Illustration by Amit Shimoni
Donald Trump is a peculiarly American phenomenon. No other culture could have produced him. That's not to say there are no other people in other nations with similar levels of ignorance and narcissism, wealthy men in power who have no business managing individuals let alone nations. But the media juggernaut, the oversized rallies and undersized compassion, the chutzpah, the sheer force of staggering confidence, showmanship and sales ability - this is something that could only ever have come out of the US.
Here in New Zealand, as the horrifying truth of Trump's election as President began to drop, those of us out for dinner that evening became despondent. There was incredulity, shock, disbelief. We laughed it off, drank more, made jokes about Trump's (supposedly) tiny...hands, toasted the burning of the world, talked about other things.
But on my way home, as I began to unpack the ramifications of America's decision - not just for their own culture, but for the rest of the world - I remembered the words of Japanese novelist, Haruki Murakami, spoken in Denmark little more than a week ago as he accepted the Hans Christian Andersen literature award.
"Just as all people have shadows, every society and nation, too, has shadows. If there are bright, shining aspects, there will be a counterbalancing dark side. If there's a positive, there will surely be a negative on the reverse side. At times, we tend to avert our eyes from the shadow, those negative parts. Or else try to forcibly eliminate those aspects. Because people want to avoid, as much as possible, looking at their own dark sides, their negative qualities.
But you have to patiently learn to live together with your shadow. And carefully observe the darkness that resides within you...sometimes in a deep place you have to confront your own dark side. If you don't, before long your shadow will grow ever stronger, and will return, some night, to knock at the door of your house."
In Jungian psychology, our 'shadow' is the part of our (often subconscious) self we're least comfortable with; the inner secrets we hide, out of a sense of shame or straight up denial. Perhaps our rage, bitterness, or lust for revenge. Maybe our racism or bigotry. Our jealousy, sense of inadequacy, our brokenness and pain. Perhaps our sexuality. All of us have parts of ourselves we don't like to think about, or would rather didn't exist.
And Trump's election has exposed a deep and poisonous shadow within American culture, hidden (at least for sometime) beneath the clean cut, well manicured and progressive face of the Obama administration. Obama is handsome, well spoken, measured, and undeniably intelligent. His marriage appears to be one of mutual respect and equality. He's laid back enough to play basketball with, and statesmanlike enough to be trusted with the nuclear codes. In short, Obama is the America the rest of the world wants, and the America that many American citizens identify with.
Trouble is, that's not the whole picture. Trump is the face of America's 'shadow', the Anti-Obama, the pendulum swing from progressive values back to the least palatable parts of the American psyche, the parts everyone wishes didn't exist, or would simply go away: the blatant racism, sexism, greed, selfishness and irresponsibility. That strange mix of enormous, unexamined privilege, married with a deep sense of victimisation and intolerance. The immaturity and limited capacity for complex reasoning, the lack of empathy. He is, in essence, little more than a skilled snake oil salesman. And the dark heart many Americans would prefer to deny as their own.
Within Jungian psychology, the way to become a healthy, fully functional human being, is to learn to integrate the hidden, shameful, ugly part of yourself, with the rest of who you are. Essentially, to make peace with your demons. Easier said than done, and for some of us, far harder than others. But one thing is sure: the first step is always facing the darkness. To bring that shadow into the bright light of day, and take a good, hard look at what you're dealing with. To acknowledge that yes, as terrifying or awful as this is, it is also you - a part of who you are. And then start working from there.
The election of Trump could be the opportunity the US needs, to do just this.