of this book could not be more timely, coming at a time that is as difficult as it is crucial for humanity, with the COVID-19 pandemic now joined by a war. While it is an in-depth analysis of the sociopolitical circumstances in the United States, the psychoanalytic insight it provides gets to the heart of a chronic and enduring global problem: the destructiveness of the human species and the high cost of its denial. Although the book was written before the war in Ukraine began, it is proof positive that psychoanalysis has much to contribute to the effort to understand this lethal component of human nature that endures and persists....It is an ethical position to make psychoanalytic voices heard at times when impulses of violence, xenophobia, and destruction predominate. In this commitment lies not only the permanence but also the expansion of psychoanalysis.” —Virginia Ungar, M.D. Training Analyst, Buenos Aires Psychoanalytic Association; Former President, International Psychoanalytical Association