I write this post one day after the Republican Presidential Debate in Detroit where audiences were subjected to hearing way too much information about Donald Trump’s anatomy. Once again, everything we’ve come to detest regarding the dark side of the white American male reverberated in the Neanderthal tone of voice, exuding the familiar thuggish, adolescent, Godfather vibe that is the hallmark of this bombastic buffoon. Frankly, I’ve known gang bangers with more class.
But as much as Trump disgusts millions of Americans, he has clearly mesmerized millions of others, and try as they may, neither political pundits nor social psychologists have succeeded in grasping the total landscape of Trump’s hypnotic influence on the masses.
Therefore, I believe it is to archetypal psychology in general, and the psychology of Carl Jung specifically, to which we must turn for more a more compelling explanation. One of the most momentous concepts in Jung’s legacy is the shadow. By “shadow,” Jung meant those unconscious aspects of the psyche of which we are ashamed or that do not resonate with our self-image or which are not socially acceptable. We deny these aspects of self and send them into the unconscious mind where they lie dormant except when we project them onto others. A classic example is the religious homophobe who unconsciously wards off his own same-sex attractions by denying them and then projects them onto another person. Whatever the scenario, it is important to remember that we all have a shadow, we all repress it, and we all project that shadow occasionally—or often onto others.
But just as individuals engage in shadow repression and projection, so do entire cultures. In her March 1, VOX article, “The Rise Of American Authoritarianism,” Amanda Taub notes that, “For years now, before anyone thought a person like Donald Trump could possibly lead a presidential primary, a small but respected niche of academic research has been laboring over a question, part political science and part psychology, that had captivated political scientists since the rise of the Nazis. How do people come to adopt, in such large numbers and so rapidly, extreme political views that seem to coincide with fear of minorities and with the desire for a strongman leader?” Taub argues that authoritarians are a real political constituency that existed before Trump and that are currently being forced to confront race and ethnicity more intensely than in the past. Often, they are members of the white working class. A classic aspect of authoritarianism in politics is the ‘social threat’ theory which ‘explains why authoritarians seem so prone to reject not just one specific kind of outsider or social change, such as Muslims or same-sex couples or Hispanic migrants, but rather to reject all of them’.”
Last month Noam Chomsky proclaimed in his Huffington Post article “Donald Trump Is Winning Because White America Is Dying,” that the so-called authoritarian demographic “is sinking into hopelessness, despair and anger — not directed so much against the institutions that are the agents of the dissolution of their lives and world, but against those who are even more harshly victimized.”
Chomsky lived through the Great Depression and World War II, and he alludes to similarities between this era and those events, remarking that Trump’s overwhelming popularity is reminiscent of the rise of Hitler. “Signs are familiar, and here it does evoke some memories of the rise of European fascism.”
Ubiquitous in last week’s coverage of Trump was his refusal to disavow the support of David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard and volunteer for the Trump campaign. When pressed on the issue, Trump feigned ignorance of Duke. In fact, according to FactCheck.org., Trump knows well who David Duke is, and this knowledge goes back as far as Duke’s 1991 campaign for Governor of Louisiana.
Chris Hedges in this week’s Truthdig feature article “The Revenge of The Lower Classes And The Rise of American Fascism,” articulated what we must not forget about the authoritarian element on the current American landscape:
Fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the “losers” who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment. The sociologist Émile Durkheim warned that the disenfranchisement of a class of people from the structures of society produced a state of “anomie”—a “condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals.” Those trapped in this “anomie,” he wrote, are easy prey to propaganda and emotionally driven mass movements. Hannah Arendt, echoing Durkheim, noted that “the chief characteristic of the mass man is not brutality and backwardness, but his isolation and lack of normal social relationships.”
And all of this brings us back to the brutal reality of America’s collective shadow and the fact that ours is a nation founded on at least three inhumane and oppressive realities with which we have never fully come to terms as a nation:
- The genocide of millions of Native peoples on the North American continent. These were peoples of color with customs and cosmologies intimately connected with the Earth.
- Slavery which for at least three centuries enabled the economic base of North America to expand and prosper. While slavery ended, institutionalized racism did not and not only endures, but is writ large in every corner of the Trump campaign.
- The singular use of the atomic bomb by the United States of America in 1945, ostensibly to end World War II and subdue the nation of Japan.
When an individual or a society will not confront its shadow, it invariably projects it onto the “other.” The shadow loves nothing more than the notion of exceptionalism. In fact, it thrives on it. Exceptionalism’s twin, of course, is entitlement. We are entitled because we are exceptional. We are entitled internationally to extend the tentacles of corporate capitalism to every inch of the planet, and we are entitled intra-nationally by “virtue” of race, class, and economic status, to deliriously consume everything in sight and oppress and dominate all whom we deem not exceptional.
In his cogent 2010 book Madness At The Gates Of The City: The Myth Of American Innocence, Barry Spector writes extensively of “Otherness” or “Othering”—defining ourselves by who we are not. For example, a white heterosexual male may define himself as not female, not Hispanic, and not gay. Othering inherently deems whoever we are not as inferior and justifies the oppression of “those people.” Spector notes that Othering is most pronounced in monotheistic religions and that it can range from a mild sense of Othering, to an obsession about the Other as is ubiquitous in racist or homophobic groups that make the elimination of the other their life’s mission. Othering is an invariable outcome of exceptionalism and entitlement. One constructs one’s identity out of the Othering process, in juxtaposition to the Other. That is to say, I am who I am because I am not you.
Individuals and communities can do shadow healing work, but what kind of President would it take to support the nation collectively in staring clear-eyed into its shadow? And what might that look like anyway? Can we dare to imagine a President who organizes a gathering in one of the nation’s sports arenas in which he or she summons the leadership of various Native American tribes and the media. Then in that gathering, the President kneels before the Native leaders and on national television, apologizes for the American genocide of their people. In the same gathering, the President might kneel before current and founding members of the Civil Rights Movement in America and apologize for slavery. But these apologies would ring hollow unless the President offered a pardon to a high-profile prisoner like Leonard Peltier and began radically scaling down the prison industrial complex. That same President might journey to Japan with a delegation of peacemakers and apologize to the Japanese people for the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed by an Executive Order to begin the dismantling of nuclear weapons programs in the United States.
My fantasy is but one version of what reclaiming our projections and making some restitution for our collective shadow might look like. But while fantasy is fun, tangible, concrete practices for healing the personal and collective shadow have never been more urgent because at this moment, the United States has never been closer to the abyss of institutionalized fascism in tandem with institutionalized racism.
Mirroring Adolph Hitler, Donald Trump has cast a spell over the minds of the economically and politically victimized masses of Americans who in their desperation seek a scapegoat onto which they may project their misery. Furthermore, in the name of disavowing “political correctness,” he has given them exquisite permission to blame, bad-mouth, and ban “the other.”
I concur with Chris Hedges that “There is only one way left to blunt the yearning for fascism coalescing around Trump. It is to build, as fast as possible, movements or parties that declare war on corporate power, engage in sustained acts of civil disobedience and seek to reintegrate the disenfranchised—the “losers”—back into the economy and political life of the country. This movement will never come out of the Democratic Party.”
In addition to building an external movement of resistance, we must also commit to doing the inner work of personal and collective shadow healing. Jung famously said that eighty-percent of the shadow is pure gold, meaning that if we are willing to mine its dark energies of the shadow, we can increase our capacity for compassion, wholeness, cooperation, and joy.