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Neighbourly Love and the Trump Effect

10/03/2016 4:30 PM | Deleted user

By Wayne Wapeemukwa

In one of their early correspondences Freud invites Ferenczi to join him and his family on vacation.  Ferenczi happily agrees.  But then Freud forewarns:

“You are welcome at any time, whether you spend the weeks of your vacation in Berchtesgaden or whether you want to spend part of the time on the trip with me. It is understood at the outset that you will not disturb me in my work and that I won’t have to take any precautions against you…” (Brabant and Falzeder 11)

Thus it is understood that the neighbour may join so long as his presence is not felt.

*          *          *

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Donald Trump said during his presidential announcement speech on June 16, 2015.  “They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.”[1]  Now the Republican nominee for president, many are wondering how Donald Trump has only gotten more popular as a result of his bigotry.  On the surface it’s called the ‘Trump Effect’: xenophobic slurs fettered to cultural anxiety becoming the political strategy apt to win elections.[2]  This effect seems to fly in the face of one of Western civilization’s most fundamental moral dictums, the commandment to love the neighbour.  Maybe “[t]he element of truth behind all this,” as Freud says in Civilization and its Discontents, “is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved” (SE21, 111).  Perhaps some of Lacan’s considerations on neighbourly love from The Ethics of Psychoanalysis can shed light on how a presidential nominee only gets more popular by calling an entire people rapists, why fundamentalists want to believe that all Arab refugees are sex criminals and how white-ressentiment can so easily turn ‘Black Lives Matter’ into ‘All Lives Matter’.  Maybe neighbourly love shares a deeper relationship with the Trump Effect than appears on first glance; and that love may index a deeper aggressiveness is a thought that can be traced to nascent rumblings in Freud’s anthropological works.

In Civilization and its Discontents Freud establishes the requisites of civilization, the first of which is justice and the last “a rule of law to which all…have contributed by a sacrifice of their instincts” (SE21, 95).  “In order for these aims to be fulfilled, a restriction upon sexual life is unavoidable” (SE21, 109).  The price of civilization is neurosis.  But within this “antagonism to sexuality,” resides “some disturbing factor which we have not yet discovered” (SE21, 108-9).  Freud goes on to say that the clue to this yet undiscovered factor lies in the moral commandment to love the neighbour (SE21, 108).  Within this moral dictum Freud finds “the strongest defence against human aggressiveness” (SE21, 142).  In other words, the dictum to love the neighbour is a moral overcompensation for an irreducible aggressiveness.  While Eros binds us together, Thanatos rips us apart: Homo homini lupus (SE21, 111).

Then in Group Psychology, Freud details how aggressiveness is re-directed against rivals.  Through bringing to light how rivalling camps can be deeply hostile to one another despite a plentitude of similarities, Freud provides what may be a prototype of the Trump Effect.  Aggressiveness is most readily re-directed against proximate rivals who, oddly enough, share a great deal with one another.  This re-directed aggression helps bond members together through identification.  Freud writes that “almost every intimate emotional relation between two people which lasts for some time–marriage, friendship, the relations between parents and children–contains a sediment of feelings of aversion and hostility” (SE18, 101).   This effect is similar to what Freud christens in Civilization and its Discontents as the ‘narcissism of minor differences’.  So, could this ‘narcissism of minor differences’ be what fuels the Trump Effect?  This would require a multitude of similarities between Trump supporters and their detested neighbours.  Intuitively, this does not seem to be the case since the targets of the Trump Effect are more like stereotypes, not real existing people who share a great deal with expounders of the Trump doctrine.  Apparently the Trump Effect relies less on a ‘narcissism of minor differences’ than the fantasmatic creation of a grotesque radically different other.  While Freud’s clue to cultural antagonism as concerns sexuality resides in the commandment to love the neighbour, perhaps our clue to the workings of the Trump Effect reside in the relation of law to fantasy.

Desiring subjects situate themselves in regards to lack through fantasy.  Thus the fantasy is a theatre in which the subject imaginarily makes up for lack.  In Bruce Fink’s words, “by cleaving to that rem(a)inder, the split subject, though expulsed from the Other, can sustain the illusion of wholeness” (Fink 59).  In sum, the fantasy is a pantomime in which the subject gets-off on the satisfaction of wholeness.  But since ‘desire is desire of the Other,’ the desire satisfied in the fantasy is in fact the Other’s, i.e., an imaginary compensation for the Other’s lack.  Satisfying the Other’s lack entails that the pleasure excreted in fantasy alienates the subject insofar as the fantasy makes up for the Other’s desire and not the subject’s.  In its essence, the fantasy is alienating.  Moreover, the pleasure ‘enjoyed’ in this fantasy may not even be experienced by the subject as pleasurable as a result of this alienation.  This pleasure is what Fink calls ‘phallic jouissance’ (though for my purposes I will simply call it ‘jouissance’).[3]  In the fantasy the subject situates themselves in regards to the Other’s lack with a symptomatically enjoyable wholeness.  By these lights could the Trump Effect be a social fantasy of wholeness?

Trump’s doctrine solicits something like a fantasy of wholeness in its eschewing of the refugee, immigrant, muslim, etc.  With ‘Make America Great Again!’, a kind of pleasure is solicited dependent upon the alienation of others.  This “fantasy provides the pleasure that is characteristic of desire” –jouissance–  since it makes pleasurable the effacement of others (Écrits, 652).  And recall how it is the negation enunciated by the name of the father which initially occasions enjoyment: The Father’s paternal castration threat outlawing incest thereby relegating it to fantasy.  To this point Lacan will claim that the father’s law retroactively creates jouissance (Écrits, 200).  Law, therefore, is the structural condition of jouissance: it makes its infraction enjoyable.  So, if ‘Make America Great Again!’ is indeed a social fantasy soliciting a pathological jouissance based on the effacement of difference, then the enjoyment it proffers must have been instantiated by an initial law.  Perhaps our clue to unearthing this initial interdiction lies, as it did with Freud, in the commandment to love the neighbour.

Following this line of thought, the moral commandment to love the neighbour must serve in proxy as the condition of its own enjoyable transgression.  To explain this paradox Lacan echoes Paul: “What shall we say?  That the law is sin?  By no means!  Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin” (Romans 7:7).  Oddly, the law creates sin; sin is only sin after the law says so.  Thus invoking Paul, Lacan inverts the relationship between law and transgression in order to draw a haphazard identification between them.  In a very important way, prohibition and repressed desire are two sides of the same coin: “law and repressed desire are one and the same thing” (Écrits, 660).  The law anticipates, relies upon and engorges the repressed jouissance outlawed by its proclamation: “jouissance is evil” (S7, 184).  Freud theorized that culture was bound together through new libidinal ties formed after repression such as “strong identifications” summoning “aim-inhibited libido on the largest scale so as to strengthen the communal bound” (SE21, 108).  Lacan adds that these identifications are supplemented from without by “the transgressive space of our fantasies” –i.e., the transgressive jouissance created by the law– “an object that lies beyond it” (De Kesel, 188).  But what happens if this relationship is extrapolated to the level of culture?  Civilization is libidinally bound not merely by repressed individual aggressiveness (as Freud said) but also by an exterior (or as Lacan calls it, ‘extimate’) social fantasy space beyond culture’s repressive constellation.  This social fantasy, moreover, galvanizes a social-jouissance.  In terms of keeping up with the Jones’, “[t]he jouissance I fear in my neighbour refers to that ‘ex-timate thing’ around which my desire circles as well” (De Kesel, 146).  My fear of Trump’s Mexican rapist signifies the Mexican rapist inside me, ex-timate to me: “[m]y neighbour possesses all the evil Freud speaks about, but it is no different from the evil I retreat from in myself” (S7, 198).  Freud took the commandment to love the neighbour as indicative of innate human aggressiveness; Lacan takes it as an imaginary misrecognition of the evil jouissance we fear in the other since it is within ourselves as well.  “If this prohibition has a meaning,” Lacan says, “it is that images are deceitful” (S7, 196).  The imaginary deceives; and thus my neighbourly love also deceives, hiding from myself the ex-timate evil jouissance it relies upon.  As Freud hinted, the imaginary of neighbourly love hides an evil reality.  In David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) the opening montage shows idyllic images of suburban America and neighbourly love: roses, white picket fences, children crossing the street, waving fire-fighters, etc.  But then the camera slowly dollies underground revealing a subterranean mycelium of insects and dirt: the ex-timate reality covered over by the surface’s neighbourly love.  Could neighbourly love then, truly be founded on evil?  Are these the roots of the Trump Effect?

This foundational evil that is hidden by the imaginary brings to light some of Lacan’s clinical remarks, specifically, how wanting what is ‘good’ for the analysand may indeed solicit itself with good intentions but in fact serves to obstruct analysis.  Desiring what is ‘good’ for the analysand results in problematic counter-transferences which culminate in the analyst identifying with the analysand, thereby colluding with the analysand’s ego against their repressed desire.    “What I want is the good of others provided that it remain in the image of my own,” Lacan warns (S7, 187).  By extension, the day to day imaginary of neighbourly love yields a similar misrecognition because it conceals innate human aggressiveness as well as the ex-timate jouissance-engorged fantasy it relies upon from without.  Were one to actually uphold the commandment to love the neighbour–were one to truly and intimately love the other–one would necessarily do so according to their deceptive and orthopaedic self-image, which could only result in an expungement of the other’s jouissance…what could otherwise be called ‘rape’.  In this vein Lacan underscores that “to love one’s neighbour may be the cruelest of choices” (S7, 194).  The thought here is that my neighbour may enjoy so long as they reflects my jouissance.  Today this very logic is operative in Norway where sex-education classes are offered on a voluntary basis to Sudanese migrants so as to ‘help them adjust’ to European sex-culture.  Legislators in Denmark are already vying to make classes such as these mandatory for incoming refugees.[4]  Clearly, there are limits to neighbourly love.  But the radical thesis Lacan expounds is that loving one’s neighbour is not obstructed by xenophobia, but rather that xenophobia is neighbourly love’s normative condition: underneath neighbourly love is evil-jouissance–just as in Blue Velvet (1986).  Ironically, the Trump Effect is what we ought to expect from a culture cherishing neighbourly love.

On New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne, Germany approximately 1000 German Caucasian women reported being victims of sex crimes committed by ‘dark-skinned’ refugees.  Right-wing nationalists were keen to exploit the aftermath of these allegations.  Yet figures from the German Federal Criminal Police Office reveal that under one percent of felonies committed by immigrants in 2015 were sexual offences.[5]  Could this discrepancy evince the conclusion reached above regarding the jouissance engorged fantasy of the evil neighbour?  Perhaps we do not resent the neighbour for breaking our law, but rather because their jouissance does not conform to the image of our own.  We welcome refugees with open arms if they enjoy as we do, do not impinge upon our jouissance and so long as they allow us to hatefully fantasize about their eradication.  Here the commandment to love the neighbour is not only Freud’s clue to innate human aggressiveness but the imaginary misrecognition of a passionate jealousy, what Lacan names in Encore, ‘jealouissance’.

As stated above, the Trump Effect cannot be a ‘narcissism of minor differences’ since it is not redirecting repressed libido against similar rival group members.  Instead, the targets of the Trump Effect are fantasmatic creations, full-blown libidinally charged xenophobic nightmares.  Neutralizing the nightmare of the sex-criminal refugee, Trump deploys the tantalizing fantasy of ‘Make America Great Again!’.  With this fantasy Trump intends to bring America closer to the good through the elimination of difference.  But, as was previously elaborated, a demand for the good is never just that.  This demand belies a hidden a sexual reality: “[e]very ethical demand for the good is…a desire for enjoyment” (De Kesel, 147).  This suggests a paradox of liberal democratic tolerance, ossified in the commandment to love the neighbour: the more we tolerate and love our neighbour, the more we rigidify a tumultuous ‘jealouissance’, apt to burst into opportune xenophobia.  Freud taught that the commandment to love the neighbour hides a deeper, more horrific condition of humanity; Lacan added that the resentment we house against our law-breaking neighbour is a structural residue of our integration into culture; for Freud the cost of culture was neurosis; for Lacan one becomes a social subject at the expense of the other’s jouissance; for Freud culture had a price; for Lacan culture reimburses you with jealouissance.  To confront the Trump Effect then would be “to confront the fact that my neighbour’s jouissance, his harmful, malignant jouissance, is that which poses a problem for my love” (S7, 187).  The neighbour’s jouissance, of which I am jealous, is what problematizes my love.  The islamic militant, the Syrian sex criminal, the Mexican rapist, are all fantasies siphoning the jouissance within ourselves left-over from our integration into Western culture.  The Trump Effect is our own creation, Frankenstein, indexing our repressed social-desires.  In the day we love the neighbour, at night we dream of hanging him: the two are one and the same.

The key to undermining the Trump Effect then must lie not in stretching our love further,[6] but in scrutinizing our own ex-timate jouissance, mirrored within us.  Does our neighbour want our love?  Do we even want theirs?  If so, will we settle for love not in the image of our own?  The problem, as I have expounded, is that the commandment to love one’s neighbour goes hand in hand with the Trump Effect; it could even be said that the Trump Effect is a symptom of neighbourly love.  Yes, Donald Trump is a bigot–but a bigot signifying our shared responsibility to take an ethical stance in regards to the transgressive jouissance underpinning the commandment to love our neighbour.  Love cannot be, therefore, the answer to Trump.


[1] Maraniss, David, and Robert Samuels. “Donald Trump’s False Comments Connecting Mexican Immigrants and Crime.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 8 July 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

[2] Longworth, Richard C.  “How the ‘Trump Effect’ is Taking Hold in Europe Too”  Chicago Tribune & New York Times Op Ed. December 10 2015

[3] Fink defines ‘phallic jouissance’ in reference to Lacan’s seminar Encore: we should “understand ‘phallic’ as ‘fallible,’ to hear the fallibility in the phallus. Phallic jouissance…is susceptible to failure, and it fundamentally misses our partner. Why? Because it reduces our partner, as Other, to what Lacan refers to as object a, that partial object that serves as the cause of desire.” (Barnard and Fink, 37)

[4] Higgins, Andrew. “Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Dec. 2015. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

[5]Dearden, Lizzie. “Refugees Responsible for Tiny Proportion of Sex Crimes in Germany despite Far-right Claims following Cologne Attacks.” The Independent. 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2016.

[6] As Freud says: “My love is something valuable to me which I ought not to throw away without reflection” (SE21, 109).


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