Our survival as a species depends on our recognizing that Donald Trump is our greatest teacher.
There is no shortage of news coverage calling Donald Trump a bad man. Thomas Friedman in the New York Times called him a “disgusting human being” whose children “should be ashamed of him.” (New York Times Op Ed Aug 9, 2016).
Trump has undoubtedly deeply hurt many peoples’ feelings. He has demeaned women, Muslims, people with disabilities, Hispanics and the poor. In the presidential primary campaign he hurled personal attacks at his opponents and retaliated viciously when anybody dared question his record. Given his horrible behavior, I understand my own strong impulse to shame and defeat him. I harbor fantasies of his tax returns being discovered to show generous contributions to the Klu Klux Klan, of his hair being a wig that flies off in the wind, or of his face purple with humiliation when he loses in all fifty states.
While I feel righteous in my indignation, and justified in my fantasies of shaming him, I must ask myself how, if I enjoy the idea of his humiliation, am I any better or different than he is?
It has been said that resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping someone else will die.
My delicious fantasies of Donald Trump’s humiliation in fact poison me. They fill my mind and heart with negativity. They distance me from my vision of a world that works for everybody; a world in which people honor, respect and listen to one another. Such fantasies in fact propagate the hateful discourse he generates.
Given Einstein’s idea that “we cannot change a problem with the same thinking that created it” we can never change the divisive political discourse epitomized by Trumps attacks with hatred or attack in return. To change the discourse he has fostered, we must approach it with a different way of thinking and being.
Jung spoke of the shadow; the largely unconscious part of our psyche that we do not like and choose to see as other than ourselves, and how we project these hated parts onto others.
Donald Trump is our shadow. He is our collective creation. He is the screen upon which we see our darkest impulses projected. He embodies the cruelty, nastiness, envy, and self-centeredness that lives inside every one of us, and that we spend so much time and effort trying to hide.
The importance of recognizing Donald Trump as the projection of our collective shadow comes at a crucial time in our evolutionary journey. We human beings have evolved to the point where we have the capacity to destroy ourselves, and the planet on which we live. We are the first beings who can observe our own evolution and to have conscious choice in the direction our species will go. As such, we have the choice to relate to our fellow human beings like Trump does, seeing them as “other”, perpetuating greed while plundering the earth without concern for the lives of future generations. Another possible evolutionary choice is to acknowledge our interconnectedness, choosing co-existence, supporting and protecting one another and respecting the earth. This second way requires us as Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy maintains, “to wake up, as from a millennia-long sleep, to a whole new relationship to our world, to ourselves and each other.”
If we are to evolve towards connectivity and peaceful cohabitation, we must acknowledge the hatred and greed we each harbor, and suspend acting out our hateful responses, even towards hate itself as it comes our way, and therefore even towards Donald Trump. As Macy says “we need to resist the temptation to turn on each other, as scapegoats on whom to vent our fear and rage.”
Donald Trump is our greatest teacher who shows us our own darkest side.
Should we find a way to perform the difficult task of reclaiming our negative projections and holding Trump with compassion, even while challenging his lies and deception, he will disappear as a public phenomenon in a puff of bright orange smoke.