Many--though not all--of our readers have expressed dismay, fear, and anxiety over the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States. Is there a Chan perspective that could help make sense of an unexpected Donald Trump presidency?
To address this, I first want to put aside the issue of the antiquated electoral college system, and the fact that nearly three million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, and that she won the popular vote by the widest margin of any losing candidate in the history of the country, according to the Associated Press. I will also divert from discussing a broken electoral college system that is based on the Constitution's 12th amendment for purposes of allowing slave-owning southern states increased voting power over northern non-slave owning states: the result of presidential contests between Thomas Jefferson (the southern slave owner) and John Adams (the northerner).
What I will talk about is why Trump gained such widespread and enthusiastic votes around the country. It is surprising to many of us since, after all, he has no experience or training in politics, has never been an elected official, has no training in law, sociology, world affairs, or history. In addition, as a multi-billionaire business magnate, he entered the race for president with the potential for enormous conflicts-of-interest, which could allow him to increase his wealth tremendously simply by being the most powerful person in the world. He has demonstrated child-like behavior with his tweets, bullying behavior toward anyone who says anything negative about him, and misogynistic behavior toward women. He has proposed racist social policies, has threatened the constitutional right to free speech, and put fear into the world by proclaiming he would increase the nuclear capability of the United States. Yet despite all this, much of the electorate is able to look the other direction. Why? What message does he send that so connects with many voters that they could turn their gaze the other way, ignoring his blatantly sociopathic behavior?
To answer this question, we can look through the lense of archetypal projections and Analytic Psychology.
For those less acquainted with psychological archetypes, these are the patterns of behavioral “forces" within us that have evolved over millennia as we, as a species, have struggled for survival. We can think of them as instincts, or as behaviors encoded into our DNA. They are what define us as a species. A mastermind of "dissecting" these behaviors, was Carl Jung, who explained the idea like this:
The instincts are not vague and indefinite by nature, but are specifically formed motive forces which, long before there is any consciousness, and in spite of any degree of consciousness later on, pursue their inherent goals. Consequently, they form very close analogies to the archetypes, so close in fact, that there is good reason for supposing that the archetypes are the unconscious images of the instincts themselves, in other words, they are patterns of instinctual behavior.
The vast majority of us humans act according to instinct. A fly lands on our nose so we swat it away. Someone insults us so we get angry. We get hungry so we eat. Instinctual behavior is what guides most of our actions, and our beliefs, but also our dispositions toward ideologies and political agendas. What instincts—archetypes--are in play with Donald Trump and his devotees?
The term, instinct, comes from the Latin verb, instinguere, from where we also get the term instigation. The idea is that instincts are kinds of forces within us that make us behave in certain ways. The essence of those forces is codified within archetypes as fundamental, elemental, and primal qualities that allow certain forces associated with them to manifest. Archetypes are bipolar as well, according to Jung; that is, they have both "positive" and "negative" aspects that present as polar opposites.
To take an example, the Father archetype possesses the properties of power, reason, organization, rule-following, and protection. Fictional examples include Phil Coulson from Agents of Shield, and Morpheus from The Matrix. The Father archetype possesses qualities of illumination, rationality, and locomotion. On the flip side, the Father archetype has an "enemy" equivalent--a " dark shadow"--that can be expressed as domineering, rigid, self-righteous, and abusive toward authority. An example is Darth Vader from the Star Wars saga.
Donald Trump, most anyone will agree, is an extremely unusual person, failing to fit into conventional modes of behavior deemed acceptable by much of society. Yet we observe from his rallies that he has managed to create a near cult-following of enthusiastic worshipers--people who chant his name, chant his slogans, and some of whom will aggressively attack anyone who speaks against him. Many of his followers will ignore or discount facts of any kind if they seem to portray Donald Trump as anything but a savior. These are all characteristics of cult dynamics and cult mentality.
So, what forces--archetypes--are at play in the formation of a cult?
In the case of Donald Trump, the dominant archetypes are the Savior (he pledges to save everyone from a dangerous and scary world, something that only he can do), and the Warrior (if you stand with me, I will fight to protect you; if you don't, I will come after you).
I should mention that when archetypal forces manifest, they command us entirely and we are not conscious of that fact--we think we are in control, but the control rests entirely with the archetypal projection. An example most of us are likely familiar with is the projection of the anima/animus archetypes which exists to ensure that the human race would continue through procreation. The anima is the female archetype within a man, and the animus is the male archetype within a woman. When a man "falls in love," he is projecting his anima upon the person with whom he is "in love" with. When a woman "falls in love," she is, likewise, projecting her animus upon the man she feels "in love" with. These projections are unconscious and can be extremely powerful, causing us to act in ways we would never act when not "under their spell," i.e., when the archetype is dormant. When the spell breaks, it can be brutal because our identity has become enmeshed with the person we have projected upon, and when that ceases, it can seem as if part of us ceases with it.
The projection of identity upon another person can be described by the teleological concept of the participation mystique, which explains why an archetypal projection must have something relevant to its cause to project upon for it to manifest; e.g., a man will not project the anima on a tree or a rock--it has to be another person and, for heterosexual men, that's a woman. The participation mystique describes our tendency to form attachments of all kinds: attachments to people, to pets, to places, as well as to things like cars and iPhones.
In 1981, Donald Trump gave an interview with People magazine and elicited a comment suggestive of how he views the world, and himself in it: “Man is the most vicious of all animals, and life is a series of battles ending in victory or defeat” he said.
We can imagine how this attitude guides his behavior and actions as a wealthy businessman and, now, as President Elect. In a frightful world, full of frightful things, he will “make America strong again” and fight against all the terrible things that his followers fear: people with different skin color, people with different religious preferences, people with higher levels of education (including scientists), etc. In this way, Donald Trump is projecting the Savior archetype, impressing upon his constituents that "only I can make America great again, trust me."
When someone projects an archetype upon a person or group, a counter archetype is projected back upon them by the person or group being projected upon--as long as they have “bought” what that someone is selling. So, someone projecting the Savior archetype will receive projections from those he's projecting upon; in Trump's case, they will view him as a sage--someone who can make their life right again, who is perfect and beyond judgement. It is an irrational position because the mental, "rational," facility has been overridden by a powerful archetypal projection.
Similarly, when Trump projects the Warrior archetype, which sends a call to war against evil (however he imagines evil), and a call to war against anyone who stands in his way, so will those followers, ensnared by his projected Savior archetype, ride along with him and adopt his sentiments as their own. This is how violence can be spread, like an infection, from a person with power, to others, and how ideologies espoused by a cultish figurehead can be acquired by his followers.
Does the Trump phenomena resemble a cult? In some ways, yes. In other ways, no. Most cult leaders project the Savior and Father archetypes, while Trump projects the Savior and Warrior archetypes. All cults share the Savior archetype in common, but they can look quite different depending on the secondary and/or tertiary archetypal projections that accompany it.
It is my non-political concern that Donald Trump poses a dire threat not only to the United States, but to the world, and to humanity. The only other time in recent history we have had a man in charge of a country, with this combination of projected archetypes and a strong following of devotees, was during Hitler's Germany. And we all know what happened there. Will the United States Constitution survive his presidency?
Regardless, it is incumbent on us devotees of Chan to stay awake and aware, to act according to what is in harmony with Dharma, and to always question our beliefs and ideologies. But first and foremost, we must come to know our Self, our essential nature. Knowledge of Self gives us the foundation from which we can understand and act autonomously from those archetypal forces that otherwise take control. They can do good. And they can do harm.
But when we’re in control, we decide.