On January 8, 2021 Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account, named @realDonaldTrump, citing his constant incitement to violence. Trump lost access to many millions of followers. Twitter was followed by Facebook and Google. Amazon closed Parler, a website used by Trump’s far-right, paranoid and violent fans, thousands of whom had stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
On July 12, 2021, six months after his suspension, Trump filed class-action lawsuits against the “social media,” claiming that they had denied his First Amendment free speech rights.
As with everything else concerning Trump, there were several irrational aspects of this affair that cry out for a psychological explanation. First, why did Trump name his Twitter account @realDonaldTrump? Consciously, the reason was that his identity had been stolen by people who hacked his account, and Trump wanted to make sure that his Twitter followers knew he was the genuine article. Unconsciously, however, the addition of the word “real” indicated Trump’s deep sense of his “false self,” a term coined by the British psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott.
Another question is why Trump waited six months before filing his complaint with the federal district court in Florida. The lawsuit said that the Defendants had “deplatformed” the Plaintiff. This charged term harked back to the 1940s, when U.S. universities instituted Speaker Bans against communists, socialists and other “subversive” people, lay Trump’s deep sense of unbearable humiliation and his boundless narcissistic rage. Had he tried unsuccessfully to subdue this rage for six months before finally filing his legal complaint?
Trump’s complaint also said that Twitter’s action in declaring that specific
posts of the Plaintiff had violated its self-composed “Twitter Rules” was “akin to forcing a round peg into a square hole.” The choice of metaphor betrayed the disingenuousness of the argument. It is easy to force a round peg into a square hole if its diameter is smaller than the side of the square. The usual idiom is “a square peg in a round hole,” meaning an individual who is a social misfit.
Trump’s lawsuit also claimed that Twitter had used “an unconstitutional delegation of authority to regulate free speech.” This argument betrayed Trump’s upside-down, inside-out “reality.” Like any newspaper or website, Twitter is a private “social medium” and has no legal obligation to publish anything that it owners consider harmful or dangerous. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects free speech, but it does not force the “media” to publish readers’ letters, opinions, or anything else. Trump, who was used to force his will on others by means of threats and lawsuits, wanted his “free speech” rights to trump those of Twitter.
One of the striking things about Trump’s lawsuit was that he was bound to lose it due to legal precedent. In 1974 the Supreme Court had struck down a Florida law that would have allowed politicians the “right to reply” to newspaper articles criticizing them. And, in late June 2021, just before Trump filed his complaint, a federal judge in Florida had blocked as unconstitutional a Florida state law that would have imposed fines on some technology companies that “willfully deplatform a candidate for office.” Trump had lost dozens of lawsuits in late 2020 challenging the results of the U.S. presidential election. Why did he instruct his lawyers to file yet another lawsuit that he was sure to lose?
The answer has to lie in Trump’s unconscious mind. As a two year-old toddler, he had been emotionally abandoned by his mother, following the birth of his younger brother, during which his mother almost died. Throughout his life, Trump unconsciously recreated this abandonment in what Sigmund Freud called the “repetition compulsion.” At age thirteen Donny Trump was expelled from home and sent away to a military academy due to his sassy behavior at school. At many other junctures of his life he unconsciously caused himself to be rejected or abandoned. Six of his companies declared bankruptcy, he owed hundreds of millions of dollars to the banks, and in 1990 Trump was in a deep financial and personal crisis. In 2020 his destructive political actions and his mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic made him lose the U.S. presidential election, which meant losing Mother America, his unconscious replacement for the mother who had abandoned him.
Despite all this, Trump has an unexpected emotional resilience, perhaps acquired from his father, from his mentor at the military academy, Major Dobias, and from other father figures during his life. Rudy Giuliani has called Donald Trump a “turnaround artist.” His resilience is such that he can spring back from adversity again and again, but it does not prevent his unconscious mind from wreaking havoc on his life. Trump may well cause himself more political, legal and personal damage as he prepares to re-enter U.S. politics while facing numerous criminal and civil lawsuits in the federal, state and local courts. Citizen Trump is no less tragic a figure than the fictional Citizen Kane that he identifies with.