[Part of a series, this essay is adapted from Chapter Ten of Healing America’s Narratives: the Feminine, the Masculine, & Our Collective National Shadow — Now available]
Healing America’s Narratives’ exploration of our collective American Shadow began as a brief essay in September 2016, which made the case that the Republican candidate for the presidency, all by himself, embodied America’s Shadow elements — ignorance, arrogance, fear, bigotry, violence, greed, excess, bullying, and untrustworthiness.
As the book’s direction emerged and evolved, his role and embodiment diminished in importance but offered both a gift and a threat. The gift manifests because, even when he doesn’t actually believe what he says, he has invited, allowed, and encouraged the ‘worse angels of our nature’ — the traits of our American Shadow — into the mainstream. He has convinced millions of people, about whom he has proven he cares not a whit, to chant his name, do what he asks, and to spend money on his behalf. Effectively he has said, look at me; look at what I can get away with and look at all these people who are willing to help me get away with it while helping to pay my way.
As his and our country’s Shadow traits surface, they embolden his admirers and invite those who see the threat he embodies to engage in the work of owning and integrating these Shadow elements and healing our American narratives—an invaluable, complex, and painful process. It’s up to us to unwrap this gift, continue to unfold the process, and own and integrate our projections.
The gift is also a threat. Almost 63 million Americans saw fit to elect him president in 2016. Yet, even in his loss to Joe Biden, more Americans — slightly more than 74 million — voted for him in 2020 than in 2016. He lost because more than 81 million Americans voted for Biden. That almost 12 million more Americans voted for him in 2020 than in 2016 reminds us that he is not the threat; the threat lies in those who trust, fear, and are willing to follow him and undermine our democracy.
That this one guy embodies the country’s collective Shadow in no way lets the rest of us off the hook. Rather, it more firmly fastens us thereon. Each of us individually and all of us collectively must find this or that Shadow element within ourselves, own it, and integrate it — one discomfiting projection at a time. Whether we choose to continue to ignore our Shadow or to do the work of owning and integrating it, suffering will be involved. The former choice continues our suffering through sustained ignorance and denial; the latter offers us the opportunity to suffer through our own growth — coming to terms with things as they are and developing toward wholeness.
Examples of Trump’s ignorance, arrogance, and untrustworthiness are ubiquitous and too voluminous for this essay.¹ We’ll consider one. During the 2 ½ months between his November 3, 2020 election loss and Joe Biden’s January 20, 2021 inauguration, 14,926,674 new cases of coronavirus were reported in the U. S. and 185,408 Americans died. He was effectively absent as president for these 79 days except to incessantly repeat his stolen election lie. On January 6, 2021, while he incited thousands of his recruits to storm the Capitol — he and many of his minions maskless — 259,471 new cases were reported and 3,873 Americans died. On January 20, Trump’s final partial day in office 3,866 American citizens would die from COVID-19.²
A closing anecdote: Journalist Tony Schwartz ghostwrote Trump’s The Art of the Deal, and received half the advance and half of the book’s subsequent royalties.³ Schwartz credited the book’s success with giving him “a financial cushion that few people are ever lucky enough to enjoy.” Happily married with two young children, and with the bestseller behind him, he wondered why he wasn’t happier.⁴ This wondering led him to spend five years traveling America, speaking with the likes of Ram Dass, Michael Murphy, Elmer and Alyce Green, Betty Edwards, David Spiegel, Herbert Benson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Dean Ornish, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Roger Walsh, Ken Wilber, Helen Palmer and Hameed Ali, among others.
So, spending some two years shadowing Donald Trump, writing The Art of the Deal, and being paid handsomely for it convinced Tony Schwartz to spend five years interviewing a diverse array of researchers, scholars, teachers, writers, and practitioners in science, the arts, psychology, spirituality, and consciousness itself. These interviews and Schwartz’s direct experience led to his 1995 book, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America. A financially rewarding two years with a self-proclaimed deal artist led him to search for wisdom and for what really matters in America. Draw your own conclusions.
¹Here’s a small sampling:
Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan and Alicia Parlapiano, “More Than 160 Republican Leaders Don’t Support Donald Trump. Here’s When They Reached Their Breaking Point.” New York Times, August 29, 2016, updated October 9, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/08/29/us/politics/at-least-110-republican-leaders-wont-vote-for-donald-trump-heres-when-they-reached-their-breaking-point.html Accessed August 29, 2016.
Felicia Sonmez and Mike DeBonis, “Trump tells four liberal congresswomen to ‘go back’ to their countries, prompting Pelosi to defend them,” Washington Post, July 14, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-says-four-liberal-congresswomen-should-go-back-to-the-crime-infested-places-from-which-they-came/2019/07/14/b8bf140e-a638-11e9-a3a6-ab670962db05_story.html Accessed July 14, 2019.
J. M. Rieger, “40 Times Trump said the coronavirus would go away,” Washington Post, November 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/40-times-trump-said-the-coronavirus-would-go-away/2020/04/30/d2593312-9593-4ec2-aff7-72c1438fca0e_video.html Accessed July 23, 2021.
Jim Rutenberg, Jo Becker, Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Martin, Matthew Rosenberg, and Michael S. Schmidt, “77 Days: Trump’s Campaign to Subvert the Election,” New York Times, January 31, 2021, updated June 15, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/trump-election-lie.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage Accessed January 31, 2021.
²Statistics cited are from the CDC, specifically from the daily trends setting: https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#trends_dailytrendscases. Last accessed June 2, 2022. Updated numbers may vary slightly from those cited here.
³Jane Mayer, “Donald Trump’s Ghostwriter Tells All,” New Yorker, July 18, 2016. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all Accessed January 31, 2021.
⁴Tony Schwartz, What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America (Bantam, 1995), p. 3.