What Would C.G. Jung Say about Donald Trump
The following was originally published on Paul Levy’s website, Awaken in the Dream.
The great doctor of the soul and modern day alchemist C. G. Jung was so far ahead of his time that, more than half a century after his death, he is still barely appreciated. Jung was a genius who had incredibly deep insight into the nature of the psyche, particularly how it informs and gives shape to what plays out in our world. I find myself wondering, what would Jung say about the madness currently playing out in our world if he were alive today? I can only imagine.
Jung was of the opinion that “Active Imagination,” a process in which we actively dialogue and have it out with the figures of our unconscious, was the most powerful practice he had ever come across for working with—and integrating—the unconscious. I find myself wondering, what if I were to do active imagination with Jung himself?
Upon imagining this, I immediately sense the presence of Jung. As if in possession of a priceless gift, he seems delighted at the opportunity to share his insights with someone who is open to receiving them. Rather than ghostly, his presence seems substantial, actually quite huge, and very warm. He seems professorial in demeanor, which immediately makes feel like I am in the role of student, a role I am very happy to assume when I meet someone who I consider to be my teacher, orders of magnitude wiser than myself.
Deeply wanting to take advantage of my good fortune, I try to connect by asking him if he can believe the insanity that is happening in the United States today. As if he recognizes what is playing out, Jung says, with the utmost assurance, that what is taking place is “brought about by an upheaval of forces lying dormant in the unconscious.” It is as if darker subterranean powers that have been brewing in the cauldron of the collective unconscious for centuries have been unleashed into our world.
I remember that in Jung’s view what distinguishes our age from all others is that we are being forced to recognize and come to terms with the active world-shaping powers of the psyche. As if hearing my thoughts, Jung comments that the psyche is “the World Power that vastly exceeds all other powers on earth.” Jung adds, “We can no longer deny that the dark stirrings of the unconscious are active powers.” This immediately makes me think of Jung’s well-known insight that if we don’t bring consciousness to the shadow forces within the psyche, we will then most assuredly dream up our inner unconscious situation to play out—destructively—on the world stage as our fate.
I am familiar with Jung’s idea that when the darkness of the unconscious begins to stir, if these forces are not understood, they will magnetically draw people together who will become unwitting instruments for what Jung calls “the powers of darkness” to act themselves out in the world. A leader, such as Donald Trump, will invariably appear—in my language, get “dreamed up”—who will express, reflect and, like a lightning rod, amplify these darker forces. This leader is typically someone who, in Jung’s words, has “the least resistance, the least sense of responsibility and … the greatest will to power.” Jung comments that this leader “will let loose everything that is ready to burst forth.” As if offering a prophetic warning, Jung says with complete certainty, “a mass always produces a ‘Leader,’ who infallibly becomes the victim of his own inflated ego-consciousness, as numerous examples in history show.” I think many of us intuit that Trump’s reign is not going to end well – the question becomes: how can we mitigate the damage?
It is as if Jung is describing exactly what is being acted out in the United States after the 2016 election. I can’t help but to ask Jung’s opinion about the fact that someone as clearly pathological as Donald Trump has become president. As if anticipating my question, Jung says, “As soon as people get together in masses and submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated.” I remember that Jung defines the shadow as “the inferior part of everybody’s personality,” the darker half of the human totality, what he refers to as humanity’s “own worst danger.” I remember that the word mirror, etymologically speaking, means the “holder of the shadow.” It is as if we have collectively dreamed up Trump to embody—and reflect back to us—our unconscious shadow. Jung then matter-of-factly states, as if what he is saying is beyond debate, “It is everybody’s allotted fate to become conscious of and learn to deal with this shadow.” It does feel as if we live in a time where it is no longer possible to avoid or postpone dealing with our darker half.
Jung adds that Trump “symbolized something in every individual.” Commenting on Trump’s supporters, Jung points out that “people would never have been taken in and carried away so completely if this figure had not been a reflected image … ” before Jung completes his thought, I finish it for him by blurting out loud “ … of their own unconscious shadow.” Satisfied that he has gotten across his point, Jung nods in agreement.
In describing Trump, Jung uses phrases such as a man acting out “the power fantasies of an adolescent” who behaves in public “like a man living in his own biography.” I am beginning to understand that Jung is able to so precisely describe Trump because our president, as if sent by central casting, is simply the latest embodiment, in an exaggerated form, of a deeper archetypal pathology—existing in the collective unconscious itself—that has played itself out throughout history.
I express my concern to Jung that Trump is severely inflated, by which I mean he is unconsciously identified with, instead of being in conscious relationship to, what Jung refers to as the Self (which can be equated to the higher Self, i.e., God). To suffer from inflation is to have one’s ego blown up beyond its proper human limits, to be filled with hubris, to become full of oneself, a legend in one’s own mind. In his writings Jung refers to this state of inflation as being a conceit that borders on madness. With the utmost authority Jung replies to my concern, “’God-Almightiness’ does not make man divine, it merely fills him with arrogance and arouses everything evil in him. It produces a diabolical caricature of man, and this inhuman mask is so unendurable, such a torture to wear, that he tortures others.” I can’t believe how accurately Jung is describing Trump—who is the embodiment of arrogance and who, in his own words, “likes torture ‘a lot’”—to a T. Speaking to the inflated, larger-than-life, gold-plated universe of our current president, Jung points out, “Everything that exceeds a certain human size evokes equally inhuman powers in man’s unconscious. Totalitarian demons are called forth.”
I start thinking how inflation is a form of blindness, as it disables our ability to see clearly and take in reflection from the outside world. As if validating my thought, Jung says, “Inflation magnifies the blind spot of the eye.” His comment makes me think of how our species certainly seems to be suffering from a form of psychic blindness, as if we are wearing blinders and have become myopic in our viewpoint, lacking clear vision. Is Trump the outer reflection of this blindness? Jung then amplifies his thoughts on inflation by saying, “A clear symptom of this is our growing disinclination to take note of the reactions of the environment and pay heed to them.” His statement makes me reflect upon how our current president not only doesn’t take in reflection from other people, but is ignoring the reactions from the environment—the biosphere—itself. Deeply recognizing the peril of our current situation, Jung becomes somber and in a barely audible tone, mutters under his breath, “our blindness is extremely dangerous.”
The next moment, as if a light-bulb has gone off inside of his head, Jung snaps out of his momentary state of melancholy and exclaims, “Greater than all physical dangers are the tremendous effects of delusional ideas.” Ideas, what Plato calls “the eyes of the soul,” are ways of regarding things, the means by which we see, the perspectives through which we view the world and create our life. “Delusional ideas,” I find myself thinking, are the one thing that our current administration is not lacking.
As if wanting to complete his thoughts on an inflated consciousness, Jung says, with complete certainty, that it “is incapable of learning from the past, incapable of understanding contemporary events, and incapable of drawing right conclusions about the future. It is hypnotized by itself and therefore cannot be argued with. It inevitably dooms itself to calamities that must strike it dead.” His words send a chill down my spine, as once again it feels as if he is describing our current president. Jung is pointing out that inflation—which we should remind ourselves is a characteristic of an unbalanced mind—invariably leads to catastrophe. The scary thing is that we—all of us—are potentially under the sphere of influence of a commander-in-chief who is not in his “right mind.”
I start thinking about all of the over-the-top campaign promises that Trump made and continues to make. As if once again reading my thoughts, Jung points out, “The man who promises everything is sure to fulfill nothing, and everyone who promises too much is in danger of using evil means in order to carry out his promises, and is already on the road to perdition.” I immediately think about our president’s proclivity to not just “promise everything,” but to lie at seemingly every chance he gets. I ask Jung about this, to which he responds, “things only become dangerous when the pathological liar is taken seriously by a wider public. Like Faust, he is bound to make a pact with the devil and thus slips off the straight path.” I think how Trump’s lies are believed as truth and taken seriously by his supporters, as if their faculty of discernment has been disabled. Jung continues, “But I should like to emphasize above all else that it is part and parcel of the pathological liar’s make-up to be plausible.”
Trump, I imagine Jung pointing out, is suffering from what is known as pseudologia phantastica, a “form of hysteria which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one’s own lies.” Upon reflection, it does seem that Trump has hypnotized himself such that he really seems to believe his own lies, as if he himself isn’t able to discern between truth and falsehood. As if adding a commentary to my own thoughts, Jung says, “Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself.” This certainly explains why Trump’s followers seem to be so taken in by his lies.
I notice that I am a bit taken aback by Jung’s continual telepathic powers—how does he know my mind so well?—until I remember that he is an imaginal figure not separate from my mind. He seems to represent a perspective that is other than my own, as if I am dialoguing with a living, autonomous part of myself that knows more than I do.
As if completing his psychological analysis on our president’s genius for deceiving himself, Jung explains, “Believing one’s own lies when the wish is father to the lie is a well-known hysterical symptom and a distinct sign of inferiority.” This makes sense to me, as Trump’s braggadocio certainly seems, from the psychological point of view, as if it is a compensation for deep feelings of inferiority. Jung elaborates, “Inferiority feelings are usually a sign of inferior feeling—which is not just a play on words.” Jung’s point rings true – from all appearances, Donald Trump’s feeling function and sense of empathy seem highly underdeveloped and stunted.
From his statements, I realize that Jung is of the opinion that Trump is suffering from hysteria, which is something I hadn’t considered, yet it makes perfect sense upon reflection. People like Trump who suffer from hysteria invariably fall prey to what Jung refers to as “prestige psychology,” evidenced by his typical need “to flaunt his merits and insist on them, of his insatiable thirst for recognition, admiration, adulation.” I remember how in his writings Jung points out that people who suffer from hysteria, due to their unwillingness to own their own failings, compulsively wind up hurting other people. Jung refers to Trump as a “theatrical hysteric” (when he says this, I immediately wonder if Jung even knows about the concept of “reality TV”), who is “not strutting about on a small stage,” but, frighteningly, is in charge of the greatest war-making machine that this planet has ever seen.
As if starting to dream, Jung, with a twinkle in his eye, conjectures, “Perhaps in a more enlightened era a candidate for governmental office will have to have it certified by a psychiatric commission that he is not a bearer of psychic bacilli.” I appreciate Jung’s idea of having our would-be-leaders vetted for mental stability; from all appearances our current president would fail the test. I immediately think how I would be quite happy to be on the board of examiners. It certainly seems as if Trump is infected with a psychic bacilli/mind-virus of sorts, as his mind seems truly deranged, i.e., not oriented in the right direction.
In any case, it certainly seems like an incredibly dangerous time we are living through – images of a mentally unbalanced person such as Trump with his finger on the button come to mind. Jung comments, “The situation is about the same as if a small boy of six had been given a bag of dynamite for a birthday present.” Yeah, I find myself thinking, but the bag of dynamite in our case is nuclear.
Feeling my fear rising, I imploringly ask Jung what we can possibly do. Without even having to think about it for a second, he responds, “a complete spiritual renewal is needed. And this cannot be given gratis, each man must strive to achieve it for himself. Neither can old formulas which once had a value be brought into force again. The eternal truths cannot be transmitted mechanically; in every epoch they must be born anew from the human psyche.” I immediately think of Jung’s consistent message that it is only through change in an individual’s consciousness—the individual being, in Jung’s words, “the carrier of life”—that real transformation happens in the world at large.
Sounding quite pleased at my understanding, Jung comments, “Therefore it is always single individuals who are moved by the collective problem and who are called upon to respond and contribute to its solution by tackling it in their own lives and not running away from it.” As I’ve previously written, it is the artists—those among us who are actively engaged with the creative spirit—who will help to heal our world.
Jung continues, “If ever there was a time when self-reflection was the absolutely necessary and only right thing, it is now, in our present catastrophic epoch.” Self-reflection, a privilege born of and intrinsic to human freedom, is a genuinely spiritual act – essentially the act of becoming conscious. He continues, “The true leaders of mankind are always those who are capable of self-reflection.” In self-reflection we recognize ourselves in the mirror of the world. As if amplifying my thoughts, Jung exclaims, “Yet, whoever reflects upon himself is bound to strike upon the frontiers of the unconscious, which contains what above all else he needs to know.” I love Jung’s idea that the unconscious, instead of simply being a repository of what we repress, contains what we need to know. My unconscious apparently contains the living figure of Jung.
As if reflecting upon my own self-reflection, Jung says, “Individual self-reflection, return of the individual to the ground of human nature, to his own deepest being with its individual and social destiny—here is the beginning of a cure for that blindness which reigns at the present hour.” Connecting with the innermost foundations of our being is like finding a safe refuge during these crazy times we are living through. “If things go wrong in the world,” Jung says, and then waits to make sure I am listening, “I shall put myself right first.” I certainly can’t argue with that.
I am deeply affected by Jung’s wisdom. I have the thought that I am in the presence of a living genius. I remember that the word genius is related to the word genie (as in “I dream of…”), which is etymologically related to the word daemon, which means the inner voice and guiding spirit. I wonder – is Jung just a personification of my own guiding spirit, my inner guru? I then remember that the deeper meaning of the word “guru” is one who inspires; in this sense, I am happy to call Jung my guru – he is a source of continual inspiration in my life. Jung seems greatly bemused by my contemplations, and starts smiling, only to break out into a big laugh. I see why so many people have said that he has an unforgettable laugh. For the moment, all seems right with the world.
Jung seems deeply satisfied by our meeting. I am more than satisfied; I’m in a practically ecstatic state, literally overflowing with gratitude. As if our time together is coming to a close, Jung’s image, like a rainbow dissolving into the emptiness of its nature, starts to fade. As if receiving a mystic revelation, I continually hear Jung’s voice echoing in my head, “I shall put myself right first.” His words are profoundly inspiring, as if they are speaking directly to me. It is as if he is giving me a transmission, pointing me in the right direction. As these words resound in my mind, I begin to wonder, “Are these Jung’s words, or my own?”