Biden, Trump and Sigmund Freud

By Richard Lee

Sigmund Freud won’t be on the 2024 presidential ballot, but the work of the man known as the founding father of psychoanalysis may help explain why Joe Biden and Donald Trump are likely to be the candidates.

The presidential election is about a year and half away, and at the moment, Biden and Trump are the leading candidates in their respective political parties.

An NBC News poll released Sunday showed Trump was the favored Republican candidate for 46% of the respondents — 15 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had 31%. None of the other Republican candidates broke double digits.

On the Democratic side, Biden is unopposed. Forty-one percent of the respondents said they would vote for him in the November presidential election.

But the same poll showed that 70% of the respondents — including 51% of Democrats — said Biden should not seek a second term. Half of that group said his age was a major reason why they oppose him running again.

Trump did not fare much better. Sixty percent of the respondents — including a third of Republicans — said he should not run in 2024.

So we find ourselves in the strange situation in which Biden and Trump are the leading presidential candidates, even though most Americans don’t want them to run.

How can Dr. Freud’s work help us understand this unusual scenario?

Some clues lies in Totem and Taboo, Freud’s 1913 book about how modern forms of socialization are shaped by primitive cultures.

“The behavior of primitive races towards their chiefs, kings, and priests, is controlled by two principles which seem rather to supplement than to contradict each other. They must both be guarded and be guarded against,” Freud wrote.

People must have “a strain of mistrust” in their leaders, he added.

Looking at the 2024 presidential race in the context of Totem and Taboo, Biden and Trump are the leaders most Americans want, but voters have concerns about each of them. For Biden, age is one concern. As for Trump, he has been indicted on charges that he falsified business records, and he is the subject of other legal investigations.

What’s the answer to this dilemma?

Freud offers a suggestion, but it is far too drastic for modern America.

The Timmes of Sierra Leona “reserve the right to administer a beating to their elected king on the evening before his coronation, and that they make use of this constitutional right with such thoroughness that the unhappy ruler sometimes does not long survive his accession to the throne,” he wrote.

Unlike the Timmes of Sierra Leona, we don’t physically beat our candidates before they take office, but today’s intense political campaigns can subject them to emotional beatings. On Election Day in 2024 (or a few days later if the outcome is not clear), we will learn which candidate survived the long and grueling campaign for the highest office in our nation.

Richard Lee, executive director of the Jandoli Institute, is a professor in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. He covered politics and government as a reporter and later served as Deputy Director of Communication for two New Jersey governors.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Media, Politics

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