Trumplandia: The Shadow’s Ascendancy

“An enemy is like a treasure found in my house, won without labour of mine; I must cherish him, for he is a helper in the way of Enlightenment.”[1] —Santi-Deva

“Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” —George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

George Bernard Shaw. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Art has its reasons that reason doesn’t fully comprehend. I’m sure someone has said that somewhere, or if they haven’t, they should have. (The actual quote has to do with the heart, the famous Woody Allen quip.) With the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, the great irony is that this living embodiment of the human shadow may well act as catalyst for some truly revolutionary art and—let’s hope—social change. The decades-long hegemony of postmodernism and obfuscation in art and literature may well be given a much-needed kick in the ass. This is the final nail in the coffin of the hoary adage that politics has no place in art—a notion undoubtedly perpetuated by the economic elites themselves, for obvious reasons.

As Dan Piepenbring of the Paris Review wrote the day after the election: “The creative impulse is such a fragile thing, but we have to create now. We owe it to ourselves to do the work. I want to encourage you. If you aspire to write, put aside all the niceties and sureties about what art should be and write something that makes the scales fall from our eyes. Forget the tired axioms about showing and telling, about sense of place—any possible obstruction—and write to destroy complacency, to rattle people, to help people, first and foremost yourself. Lodge your ideas like glass shards in the minds of everyone who would have you believe there’s no hope.” (italics mine)

Despite the shock and horror now being voiced around the world, Trump’s election shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, given the state of America’s body politic and corrupted electoral system. Donna Luca, Board President of Nation of Change, put it astutely: “Some of our friends and colleagues were utterly shocked by the election results last night. We only wish that we were. In fact, we have anticipated all too well that the actions of the DNC—most poignantly cheating Bernie Sanders out of the nomination—would position Trump as the ‘anti establishment’ candidate running against the ultimate establishment candidate in an election year like this one. … the DNC has played the ultimate game of chicken with voters—and lost.”

From a Jungian and depth psychology perspective, Trump’s rise to power is predictable. ‘Between the ideal and the real falls a shadow’—sometimes a very long and deep one. Jung wrote of the ‘shadow’ side of the human psyche, all those qualities and fears we consciously or unconsciously repress. The more the shadow is repressed—at either the individual or national level—the more it takes over. He argued that the way to balance is through integration of the shadow, which can simply mean bringing it to consciousness, acknowledging it as a fundamental part of our psyche. By now this has been tested out over the past century and is now a well-established principle in psychology. From this perspective, the worst monsters of history—the Hitlers, Stalins and Idi Amins—are those whose shadow is most deeply suppressed in the unconscious. (Of course, they’re probably also psychopaths, and psychopathy is a whole other discussion.) Unable to acknowledge that they possess any such dark, potentially evil qualities, they set themselves up for a kind of reflex reaction—the shadow kicking back powerfully. Hence the phenomenon of the most self-righteous religious leaders leading some of the bloodiest crusades and jihads of history.

Sam Keen.

Sam Keen.

As Sam Keen writes in the anthology Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of the Human Shadow: “From the unconscious residue of our hostility, we create a target; from our private demons, we conjure a public enemy. …Our best hope of survival is to change the way we think about enemies and warfare. Instead of being hypnotized by the enemy we need to begin looking at the eyes with which we see the enemy. …we need to examine in detail how we manufacture the image of the enemy, how we create surplus evil, how we turn the world into a killing ground. …We need to become conscious of what Carl Jung called ‘the shadow.’”[2] (italics mine)

And so we have the spectacle of American self-image, which claims the moral high ground as the ‘cowboys in the white hats’ riding to the rescue, while at the same time maintaining more armed garrisons around the world than any power since the Roman empire. A so-called bastion of democracy that has no compunction about using its covert intelligence agencies to depose democratically elected governments in foreign nations in the most bloody manner imaginable. None of this is news. A so-called just society that continues to unjustly imprison political prisoners designated ‘terrorists’ and even to torture them in defiance of international standards and treaties of justice. You get the point. It’s a textbook case of shadow repression erupting into the light, big time. As Keen writes: “We so need to be heroic, to be on the side of God, to eliminate evil, to clean up the world, to be victorious over death, that we visit destruction and death on all who stand in the way of our heroic historical destiny.”[3]

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders.

If at any time during the presidential regimes of the past 40 years or so Americans had been willing to own up to this shadow, things might have been different. If the Democrats had allowed the democratic process to play out without interference and outright fraud in the primaries, we might have had Bernie Sanders as president instead of Donald Trump.  Guantanamo Bay would long since have been permanently shut down. “(I)f the United States government were willing to take a more open and honest stance with respect to its actual power needs and ambitions,” writes Jerome Bernstein in Meeting the Shadow, “and if it had been willing to face the arguments that some aspects of that power stance might be inconsistent with its own professed ideology and traditions, a significant portion of the unconscious power shadow could have been redeemed…”[4]

For awhile during the Vietnam era it looked as if this might be a genuine possibility. The nightly newscasts of bombing raids on civilian villages, the photojournalism laying bare its atrocities—all were a slap in the collective face, a wake-up call for the American shadow. Even the military—both officers and the rank and file—realized the travesty of that war. Find a copy of the documentary Sir, No Sir to watch, the best description yet of why the U.S. government was forced to abandon that conflict. Simply put, the chain of command dissented and finally broke down. The corresponding protest movement at home added the necessary civilian dissent needed to reach the critical mass for pulling out. But then came the knee-jerk conservative backlash, historical revisionism and corporate free-for-all that led us to where we are now. An era when the richest billionaires can literally buy the presidency, set policy and resist the will and needs of the majority of the American people.

If indeed the Trump vote, as with the Brexit vote, was a ‘protest vote’ against the elites, it only serves to underline how thoroughly broken are our electoral systems. Clearly there’s an appetite for change, at least among the 99 percent. But just as clearly, the mechanisms for change are seriously lacking. Electoral reform must be Priority One before anything else can change. Social advocacy groups will need to hone their strategic skills, targeting Republicans who are ‘soft’ Trumpites when it comes time to pass bills through Congress.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

A young Carl Jung. Courtesy Wikimedia.

But the spiritual and psychological dimension can’t continue to be neglected if we’re ever to see meaningful change. “If we desire peace,” writes Keen in Meeting the Shadow, “each of us must begin to demythologize the enemy; cease politicizing psychological events; re-own our shadows; make an intricate study of the myriad ways in which we disown, deny, and project our selfishness, cruelty, greed, and so on onto others; be conscious of how we have unconsciously created a warrior psyche and have perpetuated warfare in its many modes.”[5]

George Bernard Shaw got it right in one: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” Thomas Merton added another layer to this truism when he said: “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” As the Paris Review editor quoted at the beginning of this essay noted, the best antidote to the despair of looming Trumplandia is to create, and to cast off the shackles of hidebound tradition in the service of the human spirit. George Orwell once said that he wrote best when he was angered by injustice. Indeed, in his 1946 essay Why I Write, he gave that as his raison d’être for writing. His allegories managed to seamlessly blend political satire with escapism, to achieve what Merton spoke of in taking us out of the world while simultaneously sharpening our view of its often bitter realities.

From a Jungian perspective, the psyche is always in search of balance, and often our artists feel this urge more keenly than most. They are after all our pioneers of the human spirit, going where few dare and casting illumination on the heart of darkness. As the late psychotherapist John Weir Perry put it, “even if we fail to acknowledge our predicament in a conscious way, the psyche does register its recognition of it on deeper levels, and makes moves to generate new possibilities of outlook and ways of living that might allow our survival.”

[1] Quoted in Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams, Jeremy P. Tarcher, Los Angeles, 1991, p. 194.

[2] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 198.

[3] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

[4] Jerome S. Bernstein, ‘The U.S.-Soviet Mirror,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., p. 216.

[5] Sam Keen, ‘The Enemy Maker,’ from Meeting the Shadow, ibid., pp. 201, 202.

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About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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One Response to Trumplandia: The Shadow’s Ascendancy

  1. Ruth Roberts says:

    A very powerful essay, Art, which needs a larger audience so more people can read and understand and agree with you. Is it possible to have it printed in the Vancouver Sun newspaper or in the McLean’s magazine or a Toronto newspaper? Of course, a newspaper in Washington, D.C. would be the best place to have it published!

    Thank you for sending it to me.

    Ruth Roberts

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