By Arnold Dodge
“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” –Aldous Huxley
The 1956 classic sci-fi movie Forbidden Planet is considered by many the progenitor for all science fiction movies to follow. Nominated for an Oscar for best special effects, it is replete with spaceships, ray guns and a robot named Robby. Among many firsts for the genre, the thriller dabbled in psychology.
The Krell, an advanced civilization—centuries ahead of humans technologically and intellectually, the first inhabitants of a distant planet called Altair IV—perished 2,000 centuries ago but not before leaving a bizarre and destructive legacy. With all their brilliance, the Krell forgot to include one element in their master plan: “monsters from the id.” In the movie, the primitive, hidden and unstoppable power of the id visits destruction and death upon the characters. Only when the force of the id—a creation of the mind of the madman who controls the planet—is vanquished, does the terror subside.
For more about the id—and its companion elements of the psyche—we consult Dr. Sigmund Freud. In brief, the id is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world. It operates on the idea that every wishful impulse should be satisfied immediately, regardless of the consequences. The id engages in primary process thinking, which is primitive, illogical, irrational and fantasy-oriented. The ego, on the other hand, develops in order to mediate between the unrealistic id and the external real world. The ego works by reason, whereas the id is chaotic and totally unreasonable. The superego controls the id’s impulses, especially aggressive behaviors. It also has the function of persuading the ego to pursue moralistic goals.
What does this have to do with Donald Trump?
Donald Trump is a fabrication invented by a portion of the public nostalgic for the “real America ” who crave a vision of the world which is simple, aggressive and hostile to those who are different. In short, the id unleashed.
To roar and chant and lionize their hero—and offer unwavering support in the polls—those who feverishly hope, as Trump’s baseball cap proclaims, to “Make America Great Again” are irrational, illogical and fantasy-oriented, yet they are millions strong and growing. The driver for the movement is not affected by reality; the id will metabolize any idea that fuels its existence. How else to explain Trump’s drumbeat of obvious lies and distortions being swallowed whole by his minions?
Among many frightening aspects of the juggernaut is the parallel to George Orwell’s prediction that lies will become truths in the dystopian world of tomorrow. In Trump’s world, the crazier the lies, the more popular they become. And, acting on behalf of the “thought police” (another Orwell gem), Trump combs the media for calling him out and doubles down on the lie.
H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential American journalists, once observed: “There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.” Nonetheless, the easier the solution offered by Trump to complex issues, the more excited the crowds. He quickly follows his remarks with the mantra: “I refuse to be politically correct.” What better way to grant a wishful impulse—regardless of the consequences—than with a short burst of fire-breathing one-liners?
The fever that consumes Trump supporters mystifies. How can seemingly intelligent people (although many may quarrel with that characterization) embrace his demeaning views of immigrants, women and blacks? How can they support his views on foreign policy, which include face-to-face confrontations with world leaders until they break down and cry under his imperious glare?
To insist that there should be a database to track American Muslims and to defend the take-down of those protesters who voice their displeasure with him at events is beyond the pale. Yes, beyond the pale even for Trump. To accept and support these views means that a large portion of the electorate is willing to destroy their constitutional rights in order to satisfy their lust for a champion.
But here’s an interesting twist on the “id” thesis. It is not Donald Trump that is the problem—for those of us who believe there is a problem. Instead, it is the vitriol spewing from the Trump acolytes that make the mission possible. Like the lightning bolts that sparked Dr. Frankenstein’s creation to life, the Trump followers have produced the heat that has created their leader.
Latent paranoia and resentment have been building for years in certain precincts of American society. These people have watched their country “taken over” by minorities, gays, immigrants and women, and they have been longing for a hero. Their anger is boiling over. Their id-like impulses thirst for attention.
Finally they have found someone who understands. Trump, the perfect avatar, has been selected as the messenger. Raw, vicious, bloodthirsty and threatening, the monster has its marching orders.
Trump is a circus act. His buffoonery is obvious to any literate child over the age of 10. That’s why it is all the more distressing to see millions of adults whipped into a frenzy. Are they somehow hypnotized, forgetting their values, their lie detectors silenced, their common sense annulled?
Or is it something else?
Maybe they are writhing in pleasure as they release the constraints of public politesse. Maybe they have become disenchanted with the rational ego, mistrustful of the moralistic super-ego. It’s time for super-ID. A release of the pent-up anger, a catharsis for the disgust, a fantasy of primitive urges satisfied. And the liberation is legitimized—perhaps sanctified—when your spokesperson is a candidate for the presidency.
But what about the rest of us? Do we believe this is harmless bluster soon to go away? Are we bemused because we see this as a sideshow? Or are we too timid to push back, fearing that we will be the target of a menacing response?
Is it time to summon the best parts of our own psyche—dormant throughout the verbal violence of the Trump campaign—to challenge the unapologetic aggression visited upon our fellow citizens?
Before we answer, we may want to remember a time, not too long ago, chillingly described by Ursula Hegi in her 1994 novel, Stones from the River:
“Many thought that all this talk about Rassenreinheit—purity of the race—was ludicrous and impossible to enforce. Yet the long training in obedience to elders, government and church made it difficult—even for those who considered the views of the Nazis dishonorable—to give voice to their misgivings. And so they kept hushed, yielding to each new indignity while they waited for the Nazis and their ideas to go away, but with every compliance they relinquished more of themselves, weakening the texture of the community while the power of the Nazis swelled.”
So, will we become a forbidden planet? A place where primitive impulses destroy innocents? A place where the loud, the profane, the illogical rule? A world where lies are king and truth the enemy of the state?
While we have been paying attention to scientific and technological advances, have we forgotten that the id, left unchecked, will take up residence in a demon hell bent on annihilation?
It’s too late for the Krell. Their civilization was destroyed. If we act fast, we may be able to save our own.
Arnold Dodge, PhD, is an associate professor of education at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, where he serves as the Chairperson of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration. Dr. Dodge is a former teacher, principal and superintendent. In his forty-fifth year in education, Dr. Dodge’s particular interest focuses on the effects of high-stakes testing on schools.