Trickster Trump

raven “Will the real Donald Trump stand up?” This is the challenge now facing the American electorate – deciding who the real Donald Trump is. Some Americans are at a loss identifying the real Trump; however, there is no shortage of labels attached to him. He has been labeled, a deal-maker, successful businessman, family-man, sexist, racist, narcissist, sociopath, psychopath, black-swan, trickster, and other colorful descriptors. Any of these descriptors might be used to gain insight into Trump’s personality but there is one we need to especially consider. Trump the trickster could be sneaking up on us and before we fully comprehend his trickiness, he will be elected the U.S. President. So, the trickster myth archetype will open a window into Trump’s personality and behavior that should help us understand what is unfolding!

Our analysis begins with Carl Jung’s essay On the psychology of the Trickster (1954). When Jung first read Adolf Bandelier’s The delight makers, on the American Indian trickster he was struck by the analogy of the carnivals in the medieval church, where at a certain time of the year there was a reversal of the hierarchic-order and trickster-characters took control of church activities from the bishops. Typical kinds of behavior taking over the church were sly jokes and malicious pranks, the power of being a shape-shifter, the dual nature of being half-animal half-divine, exposure to various kinds of tortures, and the approximation to the figure of a savior. A letter on March 12, 1444, 250 years on, from French bishops still upset about behavior in divine services that had “masqueraders with grotesque faces, disguised as women, lions, and mummers, performed their dances, sang indecent songs in the choir, ate their greasy food from corners of the altar near the priest celebrating mass, got out their games of dice, burned a stinking incense made of old shoe leather, and ran and hopped about all over the church” (137). Kind-of has the look, feel, sound, taste, smell of a Trump rally.

Jung ties this behavior to fairytale characters like Tom Thumb, Stupid Hans, and Hanswurst “who are negative heroes and yet manage to achieve through their stupidity what others fail to accomplish with their best efforts”. Trump shape-shifting as a negative-hero has reversed the hierarchic-order of the Republican Party, through a sly stupidity he defeated all primary contenders and now challenges Hillary Clinton for the Presidency. Trump’s savior complex promise is to Make America Great Again – which he says only he can accomplish – “I know more than all Generals, believe me!” Here then we have a window into what is unfolding.

Jung writes that Yahweh’s Old Testament behavior was that of an “unpredictable trickster with his senseless orgies of destruction and his self-imposed sufferings, together with the same gradual development into a savior and his simultaneous humanization”. Jung suggests that “this transformation of the meaningless into the meaningful reveals the trickster’s compensatory relation to the ‘saint.’” Is the American electorate seeing this and will it take Trump’s word that he understands and will complete this challenging transformation in the weeks remaining? After all, look how long it took Yahweh to transform Himself? In Answer to Job, Jung fully addresses Yahweh’s transformation and “Trump you are no Yahweh!”

The “Phantom of the trickster” can be found in all mythological stories – it is ancient as wile-e-coyoteJoseph Campbell’s study of the Trickster suggests. This antiquity, Jung points out, indicates it is a “reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness corresponding to a psyche that has hardly left the animal level.” Campbell suggests that Wile E. Coyote along with the raven and the hair are Indian trickster characters with ancient reality, that address the trickster’s functional meaning. By examining the purpose of the trickster, we have a view of his appearance in the phenomena of Donald Trump. Why is this early primitive consciousness still hanging around like a “senseless appendage” (141)?

Examining the purpose of the trickster myth, we need to go beyond the fact that this myth is more than just an “earlier, rudimentary stage of consciousness”. Like the Winnebago Indian Tribes, uncontaminated by civilization, having lived long with their trickster characters, can we imagine Trump Trickster in an amusing non-treating enjoyment? Jung’s interest is whether these “personified reflections exist in empirical psychology” and he discovered that they do in the form of depth psychology’s early psycho-pathological investigations. These are not random personality splits but exist in “a compensatory relationship with the ego-personality”, which Jung presents as the unconscious in that “the trickster is represented by counter-tendencies in the unconscious, and in certain cases by a sort of second personality, of a puerile and inferior character…,” this Jung calls the Shadow.

Jung explains that “We are no longer aware that in carnival customs and the like there are remnants of a collective shadow figure which proves that the personal shadow is in part descended from a numinous collective figure. This collective figure gradually breaks up under the impact of civilization, leaving traces in folklore which are difficult to recognize. But the main part of him gets personalized and is made an objective of personal responsibility” (142). So, our task now has been re-focused – to examining Trump’s Shadow.

To engage in this inward examination, we need to focus on the trickster-shadow figure from a higher stage of consciousness. If Trump’s consciousness is now moving through the trickster-shadow-stage, we should not expect he will be capable of joining this examination. Jung expects that someone at this lower stage of consciousness will engage life with “a good deal of mockery and contempt and thus casting an even thicker pall over man’s memories of the past,…” An example of this is Trump’s 9.16.2016 news conference, where he finally states that “President Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., period” and in the next breath blames the origin of the “birther issue” on Hillary Clinton – fact-checked as another foggy past memory. Jung points out that “Anyone who belongs to a sphere of culture that seeks the perfect state somewhere in the past must feel very queerly in-deed when confronted by the figure of the trickster.” This “queerly feeling” emanates from Trump’s seeing himself as the savior of America – “being both God, man, and animal at once” – queerly indeed. In such a person, Jung points out; we have “both a subhuman and a superhuman, a bestial and divine being, whose chief and most alarming characteristic is his unconsciousness” (143). Of concern now is what this says about Trump supporters’ level of consciousness.

The desertion bugs_bunnyof many top Republican Party leaders is a clear indication that they see Trump has fallen below their level of consciousness. Jung points out that a Trickster is “so unconscious of himself that his body is not a unity, and his two hands fight each other,… his sex is optional despite its phallic qualities; he can turn himself into a woman and bear children. From his penis, he makes all kinds of useful pants. This is a reference to his nature as a Creator, for the world is made from the body of a god” (144). We need to watch more closely how Trump uses his small hands, however, we already have heard Trump call himself to a Supermodel and learned on Dr. Oz that Trump’s testosterone level is normal. In order for Trump’s body to be a unity, it was reported he changed his height from 6.2” to 6.3” thus at 230 pounds he is not obese.

The trickster in many ways is stupider than the animals as he “does the most atrocious things from sheer unconsciousness and unrelatedness.” The atrocious things Trump is still doing more than a year into this election cycle is in part due to his poor adaption to the political environment that he is immersed in. However, Jung points out that in the trickster myth there is a higher potential for developing consciousness because of “a considerable eagerness to learn”. A struggle now playing itself out is the Trump campaign’s effort is to teach Trump to “stay on script”, which addresses relatedness.  Jung suggests that this effort is fraught with problems because of the trickster’s “extraordinary clumsiness and lack of instinct” and the influence of his savior complex. Can we expect Trump to learn from this trickster myth and is there anything to fear from what he learns?

With the idea of learning now on the table, we need to address its energy. Jeb Bush did appear to have “low energy”, however, our quest is for a dynamically deep understanding of psychic energy. It is important to realize that this ancient primitive trickster myth has not lost its energy and disappeared like expected but has been able to perpetuate itself into an entity with “its own cycle of legends”. This fact testifies to the continuing fascination of the trickster myth and to its reappearance in the Trump phenomenon. Civilization has not been able, if ever it will, put this myth to rest. Jung points to the work of Paul Radin in that “the civilizing process begins within the framework of the trickster cycle itself, … instead of acting in a brutal, savage, stupid, and senseless fashion, the trickster’s behavior toward the end of the cycle becomes quite useful and sensible” (146). What might this sensibility be and can we trust this development?

We experience disgust and fear when Trump goes off-script and there is continuing hope that scripted-Trump will stick around. However, this hope is naïve, since the darkness of Trickster Trump has not gone anywhere but has withdrawn into the unconscious remaining there waiting for an “opportunity to reappear as a projection upon one’s neighbor” or in the case of Trump a tweet about what might happen to Clinton if her bodyguards’ guns were taken away. Jung warns that “If this trick is successful, there is immediately created between them that world of primordial darkness where everything that is characteristic of the trickster can happen – even on the highest plane of civilization. The best examples of these ‘monkey tricks’ …in which everything goes wrong and nothing intelligent happens except by mistake at the last moment, are naturally to be found in politics” (147).  The world is now watching a “primordial darkness” in the American political process unfold.

The trickster myth’s perpetuation, Jung suggests, receives energy not only from sources at higher stages of consciousness but mainly from the personal unconscious, the generator of psychic energy.  To understand this unconscious source of energy, Jung changes our lens of analysis from the trickster myth to what he sees is a parallel process in the psychology of the individual – “the appearance of an impressive shadow figure antagonistically confronting a personal consciousness.” This shadow figure is not an entity still existing but instead “rests on a dynamism whose existence can only be explained in terms of his actual situation …the shadow is so disagreeable to ego-consciousness that it has to be repressed into the unconscious” (145). With the trickster considered to be a “collective shadow figure, a summation of all the inferior traits of character in individuals,” and with the individual shadow always present, the trickster will always have a ready source of energy to tap.

Jung now adds this important point, due to repression and neglect, this energy flow need not materialize as a mythological figure but can surface as a “projection on other social groups and nations” (150). For example, Trump said, “Mexicans crossing the U.S. border are thieves and rapists; the USSR is an evil empire, period”, both which need to be owned as projections about Americans and about America.

Addressing projections is the initial generator of psychic energy in the psychology of the individual.  With the trickster and the individual shadow seen as parallel entities, both trending toward meaning, we have a parallel way to examine the Trump phenomenon. To employ Jung’s lens, depth psychology, the first focus is on the Shadow’s  role in the process of individuation, which is a complex analytical process of the individual Self-moving forward to a meaningful life – the human dream! We need Donald Trump to lay down on our couch.

The Shadow is often unknown or the neglected negative dark-side of one’s personality. These “negative personal inferiorities seen as moral deficiencies” are projected onto an Other. In the case of a man the shadow is male and is projected onto another male. In a woman, the shadow is female and is projected onto another female. It is relatively easy to see (experience) one’s shadow projected onto the same-sex Other. For example, Trump saying that Jeb Bush has low energy is a shadow projection of his. Looking closely at Trump’s energy, we see it is shallow and the worry in Trump’s camp has to be whether his energy-pool is deep enough to withstand Clinton’s deeper energy understanding of the issues.

Preparing for the debates is about expending energy and given the astonishing number of Trump projections, a concern is that they have insulated and are harming him “by acting as a constantly thickening veil of illusion between the [his] ego and the real world.” Trump’s increased lying is a worrying sign! So, the first step in the individuation process is to own shadow projections and in doing so, psychic energy is generated and released for further understanding. (Wikipedia)

Helped by understanding the Shadow, further understanding comes next in tackling one’s Anima/Animus projections.  In our analysis of Trump, his Anima is an archetype in the male’s unconscious that personifies his feminine inner personality, just as the Animus is an archetype in the female’s unconscious personifying her masculinity. These psychic entities like the Shadow are projected outward and in the case of the male unto women and for a woman the projection is unto men. For example, Trump’s many comments about women being “fat, slob, ugly, bleeding, dogs, disgusting animals” opens a very telling-window into his personality – in particular into his relationship with his mother (Mary Anne MacLeod), which not much is known. Mary Pilon’s NewYorker essay on Tump’s immigrant mother only reports that “In his 1997 book, ‘The Art of the Comeback,’ Trump praised his mother—and indirectly criticized other women in his life. ‘Part of the problem I’ve had with women has been in having to compare them to my incredible mother, Mary Trump,’ Trump wrote. ‘My mother is smart as hell.’” Just how smart is hell?

At least Trump reveals this is only part of his problem with women. Coming to understand more fully Trump’s Anima, particularly for a male, is much more difficult than understanding his Shadow. Jung suggests that it is “practically impossible to get a man who is afraid of his own femininity to understand what is meant by the Anima” (151). Trump’s continuing Anima projection onto women suggests he has a deep issue here, which could only be approached if we had the real Donald Trump on a couch – maybe in a new TV reality show. However, many will be watching the debates to see how Trump’s Anima reveals herself – she has very real energy that is going to be a challenge for him to reign in. Of course, his long-term goal should not to rein in Anima energy but to successfully harness it. Given Trump’s level of consciousness, it seems unlikely that he can accomplish this; however, we must keep in mind he is a trickster.

The Shadow is first to appear in individual analysis, which partially hides the Anima/Animus, which in its turn reveals the very powerful wise old man archetype – the sage, king, magician, wizard. We experience this archetype in movies with Obi-wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Morphius, so far mostly men with keen wisdomgandalf-the-grey and judgment. They prove most helpful in guiding, saving others. At the end of the trickster myth, Jung suggests “the savior is hinted at. This comforting premonition or hope means that some calamity or other has happened and been consciously understood. Only out of disaster can the longing for a savior arise – in other words, the recognition and unavoidable integration of the shadow creates such a harrowing situation that nobody but a savior [a hero] can undo the tangled web of fate.”                                                                        Gandalf

In the first debate, if Trump is aware of his Shadow, clearly an assets helping him understand how to untangle our National web-of-fate, Jung says that this awareness can only be “answered on the plane of the Anima, that is through relatedness” – a famine trait (151). Understanding the trickster-myth-archetype and watching for the psycho-dynamics in the first male vs. female presidential debate should be interesting. In watching for Shadows, Anima, and Animus projections, keep in mind that a trickster-magician after helping the Hero understand the web-of-fate, disappears from the story leaving the Hero to complete the work – in our story the work of “reversing the hierarchic-order” that is dominating our political system. SAS

Related Trump Blog Posts:
I Ching on Trump
Dark knight rises
Air kiss of death
Coyote and raven tricksters
The fool and the magician
Trump got his gun
Bulworth Lonesome Trump



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