Portland protesters armed with leaf blowers and cardboard signs face off with masked federal agents sporting fatigues and riot gear—guns, truncheons, and shields. Orange tear-gas clouds plume up from the tarmac as the agents grab protesters and hurl them into unmarked cars. These are images typically associated with far-off, war-torn countries ruled by authoritarian regimes—not democratic governments. But in less than six months, some of the most toxic elements of the US national psyche have risen to the surface, denuded by the global pandemic and bull-horned across the country by the divisive and belligerent rhetoric of the White House.
Last week, I dug up a box of my parents’ old letters. They were written before my parents were married, while my mom was still in Taiwan and an ocean away from my dad in the United States. A surprising number of the letters were in English; the writing is stilted, and it’s clear that English is neither of my parents’ first language, but the mundane recounting of their days felt somehow both endearing and sacred. Holding the tangible artifacts of my parents’ courtship in my hands, I imagined for the first time the twentysomethings they were when they wrote those letters.
I relocated from San Francisco to Caracas, Venezuela, in March 1999, just one month after Hugo Chávez assumed the presidency. He presented himself as a socialist intent on helping the underclasses and ending corruption, and I was ready to sign up. In addition to my practice and teaching at Universidad Central de Venezuela and Universidad Católica Ándres Bello, I started writing a monthly article in the English-language newspaper under the title “The Psychology of Everyday Life,” addressing topics such as childrearing and adolescent issues.
In the Anglo-American world, men are brought up to value a body image that is hard, flat, and impermeable, more like a wall, whereas women are taught to value or at least be content with one that might be softer or more flexible and is certainly leaky, like a fence.
Donald Trump’s penchant for attacking his opponents by projecting onto them his own disavowed personal attributes and apparent self-assessments has been a consistent feature of his rhetorical style and remarked upon by many observers. For instance, in her recent book The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump, Michiko Kakutani (2019) observes, “Trump has the perverse habit of accusing opponents of the very sins he is guilty of himself: ‘Lyin’ Ted,’ ‘Crooked Hillary,’ ‘Crazy Bernie.’
In explicating the thought of Socrates, Nietzsche wrote that philosophy was an effort “to harm stupidity” (The Gay Science, §328). According to Nietzsche, humanism teaches us that it is our egotism that is to blame for our misery. Socrates taught the youth of Athens that it is our thoughtlessness that is to blame.
There is a psychic fissure in America’s exceedingly fragile democratic body politic. In the face of political tribalism and an awakened and reinvigorated far-right white nationalist movement in America, civil servants (nonelected career public servants) from the Departments of State, Defense, NSC, and elsewhere have come forward to testify truth to congressional power, attesting to the impeachable actions of the Trump administration—actions that depict a criminal and amoral public enterprise. These nonpartisan officials are bearing witness and speaking truth to power, regardless of whether siloed Republican representatives of the House and their counterparts in the Senate are willing to hear the critical testimony of federal bureaucrats.
When I was a little kid, I thought my uncle was hysterical. He told no jokes, but he didn’t treat me like a kid, either. He was always a problem for the rest of the family. At one point, my mother told me, “If people in suits come looking for your uncle, you don’t know where he lives.” Actually, he lived down the block. My uncle always had a job but never seemed to be working.
In the lead up to our anniversary issue, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Arnold Richards. A recipient of the 2000 Mary S. Sigourney Award and the 2013 Hans W. Loewald Memorial Award, Dr. Richards is a leading figure in the democratization of psychoanalysis and in bringing psychoanalysis to the world at large.
When I was a child in the Bronx in the 1940s, whenever a plan for the future was proposed, it would be followed by the phrase
“after the war.” My parents would say, “after the war” my father would quit Ritz radio and start his own business.