Our American Shadow
Our American Shadow

Today, with a historical and psychological perspective, a human guest writer examines the conditions of his country, principally that of Trumpism in the context of the Jungian Shadow.

Swirl paw

San Francisco, California – Saturday 2 April 2016

I have held back on serious criticism of the Donald Trump campaign, because on many levels I have believed that you can not critique this candidate or his campaign without a thoughtful criticism of the phenomena it represents within our country.

There have been many videos and media pieces comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler. This will not be one of them, because I do not believe that Trump could be a Hitler even if he wanted to be which I don't think he does. For every similarity there are many more differences. That said, I do believe there is a reason for this comparison and that reason can be understood more fully by considering the work of renowned psychiatrist CG Jung.

Carl Jung
Carl Jung

For those not familiar with Jung's work outside of the concepts of extrovert vs introvert or as the base psychological theory behind the Myers Briggs personality indicator, one of the important elements of his theories centers around archetypes. By surveying not only personal psychologies but other social sciences, mythology, religion and history he aggregated certain metaphorical characters or memes to better understand our behavior and thinking.

It is important to note that Jung came from a philosophical orientation that was more Socratic than Aristotelian - meaning that he searched for and explored patterns and systems rather than breaking the world down in discrete pieces in order to understand their nature. He used the word "circumambulation" to describe how to go about this exploration. This means he found an area of interest and walked around and around it until he became clearer about its qualities.

So it makes sense that when Hitler emerged and he put his focus on understanding this man and what he represented in the world and Germany in particular that he identified it using one of this archetypes. The Shadow.

The Shadow can be every bit as ominous as it sounds but it is more than that. Jung believed that there were individual and collective unconscious and that these archetypes (The Shadow, the Child, the mother, the wise old man, etc) would emerge for all of us in some degree. He also did not see the Shadow as a simple form of evil or peril, but rather a symptom or offering by the individual or collective unconscious to enact a deeper psychological or social condition.

He noted that Hitler was an expression of Germany's shadow after WWI where that country was broken and in deep depression as a whole. Only because of this dark repressed mood with no positive outlet or reconciliation could Hitler and the Third Reich arise.

Jung wrote, "Hitler seemed like the 'double' of a real person, as if Hitler the man might be hiding inside, and deliberately so concealed in order not to disturb the mechanism.... You know you could never talk to this man; because there is nobody there.... It is not an individual; it is an entire nation."

It is in this sense that I write about the Shadow in our country that Trump is mechanism of, not as a comparison to Hitler or Nazi Germany, but as a contemporary collective condition of our nation and its operations in the world.

During this campaign I have found myself, more than anytime in my life, examining the conditions of our country and considering them within a historical and psychological perspective.

First example - the American Civil War

One of the first things I began to consider in the light of the presidential campaign was spurred on by the question of why Bernie Sanders, whose economic policies seem so clearly geared towards economic equality in general and towards lifting financial burdens on the most economically disadvantaged families and communities in our nation, would not have a larger appeal to the African American voters in economically challenged areas of the country.

In looking into this, I found that while Black Intellectuals, who spoke out loud and clear about the economic challenges within their community, were not immediately jumping on his bandwagon because, among a number of reasons, he did not support reparations. For those who do not understand the idea or reasoning behind reparations, consider the following.

The American Civil War ended in 1865 - that is 151 years ago. Some of us remember books and interviews with the "last living" confederate soldier or union soldier or widow, etc happening in our lifetime. For others it is just a few generations ago, or we might live in houses that were built in that time. We still struggle around the Confederate flag and its place and relevancy in our day. My point is that the Civil War and its biases, impacts and downstream effects are contemporary and still in many cases unresolved.

Reparations for the enslavement and importation of a large part of our population's families brought here from Africa and then "freed" after the Civil War seek to address their disenfranchisement, including inheritable wealth, access to quality education, and similar, for a significant part of our population.

Keep in mind that for many of this part of our population they were disenfranchised people living within larger disenfranchised communities of the South. The South was beaten down financially, culturally, and one could argue from a collective unconscious perspective every bit as deeply wounded and broken as the people of Germany following WWI.

In a conversation with a white man of the South whose family had been there before and since the Civil War, I learned of some forms of reparation in that many of the white population held or received land after the states were reunited. Of course the plantation economy was destroyed and that was the backbone of the economic and cultural identity for many white Americans of the South, so it still represented for most a disenfranchisement. Black Americans of the South, still far from free on many levels built up their segregated communities amidst this broken white culture with far less of a chance to financially transition from the plantation economy and culture.

Considering this more closely, I felt I finally had some glimmer of an understanding of the Shadow that emerged from slavery in general (at least from an economic perspective) for all who participated in it, but for the American South specifically.

Personalizing this, I consider the many economic and life struggles of my own life as a Western American son of "Go West" people of European descent and am almost left speechless about what levels of adversary my fellow Southern American citizens are still left in and none so much as our brothers and sisters (white or black) whose families are still crawling out of the experience of the Civil War and slavery.

There is a deep and abiding shadow that still exists from our time as a nation in conflict with itself. This is not limited to the South by any means and whether it was backlash against integrated busing during the civil rights era or even now with segregated schools along racial or socioeconomic lines or driving while black incidents, the legacy of slavery and the Civil War is very present. Not nearly enough has been done to bring these very real Shadow into the light, and until it does we will continue to be haunted by it.

Second Example - American Economic and Political Adventure Abroad

Most of our history has been filled with not only adventure within our boundaries of the land and resources, but increasingly abroad. The US has participated in global military adventure in times of global need and our history is marked with heroic battles in both the World Wars and elsewhere, where we channeled our treasure and blood to address some form of very real oppression or threat. If I were thinking of Jung's archetypes, I would say we have collectively identified with "The Hero" on many occasion and this has been in large part our calling card to modern influence built atop our Declaration of Independence that began the end of Monarchical Colonialism in the world.

As we rose and the strategies and systems around that rise matured into a global economic and military force, ever concerned with perpetuating itself, this rise began to have significant effects on the lives of others abroad. To the point where if we examine country by country that impact, we find many cultures not only still trying to shake off the impacts of the colonialism of European monarchies our nation's impact as well. In addition to our own historic colonial efforts in the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico and various "Banana Republics", examine many of our contemporary industries and you find the environmental and social impacts still in full force. Not just heavy one's like mineral and resource extraction, but subtle ones that chip away at religious or cultural bedrock from outside their natural evolution. Economically, our force is incredibly powerful as is other economically, politically and militarily influential nations and industries that continue to adventure on foreign soil.

There are many aspects of this that can be debated and refined and my point here is not to make a case for or against foreign adventure, but to acknowledge that there is an element of Shadow that has come from these adventures that has in very real ways contrasted and even overwhelmed that of the Hero.

I believe that aspects of that include the rise of global terrorism, radical changes in the environment and the decline of the middle class in our country as well as the radical and often dismal shifts in the communities from land based subsistence to addiction to material consumption and waste.

As Americans I believe this wounds us deeply. To know that when I buy this or that at the store I am drawing upon the suffering of others in often heart breaking ways is a rich bed for the Shadow to grow all around me.

While many would not intellectualize this or have the resources to attain an understanding of this dynamic as I have, I am firm in my belief that we all know it at an unconscious level to some degree. With each passing year at the intersection of information technology we become more familiar with this Shadow and for most of us it is simply becoming overwhelming.

I encourage you to watch the Story of Stuff to look at this from a broad systemic perspective.

Growing violence, fear and anger surrounding Trump rallies and the Fox that fed them

Coming back to the Trump campaign and examining not only the raucous remarks and activities within the halls but also outside, it is clear there is a shadow present. This is not only coming from Trumpians but from an element that identify with other candidates and world views that oppose him. Recently a childhood best friend of mine attended a Trump rally and on his way in was essentially traumatized by the angry, fearful and aggressive nature of those protesting the event. This in a large part seems to have motivated him to side with Trump when he was previously undecided.

I should say that I can understand the intensity that protestors at Trump events are bringing, especially if one considers Trump a fascist, leaning towards nationalist and xenophobic views about to win the nomination of a major political party. For many this is terrifying and brings into focus the many times in history when the worst of a shadow emerged and people did not stand up in a meaningful way. These sorts of reactions, even if guided by the right view on the right side of history rarely look as beautiful as the beautiful hippie woman putting a flower in the end of a riffle of a National Guardsman.

When I look at the dynamics around Trump's events, I see not only an expression of our country's shadow in Trump or his supporters, but in those who aggregate to protest in more aggressive ways. There is a condition here that like Jung said of Hitler's Germany, is part of our nation and emerges as a necessary part of our collective unconscious' need to address activities both historical and contemporary that must be faced in the light. I should say I am not making a condemnation or suggesting that all participants or attendees as embodying this shadow at these events. Nor am I suggesting that those who are caught up in the expression of our Shadow are singularly to blame or that blame itself is even remotely productive.

I see that these activities and the discord within our political arena in general are on the road paved by media outlets and voices in our community that are so pervasive through information technology. The Jerry Springer like US media stage is on full display 24/7 and civil discourse and thought has eroded to the point where one can not express a thought in a public forum without people throwing ideological chairs across the room.

This is not just Fox's dynamic. It is systemic and represents the decline in being an informed citizenry that has forgotten how to digest long form, thoughtful and studied consideration of the very real issues that need to be brought to light if the American experiment is going to be anything more than a inspirational flash that burned itself out.

I regularly watch this clip to remind myself to be more vigilant in this regard.

Bernie Sanders in the Context of Shadow - this is not a pitch

Bernie Sanders
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

I do see Sanders as another expression that is responding to this Shadow, maybe even a part of the Shadow itself. I personally see a bit of the American Hero archetype in him as well - the same sort of domestic Hero that has told us that we can face the challenges of poverty (Remember hearing of Victory Gardens) and inequity that we have seen in other leaders facing a similar Shadow elements. Whether Hero or Shadow or both, I see the element that most respond to in him being one that knows we face insurmountable odds and have chosen to seek safety and transition in inclusiveness rather than finding ways to make our community more divided so some pieces of it could feel safer for a while, kicking the can of shadow down the road for a few.

My hope is that rather than the middle ground, maintenance of our establishment Shadow (which Hillary Clinton represents to me) we will see our country wrestle openly with the Shadow in a showdown of Trump and Sanders. My hope is that this contest would bring into the light all that has been in shadow for too long, and that we have the courage to bring light and not more shadow to it.

I am certain with every fiber of my being that an epic level of expression of our country's Shadow is at hand. When I look at my young daughter I see how important this moment is and ask what can be done.

Assimilation of the American Shadow

Jung suggests that to avoid the more frightening and destructive properties of the Shadow, a significant moral effort must be exerted and this would suggest a great call to action individually but also collectively towards our better natures amidst difficult situations. Personal responsibility and inspiration become catalysts for the cases against perpetuating and growing the Shadow but also for working to assimilate it.

As a CEO, I recognize the need to be selective in what sort of clients our firm supports and this is a challenging set of daily moral reflections. Within the work we do and with the people we connect with, recognizing the elements that have contributed to the adverse impacts of global business becomes an essential inspiration to me. There are ten times more positive solutions for any one unsustainable problem. While I have a list of failures in getting it right, I consider it a daily renewal to aggregate and assimilate ethical and thoughtful participation at all levels of my business with the Golden Rule being central to our values and culture.

As an artist I seek to use my art to bring light and color to others through my creations. Once I saw a video with Jung talking about a raucous festival where the town's folks put on crazy costumes, played piccolos and drums and party all day and night. He pointed to this period of crazy making as an important assimilation of the shadow - that the town was known for its straight laced almost uptight orderliness, but that once a year they let it all hang out so as not to let that uptightness consume their collective psyche. Creative acts, whether shared or individual that bring the shadow into the light or simply bring more light into our culture seem to me the best form of assimilation.

Caring about others. Since such a huge issue within our national shadow seems to be resulting from a disconnection to others and the results our purchases or actions have on those we do not see, it seems to me that a remedy is to see more clearly that taking care of our nation as a whole is taking care of ourselves. It should be noted, however, some say many societies having more comprehensive social safety programs do so to have more freedom. In other words, they are less doing so for altruistic reasons, and more to ensure freedom to take risks, freedom of thought from the concerns of certain bills, like healthcare or academics, or even freedom for your company to not have to provide expensive benefit packages like insurance and maternity leave, etc. In spite of the possibility of a selfish motive rather than altruistic, the ends are the same.

There is no shortage of pain to see in the world, but there is also no shortage of moral actions simple or grand that can be put forward. Whether these actions are altruistic or self motivated, they must be engaged. If there is anything to be learned from the collective Shadow moments of the past, it is that eventually they will come to light.

Wittenberg City Church
Wittenberg City Church

On the Wittenberg City Church where the German Reformer Martin Luther preached in 1543 there is a stone carving with insults to the Jewish community of that day - suggesting they are pig people. Today, in the sidewalk below is a monument commemorating the loss that thinking gave way to in the deaths of six million Jews under the Nazi iron cross.

I offer this not as a warning, though it certainly is one of note, but to suggest that a Shadow of a nation can live for centuries, ever building towards darker and darker expressions until the aspects of what has given rise to it are truly brought into the light and dealt with. For us, the task is monumental, and will no doubt take generations to accomplish, even if it became our sole focus. But any choice towards health is a good choice and making moral choices are like working out, each session you build for the next and soon you are strong. With that strength I do believe that we can become a better version of ourselves as we take on the heavy lifting in the years ahead.

Imagine our Nation, facing not only its Shadow, but all the light it can still bring to this world with us as its energy. What better way to spend our lives than to make the world a brighter place.

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