I feel both overwhelmed and disoriented by the various implications of the following question: what should psychoanalysts do in the wake of Donald Trump’s election? This question presumes that psychoanalysis and psychoanalysts are not responsible and accountable to the rise of Trumpism. This question risks foreclosing the exploration of larger and deeper questions, such as what is the relationship between psychoanalysis, politics, and society, and what is a politicized psychoanalysis? To psychoanalytically reframe the first question would be to ask instead, what has psychoanalysis done, or not, to produce Trump Problems and what actions can psychoanalysts take now to address these problems? By Trump Problems I do not mean the impact of the individual and specific person that most of us can identify as Donald Trump, even though this individual and specific person is surely to be feared and taken seriously. Trump Problems are contained within, and produced by, the broad and pervasive system of neoliberalism — a system that psychoanalysis is complicit in normalizing. One aim of the psychoanalyst is to listen to society’s repressive forces as elaborated by the analysand. But is psychoanalysis prepared to be a patient with symptoms, a patient that suffers from the conditions and disavowal of neoliberalism?

When I ask my students to tell me what comes to mind when they hear the term neoliberalism they say: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; the outsourcing of labor to the global south; gender and sexual compliance in public assistance and welfare programs; the systematic oppression of black and brown people; the collusion of profit, health, and healthcare; binary categories that differentiate between the deserving and the undeserving; the incarceration and confinement of black, brown, poor, and neurodivergent people; the destruction of social welfare and the investment in private business; the appropriation of identity politics to serve capitalist expansion and exploitation. I know and my students know that neoliberalism is the predominant reality and the dictator of the material conditions within contemporary society.

In The Question of Lay Analysis Freud reminds us that the ego is pulled towards the demands of external reality. In its dependence on external reality the ego struggles against the id with the ego’s inefficient instrument of repression.[1] To refine the question further, I ask how is psychoanalysis pulled towards the neoliberal normal and how does the history of psychoanalysis set up the repressions that make it so difficult to untangle its complicated relation to neoliberalism? These are deep and complex questions that require rigorous individual and collective thought by psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic modes of thinking. This moment is an opportunity for psychoanalysts to confront and work through the ways in which psychoanalysis has been historically disconnected from social problems and complicit in neoliberal demands.

An examination of the history of psychoanalysis also reveals a repressed political activism that needs to be known. In 1918 Freud presented a speech to psychoanalysts at the fifth international Budapest congress in which he questioned the elitism of psychoanalytic practice and urged psychoanalysts to take on the project of public therapy, such as the creation of free clinics to address the neurotic misery of the “poor man.”[2] In his speech, Freud recognized the inaccessibility of psychoanalytic practice as a serious limitation: “At present we can do nothing for the wider social strata, who suffer extremely seriously from neuroses.”[3] His urgent plea was for psychoanalysts to wake up to the political, social, and economic reality and use their resources and skills to serve poor, low-income, and working class people. The post-World War I European political landscape pushed psychoanalysts to answer Freud’s call. The project of public therapy, which was realized through the creation of free clinics, was not an exception to the institution of psychoanalysis, but an important, yet hidden, development in the history of psychoanalytic practice. However, the rise of Nazism led to the destruction of psychoanalytically oriented free clinics throughout Europe.[4] Today, psychoanalysts, particularly in the U.S., still need to reckon with the impact of this historical political repression on psychoanalytic practice.

I chose to become a psychoanalyst because I care about individual and collective psychic health and I believe that psychoanalysis articulates the truest and most ethical conception of the psyche. But within a socially and economically stratified social context the development of psychic health is restricted to structurally privileged individuals and groups. This is a pressing, yet mostly repudiated problem in psychoanalysis. Trumpism demands that psychoanalysis critically consider its enmeshment in neoliberalism and explore the linkages between psychoanalytic thinking and political, social, and economic transformation. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election I plan to think more deeply about how psychoanalysis colludes with neoliberalism and how I and other aspiring and practicing analysts can commit to chipping away at the neoliberal normal in psychoanalysis. Are psychoanalysts willing to step down from their ivory towers and question psychoanalytic training and the private practice model? Are psychoanalysts willing to return to Freud’s urgent plea and disrupt the neoliberal normal in psychoanalysis? As a psychoanalyst, what will you do to make psychic health possible for all, especially for the 18 million people that might lose health insurance after the Obamacare repeal? I encourage all analysts to consider these questions and make concrete commitments now.


[1] Sigmund Freud. The Question of Lay Analysis, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XX (London: Hogarth, 1926), 177-258.

[2] Sigmund Freud, “Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy,” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (London: Hogarth, 1919), 157-168.

[3] Ibid., 167.

[4] For an in depth history of Freud’s free clinics see: Elizabeth Ann Danto, Freud’s Free Clinics: Psychoanalysis and Social Justice, 1918-1938 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).