Is There a Name for This?

Patty Hearst may be a familiar name to you, but what about Yvonne Ridley?  What about Kreditbanken?  And why are they in adjacent sentences?  Stockholm syndrome.

Kreditbanken was a bank in Stockholm where, in 1973, four hostages – three women and a man – were held for six days days and were tortured during that time.  After being released, they not only refused to testify against their captors but raised money for their defense.  Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist,  was captured and held by the Taliban for eleven days; after her release she became a passionate Muslim  and disavowed Western ways.  Patty Hearst, the granddaughter of publisher William Randolph Hearst, was taken and held hostage by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) in 1974, but joined in subsequent bank robberies and captured the next year.

The location of the bank in Sweden  become the name for the behavior of hostage victims who developed if not a strong fondness then empathy for their captors.  Nils Bejerot, a Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist coined the term “Stockholm Syndrome to explain it. Victims develop positive feelings toward their captors and sympathies towards their causes, feelings that often stay with the victims when they return to their normal lives.

One explanation of the syndrome is that the victims have a strong sense of survival and use it as a coping mechanism.  By not just co-operating but co-opting the captors and their principals, the victims see a much greater chance of surviving the ordeal.  That the feelings linger after the ordeal is over is a result of how strong the fear or sense of survival was when they coped by co-opting.

Victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse often, it is claimed, become abusers themselves.  Children who grow up in environments where their father (figure, perhaps) is abusive towards their mother may come to believe that being abuse is how they are supposed to behave in a relationship.  I have always wondered if the effects of abuse on children, and even adults, is related to the Stockholm Syndrome. Perhaps driven by the same will to survive, victims of abuse somehow believe they are to blame or that they must give in to preserve their lives and life style.

Recently, it occurred to me that a hybrid of these victim behaviors might be part of our political landscape.  There is a portion of the electorate who has been identified as being angry: at being ignored, left behind, and disenfranchised.  These people are not racial or ethnic minorities who have been the targets of direct or indirect discrimination but white, often rural people who feel marginalized in society.  They tend to be more conservative and deeply religious – Christian.  As a group they are less educated, have fewer transportable job skills, and consider their way of life – their world view – as under attack.  They want it and themselves to survive.

To many, it was and probably still is a puzzle why they saw Trump as their champion.  He is a billionaire businessman who does not live in or share their lifestyles and values.  He has put an administration together that is top heavy with other billionaires and his disdain during the campaign for Wall Street has vanished with a long list of other promises to his malcontent, change-demanding base.  But before all that, he has long demonstrated a character that falls short of what that base has long considered a measuring standard: family values, sexual decency, charity and caring.

Is this a form of the Stockholm Syndrome? It is that voters who feel abused and ignored become the abusers?  How can so many conservative – and evangelical Christians in particular – switch from decrying lack of decency and family values at every liberal Democrat to intractably supporting someone who is devoid of faith, decency and family values?

Polls now indicate that many voters claim NOT to have voted for Trump but voted AGAINST Clinton.  Fair enough, but that begs the question “why?”  The answer to that is vastly more complex that any one simple explanation, but I would toss “punishment” into the mix.  Punishment for perceived and real transgressions as First Lady and for her husband’s presidency.  Punishment of “liberal elites” who look down on the voters, whose intellectual snobbery was far worse than Trump’s actual lifestyle snobbery.  It is a pass afforded to the very wealthy, celebrities and lotto winners provided they don’t act uppity in their snobbery.

This is by no means a criticism of the voters and supporters who said NO to Clinton.  And it is not an absolution to Trump supporters who were blatantly racist, misogynist,  or xenophobic.  Clinton ran a crappy campaign and couldn’t define herself or her base. Trump ran a highly targeted and effective campaign.  And he won.

But we need to take a look at our national character: are we victims or are we going to stand up for our principles?  I may disagree with your policies and you mine, but we should all respect true character.  Or fail to see the lack of it.

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