After the 2022 midterm election, in which the Democrats won the senate majority, media coverage focused on the growing discontent in the Republican Party. [1] The Party is trying to figure out why it did not get the promised victory. They are now split in two, between candidates backed by Trump and those backed by the ‘classical’ Republican Party. Thus it appears the Party has to decide between the ‘old’ version or Trump’s version. Days later, Trump announced his 2024 Presidential candidacy for the GOP-nomination. Perhaps his strongest political rival is the rising star, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who won by a resounding 19 points in Florida. Sen. Marco Rubio, who lost the campaign nomination to Trump in 2016, also gained re-election by a 16-point margin. Both Rubio and DeSantis are candidates that, despite being younger than Trump, represent the traditional Republican Party. Trump has already reacted to these potential rivals and has done so in his own particular way.

On his own social media platform, Truth Social, he has called DeSantis “average” and lacking in “loyalty”.[2] Furthermore, Trump said that DeSantis turned to him in 2017 when the latter’s campaign was in despair: “Ron had low approval, bad polls, and no money, but he said that if I would endorse [sic] him, he could win […] I also fixed his campaign, which had completely fallen apart.”[3] One particularly striking feature of Trump is that he began, like he did in 2016, to call his rivals nicknames: “Ron DeSanctimonious”. This tactic was a major part of winning the GOP-nomination in 2016 – it set new rules for the political debate and in 2016 candidates were often at a loss how to fight Trump’s many pejorative hypocorisms[4] (“Little Marco” for Marco Rubio; “Low Energy Jeb” for Jeb Bush). Why do these nicknames have such a fascinating effect and seem to be hard to get rid of, regardless of the political reality?

Perhaps one could refer to Lacan’s elaboration of a particular aspect of political theory, known as the “King’s two bodies” after Ernst Kantorowicz’s classical study from 1957. [5] Here the body of the king is split in two: the material body, that could suffer corruption and decay, and the sublime-immaterial body, incarnating kingship as such[6]. In his seminar from 1958-1959, Lacan makes an implicit critique of Kantorowicz. The material body of the king is not merely the support of the sublime body, but itself becomes an object of fascination, so that all the personal traits of the king begin to function in a symbolic register. This is captured in Hamlet’s famous phrase “the King is a thing”, and the “body is with the King, but the King is not with the body”. Hamlet’s problem is not simply that, as Freud and Jones argued, Claudius embodies Hamlet’s unconscious-incestuous wish. Hamlet is not ambivalent towards Claudius, and he can easily kill the material body, but he is not sure that “thing” in Claudius’ body can be simply killed in this way:

“One cannot strike the phallus[7] because, even if it is clearly real, it is but a shadow [ombre].(…) we were all stirred up at the time when we wondered why, after all, no one had assassinated Hitler. He perfectly incarnated the object whose function Freud outlines in his Massenpsychologie where he spells out how a mass of people becomes homogenized by way of identification with an object on the horizon, an object x, which is unlike any other. Doesn’t that link up with what we are talking about here? (….) Oedipus deflects Hamlet’s arm, not because Hamlet is afraid of this man whom he scorns, but because he knows that what he must strike is something other than what is there.”[8]

Claudius’ body is not merely a material support of a title, but is itself redoubled. This is why as soon as a person is king all his personal traits start to take on a sublime character, precisely the more “human” they are. Whenever a person decides to run for a public office, it is as if his body undergoes the same kind of split, hinted at by Hamlet’s hesitation and massively exploited by Trump. Trump does not simply target a personal trait, but something “other than what is there”, like something in his rivals, that are in their bodies’ more than themselves and pertains to the symbolic nomination. They do not aim at a rival’s symbolic merits, but rather the “thing” in him, that is “in DeSantis more than DeSantis”, like “DeSanctimonious” for when DeSantis has not yet announced his candidacy. Now, this other thing, DeSanctimonious, seems to live a life of its own regardless of what DeSantis might say, it is as if we voters were to say: “I do not know whether or not it is true… but there is really something about that name”. We saw this also in the way that Trump supporters’ were happy to simply repeat “Crooked Hillary” as an entity that was stuck on the ‘empirical person’ of Hillary Clinton.[9]





[5] Very conspicuous elaborations of this theme of the King and the People’s two bodies, through Lacanian psychoanalysis, are given by Slavoj Žižek and Eric L. Santner. See for example Slavoj Žižek, For They Know Not What They Do: Enjoyment as a Political Factor (London: Verso, 2008) and Eric L. Santner, The Royal Remains: The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011).

[6] For an even earlier discussion of the same topic, see Lacan’s discussion of the “King of England is an Idiot” in Jacques Lacan, The Ego in Freud’s Theory and the Technique of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan 1954-1955, book ii, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Sylvana Tomaselli. (New York: W.W. Norton & Norton, 1988), 128-129.

[7] While Lacan uses the term phallus, here it is more precise, in view of its function in the quote, to read it retroactively as the object a: “What is in Claudius more than Claudius”. One of the tasks of this seminar is begin a conceptualization of object a and Lacan is still sometimes using the phallus for this function.

[8] Jacques Lacan, Desire and its interpretation: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book vi, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Bruce Fink (Cambridge: Polity, 2019), 352-353.

[9]In the popular and expensive historical TV-series The Crown about the reign of Elizabeth IIwe see the same “thing” at work. The series above all does not address the symbolic title, but their human frailties, love escapades, intrigues, everything “behind the scenes”. It is precisely by showing the royal family as an “ordinary family” (they have the same troubles as the rest of us) that they remain all the more charismatic. The personal pathologies of the royal family do not make them less royal, but have the paradoxical feature of making them even more untouchable and fascinating. The series is less concerned with whatever official action the royal family takes, but only how their official duties reflect back on personal troubles and intrigues (similar to the way that DeSantis’ bad campaign in 2017 reflects back on a DeSanctimonious’ character). When we watch the show we think we are dealing with the “empirical side” versus “the symbolic office”. What we are instead seeing is the body redoubled. Every personal whim of the royal family, precisely because it is the royal family, takes on a surplus of charisma and fascination, the “thing” in the king.