As it turns Carl Jung (psychiatrist, psychoanalyst) might be one of the least surprised by the seemingly unstoppable rise of Donald Trump in the polls, and in people’s love-hate relationships. Actually, one of Jung’s gifts to us was his educating us about the shadows, the too-dark and too-light aspects of ourselves that we can’t stand so we deny or project them.
Jung knew that lecturing would never be enough to have his concepts translated, since our fiercest urges don’t get lit up just by lessons of words and concepts alone. We would have to get to know those urges, and know them well. We would have to know them well enough so as to tame them, so as not to be so scared of them.
Jung wrote “The Undiscovered Self” in the 1950’s, at a time when he warned that nuclear war was a distinct probability if people and nation states continued to project our worst traits onto our enemies, even onto our mates and partners. We project—take the parts of us we learn to hate and fear—and push it on to someone else—our spouse, a group we scapegoat, people that scare us because they remind us of ourselves.
Interestingly, even though the more obvious side of what we “give” to the others has to do with the darker and more violent sides, sometimes we are just as scared and intolerant of the softer and weaker sides that we or our mentors reject unstintingly.
Donald Trump, as it turns out, applies almost perfectly to Jung’s assessment, which included his idea that the United States as a country could be exceedingly likely to have a dictator-like situation, or cult of personality. He felt that America being a relatively young country with little awareness, collectively that is, of evil or wrong doing or the need to apologize and work through, let’s say, the disasters and brutality of slavery, added to the possibility of a violent regime happening here. He wrote after the Holocaust and stated clearly he felt we are all capable of hideous actions, including murder— all the more so if we never become conscious of the urges involved.
Donald Trump seems to win the day on two accounts. One is that he, as many have already articulated, represents the politically incorrect harsh “in your face” New York tough guy. He can go against the grain of civil or decent respectful conversation, seducing many with the sound and air of “Fuggedaboutit” that has become a familiar and affectionate signage on the way out of Brooklyn to Staten Island.
He reminds me of the days in which the superb programming of “The Sopranos” reigned, and I found myself more than once fantasizing having a Tony Soprano in my right hand pocket, so to speak. How helpless do some of us feel—and this is relatively petty—on the phone with a whatever representative that keeps us on hold while we listen to music we detest, to sometimes have the line cut out so we have to start again. This is a really petty example for many whose blights are much more serious but for some of us can symbolize the rage we build in the midst of daily frustrations.
Donald Trump can get it done, he can hire or fire someone, get someone on television; he is a good man to know. On the back burner, he is a terrible man to know, precisely because his biggest weapon, aside from mere shows of bravado and grandiosity, is that of insult. Humiliation, as it turns out, has in fact been a key ingredient of many successful reality shows, probably for a similar reason. We like watching someone else to be humiliated, making sure it isn’t us. With Trump, that may be a satisfaction of some, while others dread a possible confrontation that could do our own egos in. I acknowledge that I find him intimidating, not because I think he is smarter than me (though probably he knows a lot more than me in some arenas) but because he could hurt my feelings. I wonder if part of the shadow of fear of vulnerability is right here as well—precisely because it is so sharply connected with humiliation in a culture that sees weakness and indecisiveness, and taking the time to hesitate—as contemptible.
The other side of Jung’s concept of the shadow is in fact about our fear of the weakness. To think is to hesitate, to court mistakes as true scientists do when they do research and experimentation. To compromise (Trump says he likes compromise as long as he is in the winner’s seat) means to consider another’s viewpoint, to allow empathy and doubt creep in to the processes involved. It is to allow ourselves to be “soft”, and in a culture in which many—certainly white people—seem to long for the cowboy mentality—“soft” can go against the grain, at least on a conscious level.
Speaking of levels, on some level all of us long for a sense of belonging, sharing, and enough safety to have a modicum of authenticity. But when the reins are so suddenly loosened, the adrenalin of victory, of feeling immortal and all-powerful, can carry the horses we symbolically ride—ourselves in other words— away.
One of the problems is that few of us have been oriented to looking for sources of problems within ourselves. I am really emphasizing, not blame for all the problems that are, but responsibility for continuing the same structures that are and benefiting from them. In terms of the shadow, by hiding our rage and our softer sides, we get—depending on what we are hiding—the benefits of rooting for the bad guy and loving it, without even knowing we’re doing so.
One cause for cautious hope might just be that many of us yearn to be reunited with all of ourselves, and to have intimacy that only awareness of vulnerability can yield.
By psychotherapist Carol Smaldino