“Identifying with the aggressor”is a notorious psychoanalytic syndrome referring to victims who out of abject powerlessness align themselves with, and often even imitate, captors who are the real sources of their suffering. By identifying with uncaring authorities whose whims control their fates, these desperate victims gain a false sense of possessing a particle of power themselves.
However crazy and odious it sounds, it is a well-documented tactic, highlighted especially in Nazi concentration camps where some inmates believed that by currying favour with camp guards, they would acquire a grubby sort of self-esteem and, of course, better treatment. The co-called “Kapos” were the worst of the lot, volunteering as brutal trustees to assist Nazis in degrading and murdering fellow prisoners. In such a hellish world the fantasy of becoming a camp guard, or at least a valued accomplice, offered a strange if self-destructive solace. These raw opportunists rarely came to good ends. They eventually perished in the gas chambers too. Still, this repulsive identification takes milder but no less disturbing forms as well.
The so-called “Stockholm syndrome” is perhaps a more familiar version where victims of kidnappers try to identify with the interests and concerns of their criminal keepers so as to win their favor and sympathy. In 1974 a weirdo gang, grandly named the Symbionese Liberation Army, kidnapped wealthy heiress Patty Hearst who apparently went so far as to join them afterward in staging armed robberies. When there seems no way out, some folks will resort to any means they imagine will help them survive. With the help of high-priced lawyers, the court was persuaded to acknowledge the extenuating circumstances underlying Hearst’s actions. She’s been a model tycoon ever since.
One cannot help but suspect that this insidious psychology affects far more people in many different ways than psychiatric textbooks can capture. Right now the US public, buffeted by Covid and its attendant lockdown costs, are poised to dump Donald Trump for Joe Biden, a proudly conservative Democrat who actually backs most things Trump champions except perhaps for Trump’s personal businesses.
Biden is pro-corporate, pro-big banks, pro-brokerage firms, pro-military waste, proprivate equity firms, pro-gig economy (versus well-paying secure jobs with benefits), anti-Green New Deal, anti-Medicare for all, anti-welfare for anyone but the rich, and, while Obama’s vice president, vigorously supported legislation that incarcerated more working class minorities (especially Blacks) than ever. An opponent of Trump only embraces that package for lack of any choice.
If your stock portfolio is bulging but you also desire a dignified demeanor and civil mouth occupying the Oval Office, then there is plenty to celebrate. For the rest of the American voters, there is scant relief. Slowing down the hurtling of the American Republic into unashamed oligarchy is the best one can expect, since the Democratic National Committee and its rich donor base executed a well-coordinated move to sabotage candidate Bernie Sanders, who vowed to reverse the legalized swindle of the last 4 to 5 decades.
The top tenth of one percent of Americans now own more wealth than the bottom 90 per cent while one child in five subsists beneath a very mean poverty line. Shushing up details of that sort has been the foremost concern of the Biden camp, who will include many of the same Wall Street brokers who ran Obama’s administration and allowed 10 million Americans to be evicted from homes they profited from peddling to them in the first place ~ and were bailed out too.
One Yank in five with insurance, including Obamacare, cannot pay their medical bills, and 30 million remain totally uninsured at the highest cost any state on the planet pays for health care. Yet Biden is reported to be seriously searching for Republicans (such as Meg Whitman, John Kasich, and former Senator Jeff Flake) to join his prospective cabinet, a signal of contempt and repudiation to the battered Bernie Sanders campaign supporters, who are expected by the Party to fall meekly in line.
This feat will be hard to accomplish since the formal Democratic Party has proved no more fussy about facts or public welfare than Republicans. The Democratic National Committee commissioned the error-ridden Steele report on Trump, claimed that leaked Hillary Clinton emails were forged (they weren’t) and, together with Republican commando Roger Stone, falsely alleged that WikiLeaks met with Trump representatives. (Discrediting WikiLeaks is an objective that both Parties heartily endorse.)
One also encounters middle class Democratic party supporters who disdainfully regard working class whites as cartoon Neanderthal bigots who are lost to Trump even though Trumps supporters on average actually boast higher incomes than Democrats. Scour Biden’s platform and there is hardly a credible pocketbook theme with which to attract struggling workers, whatever their hue. Some 70 per cent of Democrats (and 52 per cent of Republicans) want Medicare for all, for example, but are ignored. Most Americans, polls indicate, believe no one in power speaks for them and, accordingly, Biden is no more popular now than Hilary Clinton in 2016. It will be a grave mistake if Biden, if he wins, therefore imagines that he secured mass support. The Occupy Wall Street movement, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie Sanders campaign enthusiasts and countless social justice groups are not going away and will continue to aim to move the members of the public from identifying with the aggressor to identifying the enemy, which clearly still has a way to go in Corporate America.
The writers are well-known commentators and are the authors of No Clean Hands, Parables of Permanent War and other books