Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton: Trump’s attempts to “own” reality follows “pattern of the Nazis”

American partisanship and “culture war” psychology actually have very little to do with 20th century European and Asian totalitarianism, which has never had more than very marginal influence in the US, and everything to do with historic American traditions. The Red Tribe/Blue Tribe battle is reminiscent of conflicts that existed during the revolutionary period. There were some early US leaders that were more heavily influenced by the English Protestant mercantile and Anglo-Saxon common law traditions, and others by the continental European Enlightenment rationalist tradition (like the French philosophes). You can see that being played out in early American political rhetoric (like in the election of 1800). It also resembles the conflict between the high church and low church traditions, or between New England puritanism and its heretical offshoots, like Unitarianism and Progressive Christianity, and Southern Anglican traditionalism. The conflict between classical bourgeois liberalism and Prussian-influenced managerial progressivism that emerge around the beginning of the 20th century is another precedent. The upheavals of the 1960s had their roots in all of these traditions, and what’s going on now is a continuation of the divisions that emerged during that time.

By Igor Derysh, Salon

A prominent psychiatrist who spent years studying Nazi Germany called for mental health professionals to speak out ahead of the election about President Trump’s attempts to “own reality” by recasting institutions, warning of a pattern that echoes the Nazis.

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton, distinguished professor emeritus at John Jay College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a leading psychohistorian who has written extensively about doctors who aided Nazi war crimes, has long called for mental health experts to defy warnings from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and speak out about Trump’s mental health. Lifton recently published a book entitled “Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry” and was one of the 27 mental health experts featured in “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” the bestseller edited by Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee in which mental health professionals assessed the president.

Lifton told Salon that the book and a Yale conference on the topic began the movement of “psychologists and psychiatrists speaking out against Trump.”

“I spoke about what I called malignant normality that was being imposed on us, and the need to be witnessing professionals who told the truth and oppose the malignant normality,” he said in an interview last week.

Lifton said that Trump’s supporters and enablers exhibit the same “cult-like behavior” that he has studied, adding that the current administration has “Trumpified” every part of the federal government, in much the same way that the German government was “Nazified” under Adolf Hitler.


Leave a Reply