When the French psychologist and philosopher Michel Foucault wrote Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason in 1973, he did not have in mind President Donald J. Trump because his study sought to answer the question of insanity from 1500 to 1800 only. Still, the book, a milestone both by reason and skill, sheds some light on people like Trump who, in his uncanny behavior, reminds us of the novella, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, written by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevneson in 1886, which gave birth to the Pre-Code by now classic horror movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, starring Fredric March who plays a possessed doctor who tests his new formula that can unleash people’s inner demons.
The film is quite telling in that it does remind us of President Trump who also tries different narratives to deliberately enrage people: from the tantrum he threw when he spoke to the Prime Minister of Australia to the diatribe against migrants; from the vendetta against the media to berating women, the list goes on. I have no doubt that were Foucault still alive, he would certainly study the bizarre comportment of President Trump. After all, we are dealing with someone who presents many facets, yet all of them are possessed by a destructive drive bent on taking the piss out of everybody he meets along the way, except perhaps for a certain Vladimir Putin who is untouchable no matter what he does or says. In fact, Putin stands as a kind of foil to President Trump who keeps avoiding offending him at the cost of his reputation. It is as if Putin were one of the two gentlemen of Verona. The other gentleman, debauched that he may be, is of course Trump himself.
The fact of the matter is that President Trump does present attractive symptoms for a good study of schizophrenia insofar as he poses a threat not only to himself but also to those around him. Here is a man who was elected to hold the highest office in America and therefore became the most powerful man on planet earth because the country he presides over is also the most mighty the world has ever known. There is no doubt that his psychic disorders which include some kind of folly that is part and parcel of his character must be viewed as a complex social phenomenon. For this reason alone, we must look at his insanity in all its facets: marital, political, filial, affilial, economic, environmental. Granted that there is always a comic side to insanity, but President Trump seems to encourage only the tragic aspect of madness. I have yet to see him laugh for instance or have fun or enjoy himself. Even at the inauguration, a grand event you might say, he looked disturbed, somehow lost, out of place. He is never happy. In fact, he thrives on adversity and even when he wins, he must degrade his opponent. His negativity is revealed as much in his conduct as in his sense of humor, if at all. Correctly or incorrectly, he feels hounded from all directions and as a result he trusts no one, not even his family. I do much wonder whether he rests, naps, or even sleeps.
As a business man, Trump developed an attractive yet horrible way of dealing with his innocent dinizens. He is “so necessarily mad,” as the French philosopher Pascal once wrote, “that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.” But how can we return to that “zero point in the course of his [Trump’s] madness at which madness was an undifferentiated experience, a not yet divided experience of division itself?” The question I pose here has no easy answer even if one may try to describe, from the start of its trajectory, that “other form” which “relegates Reason and Madness to one side or the other of its action” as Foucault would have it, is alive and well in President Trump. Suffice it to add that for him, madness has nothing to do with reason or lack thereof, it has to do with sheer conflict; conflict with everyone, including with his dog and/or cat, I presume. In point of fact, he thrives on conflict, a great deal of it.
The afflictions of insanity, like those of old age, force those of us who are affected by them to lead a lonely and desolate life. The symptoms are already part of the DNA of Mr. Trump who seems unaware of the torment of solitude. On the contrary, he seems to delight in scourging himself. There is a precedent to such behavior in history. Think of Nero, Caligula, and more recently, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Kaddafi and the case will be clear enough. At the end of the day, though, one can only feel sorry for someone like President Trump who, because he had no training in politics, seems like a rolling stone or worse a soccer ball thrown in all sorts of directions. Surely that he is surrounded by some highly intelligent people but they really are engaging in a game (at chess) for themselves and would not think twice to jump ship if need be and leave him alone to drown. I can almost guarantee that if this were to happen, none of them would come to the rescue. It is a deservedly sad state of affairs, you might add. The days ahead may bring some relief in that with some practice of government the President will be able to perfect the art of dealing with the burden of the Leviathan but I strongly doubt it because “uneasy lies the head that wears (the) . . . crown”; an unfit head like his is doomed to suffer the slings and arrows of the burden of ruling. For now, he is determined to govern his way and that includes yelling, scuffling, dismissing, denigrating, and indeed demeaning everyone with or without a purpose, but in the end, no one, except perhaps his jejune Self, will save him from his other vaulting Self.
Mustapha Marrouchi is a writer on a wide range of topics including literature, politics, cultural criticism, and Islamic issues. He is the author of half a dozen books, including Edward Said at the Limits. He is finishing a novel tentatively titled In Praise of Three Spotted Hyenas and an essay on Mobbing in Academia.