Adbusters Magazine - “Father, Don’t You See I’m Burning?” – For a Post-Trump Politics
...it is easier for the American “Left” to shrug off responsibility and blame the brute contradictions of American Empire spilling at the cracks to Trumps’ narcissism than to...
Writing on the reflection of waking world trauma in dreams, Sigmund Freud discusses a particular dream that plagued one of his patients, a father who had been taking care of their dying son.
“A father had been watching beside his child’s sick-bed for days and nights on end. After the child had died, he went into the next room to lie down, but left the door open so that he could see from his bedroom into the room in which his child’s body was laid out, with tall candles standing round it. An old man had been engaged to keep watch over it, and sat beside the body murmuring prayers. After a few hours’ sleep, the father had a dream that his child was standing beside his bed, caught him by the arm and whispered to him reproachfully: ‘Father, don’t you see I’m burning?’ He woke up, noticed a bright glare of light from the next room, hurried into it and found that the old watchman had dropped off to sleep and that the wrappings and one of the arms of his beloved child’s dead body had been burned by a lighted candle that had fallen on them.”
The inexplicable coincidence of the mourning father encountering his burning child in his sleep is explained by Freud, stating that the purpose of the dream was to prolong the sleep of the father for a few moments. Smelling smoke while processing grief, the brain takes the physical presence of smoke in the room to fulfilling the anxious desire of the Father in seeing his child again – constructing the dream and extending his sleep as a coping mechanism.
Freud’s disciple Lacan takes the analysis of this dream even further and blurs the lines between dream and reality, where he says that the dream did not merely manifest as a consequence of the presence of smoke and the desire to see the child once more, but as a subconscious mechanism of protection of an even more horror filled reality of a dead child immolated than a live one.
Popular psychoanalyst and philosopher Slavoj Zizek builds on Lacan’s writing, adding that the dream’s narrative is also characterized so in response to the guilt the father feels over the child’s death. To his subconscious, the haunting monster in the nightmare isn’t his burning child, but his guilt ridden self. To Zizek, in order for one to effectively resolve their true personal tragedy, one must “awake” by confronting the false nature of their anxious desires given form which often seem scarier – or rather, more absurd – than the actual reality at hand.
This psychoanalytical allegory parallels the political anxieties felt in the Post-Trump political landscape only now beginning to form. Having unexpectedly defeated the establishment’s pick in Hillary Clinton in 2016 and enabling the fascistic and racist voices of American politics to rear their ugly head, the media spent the last four years hyper focusing on the disruption Trump as a figure has caused to the neoliberal business as usual since the Reagan years, rather than the deep institutional rot which spawned him in the first place.
As in Freud’s allegory, Trump is the perfect nightmare figure to eclipse the dry logistical horrors of transnational capitalism whitewashed by familiar friendly faces in Obama and George W. Bush, whose storied career as a war criminal is now conveniently whitewashed in light of this administration. Orange faced, loud, rude and absurdly comical, Trump embodies the Liberal establishment’s anxieties of itself, the unashamed Imperialism and rugged deregulatory capitalism which has informed their own domestic and foreign policies for decades now, unashamedly contradicting their self espoused commitment to ideals of freedom and democracy. The Democratic party and its allies in the media didn’t hate Trump for his politics, they hate Trump for his optics. He revealed the American empire for what it is and became the physical avatar for Liberal guilt, the wish fulfilment of the systems evil manifest, a goading punching bag.
It is easier for the American “Left” to shrug off responsibility and blame the brute contradictions of American Empire spilling at the cracks to Trumps’ narcissism, than to turn inwards and examine the structural rot that has been burrowing at their institutions for decades. With Joe Biden’s inauguration as President of the United States and the recent riot at Capitol Hill, the boogeyman of Trumpism will continue to linger in the political imagination of the US and indeed the world. Will America continue to lull itself in this Trumpist nightmare while establishment Democrats and Republican continue to pillage people at home and abroad? Or will it confront the compounded tragedy of the corpse ablaze and put it out?