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U.S. President Donald Trump embodies the opposite of everything I believe in. He uses vicious words when talking about women and violates their rights; he stirs up racism against Mexicans, he repeatedly assails the media, he compared neo-Nazis to demonstrators who came to protest racism; he’s inarticulate and childish – everything he says and does is contrary to everything I believe in. Despite all this, I feel some fondness for him. Is it okay that I like Donald Trump despite all that he stands for?
Dear Not Melania,
It's unclear whether by your question “Is it okay?” you mean ethically or psychologically reasonable. I’ll try and respond to both possibilities, but the answer in both cases is affirmative: Yes, it’s okay.
Political support for Trump is a patently immoral act. This is not the place to elaborate, but as you’ve pointed out this is a vicious and repulsive man who is using his powerful status to incite against weaker groups while depriving them of their rights, a man whose actions are causing irreparable harm to people and to the planet. However, there is a significant ethical difference between supporting his positions or, heaven forbid, voting for him, and liking him a little.
To be precise, it seems you mean appreciation or envy, since the term fondness is associated with feelings of affinity and identification, and that’s not what you are describing. Regardless of the emotions you have, it does happen that we sometimes have a fuzzy corner in our hearts for scoundrels, and even though for me it seems distasteful, there is no significant ethical problem with this. A classical deontological approach, which attributes moral value to our actions as such, would deem this as wrong, since it is irrational and unseemly to admire such a flawed individual, but this is a rather harsh position. I’d like to suggest a utilitarian moral alternative, which examines the ethics of our actions only by their results. Does the fondness you unwillingly feel towards Trump cause any harm? I doubt that, unless you start supporting his policies and utterances – in that case, get back to me for a reappraisal.
The second question is whether an attraction to a dark force and to someone who represents the opposite of what you believe in attests to a psychological complex, and here too the answer is that all is well. So much so that even the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, related to this as an inherent part of the structure of the human soul. According to Freud, along with moral demands made by the superego there is the id, driven by the selfish pleasure principle, blind to social and ethical rules. That part of the soul identifies with an overgrown baby such as Trump, who ostensibly does as he pleases while disdaining everything good and beautiful in human culture. Obviously there is abundant and justified criticism of Freud’s model, but it can be used for understanding what could evoke some fondness (actually envy) towards such people, even when you adamantly oppose their positions.
Your fondness for Trump is based on the same principle which leads to the attractiveness of scoundrels in the movies. They represent freedom and power, the potential for taking unbridled revenge and for acting without thinking so much about the consequences and without feeling bad about it. It repels and attracts at the same time. This is exactly what sometimes causes leftist activists to secretly admire extreme right-wing activists who act immorally but feel great. When you sit in an endless debate, where participants try to reach a consensus without excluding anyone, without being able to agree on how to parse the paragraphs in a flier which in any case will achieve nothing in the real world, it’s reasonable to feel a tiny spark of envy. Especially if the actions of said villain hurt you only indirectly. (Try liking Trump when you’re one of the illegal immigrants he’s deported, or liking the hilltop youth in the West Bank when you’re a Palestinian whose house has been burned down – that’s a little more challenging.)
The bottom line is that as long as you only feel slight fondness but don’t start sharing his tweets on Twitter or believing that all Mexicans are rapists, it’s not something you should note on your Tinder profile but it’s morally okay and psychologically quite common. Looking at Trump is mesmerizing, just like looking at any natural disaster, such as the scenes of destruction left behind by hurricane Irma, of which Trump, the prince of words, had this to say: “The bad news is that this is some big monster.”
Tidbits: Any expert educational psychologist will tell you that over-pampering a child and not placing boundaries can lead to their having no moral inhibitions when they become adults, making them generally insufferable, the kind of person who doesn’t pick up their litter, a person who insults the elderly and who starts believing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, or a person who wears aluminum foil hats. In order to contend with such situations, parents have to demonstrate some firmness. Among other things, it’s important that you ask him to leave your house already and start earning a living, as expected of an adult. Try removing him from the company of spoiled rich friends who could have a bad influence. When he does awful things, make sure you comment on them and make it clear that you object to such behavior. Even at the age of 26 it’s not too late to correct mistakes in a child’s education.
If you don’t know how to behave in a certain situation, if you need friendly advice but you’ve already driven all your sane friends away or if you’ve got the kind of embarrassing question that can only be asked anonymously, send a mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org.Our answers will be generous and honest – but should not be seen as replacement for professional consultations. Obviously.