The matter of the love-hate relationship between psychoanalysis and public life has an unexpected link to the complexities of secularism in the United States. Officially, psychoanalysis has been dismissed as a mode of inquiry into the issues of public life and especially into the states of mind of its actors. This is the result of the famous Goldwater Rule, introduced into the ethics code of the American Psychiatric Association following the 1964 presidential election, when analysts had the temerity to “diagnose” Barry Goldwater without the benefit of having him on their couches.
The Goldwater Rule came at a time when psychoanalysis was influential among psychiatrists, who had transformed the complex experience of the talking cure and the endless variations of human behavior into rigid diagnostic categories of mental illnesses. It is now common practice among psychiatrists to say that unless a patient expresses a complaint, psychiatrists are not ethically permitted to speak of the condition that supposedly is causing the mental distress. My attempt to explain President Donald Trump’s behavior in psychoanalytic terms is perceived by some not only as unethical, but as arrogant and insulting to a citizen who is not a patient and most probably will never become one.
There was a time, however, when psychoanalysis was squarely part of American culture, public discourse, and of the world of ideas.