By Emma Lieber
Psychoanalysis pays attention to names. So too, now, does the American public. Trump is a winner — he has to be, his name says so. Yet John Oliver’s campaign to “Make Donald Drumpf Again,” for one, suggests that we might question the self-appointment of a family that names themselves perpetual victors. Names exist in between the logics of subjective desire and communal code, and in this sense they speak both to an individual’s possibilities and to his limitations.
But we should think about first names too. In the Trump family, there is a certain tradition to naming. Apparently, their custom is to name the first son after the father and to almost name the first daughter after the mother. Fred and Mary Anne Trump have Maryanne and Fred Trump before they have Donald and Robert; Donald follows suit with Ivana by having Donald and Ivanka before Eric. The parents replicate themselves, but not quite: in the woman there is a very small difference, either a space removed or a letter added. What do these differences mean, and what does this naming practice do?
It’s not too hard to see that something funny goes on between Donald Trump and Ivanka. When your daughter is, for all intents and purposes, your first lady, or when she is, for you, a piece of ass, something of the prohibition against incest has been lost. Trump is like the father of the primal horde in Freud’s Totem and Taboo, who is subject to no limitations — he has all the women, or in Trump’s terminology, he grabs all the pussies. In Freud’s story — admittedly a myth about the origins of the modern unconscious — the sons of the primal father have to kill him off to get any ass themselves and, as a result, they impose the incest taboo, to make sure no such ascendance ever happens again. Trump would have us believe that it has.
Yet the Trump family tree may make us realize that whatever the appearances, Trump is anything but the primal father. The naming tradition within the Trump dynasty seems to have created special perplexities for Donald as to who might be properly considered a piece of ass. Mary Anne with a space? Maryanne without a space? Ivana without a k? It must be very confusing! Add to this that Donald was not his father’s namesake — that he was left outside the Fred-Mary Anne-Maryanne-Fred fold — and you have a combustible combination. Perpetually excluded, never part of the primary group, Trump’s ambition became to stand above them all — even his father, whose middle name was Christ. People indeed say that we tend to resemble our grandparents more than our parents, so it is perhaps no wonder that Donald Trump seems to consider himself God. But Trump is neither God, nor the primal father who is similarly mythologized for his lack of limits. Instead, for a psychoanalyst, he is the quintessential Oedipal son, forever on the outside of the parental fold, desperate to be taken seriously, confused about who or what he’s allowed to grab, and so grabbing at whatever comes his way.