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Jung and the Trumpian Shadow

Carl Jung was done a disservice by the sanitized spirituality of the New Age movement. Jungian archetypes were shoved into the same bucket as the zodiac, astrology, and healing crystals, lost in the blur of wishful thinking that had captured the late 1960s and 1970s and its desire to create a better society out of love and mercy alone. But the short-lived optimism of the sexual revolution and the hippie movement meant its demise in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration saw the rebels hang up their flowers and instead don suits, taking to Madison Avenue and extinguishing the flame of creative renaissance that wanted so badly to break free from the Cold War West.

Perhaps there is some parallel here with the Obama years culminating in the election of Donald Trump. During the Obama Presidency, American progressives became pacified, trading economic arguments for cultural dissatisfaction, forsaking the ideas of the New Deal for an emotional and ideological clamp upon the unconscious forces of racism and sexism. There was a pervasive sense that history had ended, that a centrist Democrat could potentially rule the West forever, and that the shadows of racism, sexism, and hate speech would finally be chased out of public society after the victory of Hillary Clinton, a female President.

Jung would not have been surprised by what followed. In The Philosophical Tree, he wrote:

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.

American progressives believed that through a respectable politics, the psychology of hatred could be repressed through a combination of censorship and social pressure. They imagined that the march of progress was so inevitable that by shaming and denying the power of our worst impulses, we could create a paradise. But the ghosts of theosophy still haunt our politics. It seems today that the branches of the Jewish Kabbala’s Tree of Sephirot, answering to a cosmic balance between mercy and severity (as Valentin Tomberg wrote in his mystical magnum opus Meditations on the Tarot), has been ignored in favor of mercy alone. Compassion, empathy, and tolerance – all bundled into the package of political correctness – these forces alone would squash the shadow, our lower nature, and save us. Such was the promise of contemporary political correctness. But Jung would suggest that the politically correct are ignoring the very real severity in their own nature: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is…if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.”

It is no mistake that “locker room talk” and “telling it like it is” was pitted against the false high horse of: “When they go low, we go high.” Donald Trump embodied the subconscious truth that the world is more shadow than light, that severity is more useful than mercy. Those who advocate the censorship of ‘hate speech’ online or in the public sphere are fully willing to accept severe authoritarianism in the name of mercy, an open contradiction.

Conservatives, particularly in the intellectual tradition of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and other anti-Communists, believe that the angelic heights of humankind are forever tied to their immutable and hellish depths. Every inch striving toward a perfect world is met with an inch striving toward absolute hell. This is an idea proposed by Jung, who said: “The fact is that if one tries beyond one’s capacity to be perfect, the shadow descends into hell and becomes the devil.”

This has consequential implications for the political world. If we strive to be utopians, and erase all forms of inequality, sweep away all profanity, heal the wounds of racism and take ourselves off the cross of sin, our own lesser nature will double-back against us, and refuse our motions every step of the way. In this way, the utopian unknowingly digs his own grave. This was certainly the case with Communism throughout the 20th century. But this fallibility of human perfection continues, seemingly forever.

In an essay titled “Feminism and the problem of supertoxic masculinity,” political scientist Justin Murphy makes an unconventional argument. In encouraging men to be passive, polite, and non-offensive through social pressure, most men will conform to that feminist standard out of a genuine unwillingness to be abrasive or do harm. But a small number of men who cannot be shamed, in a world filled with men who refuse to check them, will begin to dominate and rise through social hierarchies due to the simple fact that nobody knows how to stop those few men who embody the intolerable shadow the masses have repressed away. Murphy writes:

The problem is that when the baseline of masculine dominance expression is held below its organic tendency, defined simply as what men would do in the absence of cultural campaigns to defang it, this increases the potential payoff to those who dare exercise it, as there are more resources to dominate precisely to the degree that other men are not contesting them.

One could see this clearly during the 2016 Republican primaries. Jeb Bush was far closer to the feminist male ideal than Donald Trump ever was. Bush was tepid, meek, and asked for polite apologies. Trump refused to apologize, bullied him, and bulldozed him. Jeb was too used to the polite society of elite socialization to deal with a man who was, by comparison, an uncouth barbarian. Everyone across the political spectrum, from socialists to Trump’s supporters, thoroughly enjoyed watching Jeb, the civilized man who was promised everything, be devastated by a shameless and cruel competitor. People, regardless of their political views, enjoyed watching a man perceived as weak be totally dismissed by a morally darker but more interesting man.

Donald Trump rode a particular wave of attitudes into the Presidency, a response to a political climate that had grown too stale, conformist, and yes, politically correct. Trump embodied the dark charismatic strength of a man with real, actual weapons; a person who was dangerous, who provided in his image a callback to John Wayne, Tony Soprano, and the storied history of violent American men who, no matter how hard we try to wholly discard them, had some part of them that will never vanish from the human spirit, and which at last we must confront. Stories about anti-heroes are powerful not because they confuse us, but because they deeply satisfy our unconscious understanding of who we are. The victory of Donald Trump was another story about who we actually are.

But how do we confront the brute within our own souls? The election of Donald Trump suggested that denying and bullying away our sins would only cause them to multiply. Hillary Clinton’s disastrous campaign was encapsulated in a disastrous slogan: “America is already great.” This cry, for the eternal now, a permanent extension of the bloodless elite sensibilities of the Democratic Party, with all its entitlement to the votes of minorities and the poor, evoked a kind of rebellion in people. It emerged on the Left in the figure of Bernie Sanders. For all his faults, he projected an understanding of the pain of the working person, and advocated policies designed to regenerate America’s social safety net. When he vanished from the race, there was only one person left who spoke of American society – and consequently the American soul – as deeply rotten, and it wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

From his comments about the violence in America’s inner cities, the ‘hellhole’ of Chicago, his infamous history of sexual assault and lust, the belittling of his opponents and his overall severe demeanor, Donald Trump was a far more authentic representation of the human spirit than the sanitized public relations sensibilities that drove Hillary Clinton to defeat. Casting him as the brute did not work – we already know the world is brutal, and Clinton has herself been implicated in America’s history of racial oppression, from the 1994 Clinton crime bill, which exacerbated the crisis of 1 in 4 black children born in 1990 growing up with a parent imprisoned, to her State Department advocating a cut in the Haitian minimum wage down to 31 cents an hour. Clinton was hit hard from the Left on both issues. With no moral high ground to stand on, all we had was polished corruption staring brazen rebellion in the face. “Better to rule in hell, then to serve in heaven,” cried the rust belt, as it betrayed the Democrats, who felt entitled to their votes, and joined the ranks of the ‘deplorables’, who in the eyes of elite liberal America were nothing more than the ranks of the damned.

In pretending that Donald Trump has nothing to do with us, that he is an aberration, a break from the ‘norms’ of polite politics, the Democrats distanced themselves from reality. In fact, hyper-masculine and hyper-aggressive attitudes have a great deal to do with the gene pool. The Left may cringe at the notion, but many leftists would do well to acknowledge their own shadow. Where does the recent explosion of commentary in favor of ‘punching Nazis’ and forcibly censoring speech come from? The thrill and the rush of violence, aggression and anger is simply more relatable than the sanitized gloss of politically correct culture. That is why antifa is so popular on the left. That is why Donald Trump is so beloved on the right.

In seeking a society of pure mercy, without trolling, without insults, without any inequality, violence, or biased behavior of any kind, progressives inadvertently created their worst nightmare. They tried to suppress the collective shadow of humankind through moral policing and public shaming, and instead only begat a growing animosity directed at the cathedral of their false dogmas.

One sees this clearly on Twitter – how fast any nuanced opinion dissolves into a war of pure good against pure evil. When James Damore released his infamous Google memo, left-wing Twitter considered it to be a revival of 19th century eugenics, literally ‘calipers’ and ‘skull measurement’ masquerading as science.

To admit any biological difference between the sexes, after all, is to admit the possibility that we are not all the same, and worse, to admit that human nature does exist materially to a large degree, and cannot simply be swivelled to ride on a different axis out of infinite goodwill alone. More complicated measures are needed to address inequality. But the Left, as it stands now, will hear none of them. Admitting serious differences of any kind is sexist. Thus, the ‘sexists’ fade into their own gloomy shadow, and cement support for their beliefs where there is no worldwide community to drag and shame them.

No dialogue becomes possible. So, the discourse between mercy and severity, between paradise and infinite painful toil, vanishes. Then, we are left only with raw force. Can you censor me before I offend you? That is the only question left to the public domain. But dialogue between mercy and severity, between the striving self and the burdensome shadow, must exist. If it vanishes completely, then the collective shadow of society, repressed, will only explode in more and more hideous ways.

We do not live in the best of all possible worlds. There are monsters inside each of us. Those monsters must be made coherent, and given their place, or they will consume us. What is the place of a monster? That, in many ways, is the purpose of life – to understand and tame the hell within you. But when we deny its power, and seek to chain and ignore it, the monster only turns against us. When we claim we are good, it takes the throne and tells us we know nothing.

We have much work to do.

Alexander Blum is a science fiction writer.


    • WayneGretzkyshairisanationaltreasure says

      Precisely. Any first year philosophy student can quote Jung to their own purposes, but to understand what he was actually saying, the unconscious psyche’s effect on the conscious world; this is a masterpiece. I have not read an article this epic in four years, it’s a shame it is not twice as long.

  1. Imperator Augustus says

    So close, but so far.
    “hate speech”
    “the psychology of hatred”
    You’re still doing it, and you will continue to lose as long as you view the world in this lens.
    “infamous history of sexual assault”
    lol pathetic.

    • Zune Dune says

      I’m pretty sure these terms were used in a semi-sarcastic fashion. Imperator Augusts, you perhaps need to read a bit more.

      • Carl Sageman says

        Zune Dune,

        I’m not so sure. For example, I’m not a fan of Trump, but, Hillary was a worse option for me. A quick example,

        “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and to achieve your own dreams.”

        How would anyone call this progress or pretend that Hillary was noble? Hillary is very biased and consistently so.

        There was also talk about inequality. Was the author referring to inequality of women dominating veterinary science (and biology, law, etc) over the western world?

        Or did the author’s use of inequality mean that the entire media industry only complain when men dominate an industry (eg. Engineering)?

        Has the author actually read the indepth studies about gender and career choices when he talks about inequality? Eg.

        “It’s a very common and well-replicated finding that the more progressive and gender-equal a country, the larger gender differences in personality of the sort Hyde found become. I agree this is a very strange finding, but it’s definitely true. See eg Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Sex Differences In Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures:
        ‘Previous research suggested that sex differences in personality traits are larger in prosperous, healthy, and egalitarian cultures in which women have more opportunities of men'”

        The author has tried to play balanced, but, he’s failed. He has overlooked some major omissions and played his cards in all the wrong places in this article, believing that the double-standard of prejudice (eg. Hillary’s exit speech) is universally accepted.

        His criticisms of Trump were fair. His defence of Hillary was unjustified. His knowledge of gender politics is either minimal, or he subscribes to gender politics (ie. his use of inequality was a red flag).

        The genders don’t have to be the same. It’s opportunity that counts. I believe the author tried but failed.

      • Parker Wieck says

        I have to disagree, I think he was terrified. There is a difference between courage and not being afraid.

  2. Bill says

    I question your characterization of Trump as hyper-masculine/hyper-aggressive, as well as the bullying/bulldozing. In my opinion, he is Bill Maher, on the right, 30 years ago when he first began — only as a grandfather. Numerous comedians have noted in skits being able to do anything when they’re an old man because…”i’m an old man, what can you do.” Bill Maher 20-30 years ago was blatantly politically incorrect in his original show (before his current rendition which is just left-wing politics and no different than what you hear on any late night show or even afternoon news opinion panel).

    First, it isn’t that he’s hyper-masculine/aggressive, it’s that he can literally say what a large segment of the population WANTS to say, only there are no repercussions for him. For the rest of the population, Damore is the example of what happens if you dare say something contrary to the approved talking points of the Left. NYU showed that when they put on a play of one of the Clinton/Trump debates with a male actor mimic’ing Clinton’s words and mannerisms and a female actor mimic’ing Trump. The researchers and the audience when polled where absolutely shocked because they could “see” why female Trump won once unblinded by the sexism-bias that they had been sold on — that Trump won because of his hyper-masculine bullying. They realized all their positions about Trump where actually a result of them being constantly informed that he was this hyper-masculine/hyper-aggressive person and when they saw a female actor portraying the same behaviors while stating the identical words the impression was far different.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree in principal with your points. Robert Heinlein in Starship Troopers actually had a passage stating something similar about how a species that regulates itself out of war will find itself extinct when another species that did not do the same destroys them — because they forgot how to fight. I think this lines up with the premise you are explaining. The culture of political correctness on the left, and the polished, poll-tested talking points, for example, the “establishment” has created a species of politician incapable of political warfare. They’ve evolved themselves to thinking that labeling a candidate as sexist, Nazi, racist, etc. is how to win which was not the historical case. Instead, they walked into battle with their nerf bats and faced an opponent unhampered and carrying a Louisville Slugger.

    • Jim Rose says

      “It isn’t that he’s hyper masculine/aggressive”

      It kind of is actually. There are others that hold comparable wealth as Trump that have not done what he has.

      • Bill says

        Do you mean Mitt Romney and Ross Perot? Mitt tried to live by the same PC rules as the political class — engage in their style of warfare — and lost at it because it is foreign. The notion that he could call out his opponent on a blatant lie and then have the debate moderator lie on the fact-check right there came out of right field. Ross? Well, that was still a 3-party race making it virtually impossible for him to have won. Had that race gone 1/3-1/3-1/3, the vote would have gone to the house where his party had zero representation.

  3. Trump is a puppet on a string. Who flew in a helicopter to his door and told him to follow the agenda or else?? The multi billionaire ms mercer. She bankrolls Bannon as well. You folks are not reading
    The right play book.

  4. says

    Right on. Tune in on what jungians are writing also check Ashville. NC Jung Society for seminars and books in tis area. Google them,

  5. Jeremy H says

    The response to Damore’s memo has been particularly revealing in just how far we’ve fallen into moral puritanism (the inevitable result of the Shadow’s repression):

    “The Oz posted the idiot Google manifesto guy. We’re mere weeks away from free phrenology calipers for subscribers.”

    It’s hard to even credit this and much of the other hyperbolic nonsense that’s been spouted about this memo (Gizmodo I’m looking in your direction), but it is consistent with the “all-or-nothing” response and penchant for hyperbole typical of most moralists. Expect this to get worse, with neutrality itself being the next target. If this current progressive moral craze follows the typical arc then we’re only years away from public declarations of which “side” you’re on being demanded of everybody. We’re already there in some sense in the realm of celebrities and athletes (see Sydney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins regarding their team visit to the White House.)

    By next election significant segments of Antifa and similar groups will have made the leap to full domestic terrorist organizations with Republican (and even some Democrat) offices being targeted for physical destruction, candidates themselves being no-platformed and attacked, harassment of media that doesn’t tow the line, gangs swarming polling stations and other forms of voter intimidation becoming rampant. And the response from far-right groups will be in kind; the next election cycle will most likely make the recent one look tame.

    All in all, Western civilization at the start of the 21’st Century is looking more and more like Western civilization at the start of the 20’th: prosperous, decadent, and hyper-moralized.

    • Bill says

      My Nostradamus-like prediction is the Antifa types firebombing the (R) campaign offices and spray-painting swastikas like they did in 2016 only to a greater degree. In response, (R) supporters will stand guard and be labeled Gestapo to continue the Nazi narrative. Then, some neo-Nazi wackadoodle will respond against a (D) office and it will be mass hysterics in the media over right-wing terrorism and that this is why the lemmings need to come out and vote (D) like good little plebs.

    • Nick Marcu says

      Yes. Surprisingly you are the only one mentioning him. Probably too complex in his argument.

    • Indeed. This is 95% Dr Jordan B Peterson using his references, vocabulary and even style of argument. An acknowledgement probably would’ve appropriate.
      Then again, that could make this “the shadow of the parrot” 😉 a term which has some poetry to it.

      I do like this new Trump parallel though, as well as the more bite sized length of this article vs JBP epic lectures..

      For a longer read & deeper analysis, I’d suggest this:

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  7. The total depravity of man, the “T” in TULIP Calvinism, addresses the same problem. The sprit of Cotton Mather lives on in our current crop of progressive right fighters.

  8. RobH says

    The Clintons are politically correct, but perhaps not civilized. I’m not sure Trump has a clear history or even definite known incident of sexual assault while no one would actually deny that about Bill. Trump’s ex-wives are said to have nothing bad to say about him while some of Bill’s victims obviously did. And yet the automatic comparative description is that Trump has a history of it and Bill is “pro-women”. I guess this reads into how people can easily prefer Trump to Hillary. With him it feels very safe to assume you can see the whole shadow. As the wife of someone who’s shadow hides in plain sight, and who clearly filters things into a politically correct image you could never have the same feeling about Hillary.

    Civilization morphed into political correctness seems to enable savagery. Antifa are so convinced they have made themselves into the good guy that even as they attack people they chant “this is not violence”.

    “When we claim we are good, it takes the throne and tells us we know nothing.”

  9. Excellent.

    I am glad someone else has noticed this as well.

    I am familiar with the Jungian concept of the shadow, as I had begun shadow integration back in 2006, starting with the use of Alaskan Essences Monkshood flower essence. Over time I had taken more essences pertaining to this kind of work and have the info. saved in a page in my site:

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  11. Kathryn says

    Jung wasn’t lumped in with astrology. He was an astrologer and much of his work is directly informed by astrology, not least the concept of “shadow” itself. Do a bit of research before maligning the most complex, comprehensive depth psychology system known to humanity – astrology is hardly a peace-and-love panacea for new age foo foo morons, no matter what elephant journal would have you believe.

  12. Guillaume SIMON says

    so true and so obvious from outside the USA ! Thanks Alexander for this great analysis.

  13. Glenn says

    Great analysis. Can be simplified, in the same way superhero movies are – good and bad, dark and light. We just need to balance these. We need to be able to call out the idiot bully trump type trolls and put them into their (little minded) boxes. But equally we need to always remember the golden rule of do unto others….
    But there comes a time where those who are doing you over need to be called out and if the left cannot grasp that simple fact – that we need to bitch slap rude assholes, or worse – then we are on a hiding to nothing. The left has been far too polite and compromising for far too long. Fuck that.

  14. Mike Howard says

    Nicely done, Alex. Thank you. A lot here to think about…

  15. C P Rodgers says

    Sorry to introduce a totally different topic, but this article makes me wonder if the Black Lives Matter’s cause, that bursted in the waning years of Obama’s presidency; was not also a result of societies shadow.

    Thank you for the article, I very much enjoyed it. I continue my struggle (normal/ healthy relationship) with my shadow and for the most part, I live in peace.

  16. Frank says

    Cosmopolitanism is the mythical ideology that all human beings belong to a single community based on an inclusive morality, a shared economic relationship, or a political structure that encompasses different nations. A nice thought but human nature trumps such utopian beliefs. Something we know from the study of group dynamics is that compromise is only possible among competing interests when they can agree on an overarching goal. That has been impossible in the US. Citizens are deeply divided about who should get the benefits of government and under what conditions. This problem has been made extraordinarily difficult by the cultural diversity in the country. Cultural diversity in France, Germany as well as other democracies practicing multiculturism and programs of social diversity are having the same problems.

    Isabelle Stengers has stated that a cosmos detached from politics is irrelevant. The cosmopolitical proposal is ‘idiotic’ in so far as it addresses those who reject the consensual, without presenting an alternative. Where as advocates for ‘a good common world’ take cosmopolitanism as a vehicle of tolerance, Stengers referes to cosmopolitics as the cure for what she calls ‘the malady of tolerance’

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  18. Kelly says

    Also, see the Jungian Trickster Archetype.
    It explains Trump to a T!
    Trump is definitely playing out the role of the Trickster type:

    “Psychologist Carl Jung saw the Trickster as a collective shadow figure, an epitome of all the darker character traits, sent to remind us that we must experience the full range of behavior and emotions if we are to be free. Carl Jung said that the coyote is “a forerunner of the savior…a divine being.”
    He is cunning and sly; the wise man who acts as the fool. His very nature is contradictory because he is a bringer of both chaos and order. He is considered evil, but a necessary evil. Yet with all his enormous power he is enormously stupid, the fool of the ages, the epitome or personification of human absurdity.”

    The PC cultists have repressed 1/2 of our emotional culture and lo and behold from the shadowy depths comes Trump!

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