In Sigmund Freud’s understanding of the human psyche, the id is the only part of our personality that is there from birth; it is our basic instinct, the drive to satisfy our bodily needs and desires; it is the drive toward gratification. The id becomes governed by the ego in our psyche, which seeks to ensure that the id conforms with reality; our ego mediates between the realities by which we must live and the desires of the id. Both our id and our ego are governed by the super-ego, our internalisation of cultural norms.
In Western societies, the super-ego became almost completely dominant, the influence and the power of the church ensured we outwardly conformed in every way, whatever we felt within ourselves. To fail to conform to repressive social norms would have invited severe consequences.
Twentieth century movements toward liberation progressively dismantled the power of cultural rules and traditions, individual dignity and individual rights were asserted against norms internalised for generations – race, gender and sexuality became the battlegrounds for freedom. The 1960s brought a culture where every influence of the super-ego was challenged; people should have freedom to do as they wished with their own lives. Without a powerful super-ego inhibiting behaviours, the rights to do as we wished were asserted and the sense of there being responsibilities to conform to norms was steadily reduced.
The decline of the influence of cultural inhibitions coincided with the rise of neo-liberalism, where the market is the only arbiter of choice. We all became consumers, life became a product with which we should be satisfied. Choices were determined by what we could afford. Libertarian thinking emphasised the freedom of the individual as more important than the rules and norms of society to the extent that in an 1989 interview British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher commented
. . .there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.
Thirty years on and the individual is in the ascendancy, an ascendancy represented by Donald Trump. The American president is not a maverick figure a departure from all that surrounded him, but he is the logical outcome of trends that discarded all norms and rules from the past. If individual freedom is sacrosanct, then social responsibility is secondary. If the super-ego is set aside, whether it derives its norms from Judaeo-Christian tradition or secular Western liberalism, then the ego has less requirement to mediate between the id and the realities of the society in which we live.
Odd as it seems, a president who says and does exactly as he feels at a particular moment does not seem so far away from those hippies who, fifty years ago, turned on, tuned in and dropped out – both represent the power of the id, perhaps the power of our true selves.