The Man Who Would Be King: Why Trump’s Character Matters


King, Warrior, Magician, Lover

In an interview with Time ten years ago Holocaust survivor, author, and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel was asked to name his favorite Biblical hero. Wiesel, who died July 2nd at age 87, selected Moses as a great legislator, commander-in-chief and prophet as well as a loyal representative of his people and God. Additionally, Moses possessed humility, and he did not give in to hatred or indifference which are the main stumbling blocks to effective leadership. According to Wiesel, these blocks of hatred and indifference “are the two most important subjects in the world.”

Authors Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette present a comparable model of leadership in their books King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine and The King Within: Accessing the King in the Male Psyche. They write that the characterological make-up of adult males might be understood in terms of four images or archetypes, i.e., the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover. Wiesel’s description of Moses as legislator, commander-in-chief, prophet, and loyal representative neatly corresponds to these four images.

Moore and Gillette write that an adult male ideally learns to integrate the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover energies within himself. Via the King in particular he unites that which is at opposition and creates order out of chaos. Relatedly, he acts with grace not grandiosity as he realizes the effect that his vested power has on himself and others. Like Wiesel, Moore and Gillette state that the King therefore possesses true humility, acknowledging his own shortcomings and susceptibility to corruption. He is a discerning steward of the people and the greater good and has become what psychologist Erik Erikson calls a generative man.

Three historical figures who exemplified the King energy are Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln. They concerned themselves with helping and even liberating less fortunate individuals and groups. Theirs was a worldview of inclusivity or universalism. Moore and Gillette note that the King “must nurture his own progeny, culture, and religion, as well as the larger world of all human societies, and the environment as an ecological whole.” Gandhi, MLK, Jr., and Lincoln all knew that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

In religious tradition if Moses provides one example of the ideal leader or King, then his counterpart the Pharaoh is what Moore and Gillette call the Shadow King. Unable to nurture his progeny, culture, religion, world, or environment, such a figure cannot manage the internal and external forces that would weaken and destroy him and his kingdom. Unaware of the degree to which such forces have overwhelmed his reason and self-control, he becomes the victim of what analytical psychology refers to as his shadow. He becomes the victim of his own fear and desire.

Moore and Gillette assert that each of the four images or archetypes named above has a shadow comprised of two poles, one active and the other passive. The active pole of the Shadow King is called the Tyrant Usurper. A person caught up in the energies of this pole exhibits a sense of personal entitlement, grandiosity, greed, and envy. Such an individual is especially sensitive to criticism and reacts in an exaggerated fashion when criticized. He is bullying and insulting. At root, his outward displays of rage and paranoia stem from a fear of weakness or impotency, both his own and that of others. Dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin are but a few recent historical examples of the Tyrant Usurper.

The Tyrant Usurper cannot come into power in a person without the passive acquiescence or permission in other individuals of the Weakling Abdicator, its opposing pole. With a nod to Wiesel, the Tyrant Usurper is to hatred what the Weakling Abdicator is to indifference. Moore and Gillette ominously observe that “every abdicated king needs at least one usurping king, and every usurper must find willing abdicators.” In short, the Tyrant Usurper and Weakling Abdicator are the two main stumbling blocks to true leadership or Kinghood.

Leading up to the Republican convention, commentators frequently remarked upon the impending coronation of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump. But what kind of King would Trump be? Since launching his presidential campaign in June 2015, Trump arguably has demonstrated qualities associated more with the Shadow King, specifically the Tyrant Usurper, than with Erickson’s generative man or what Moore and Gillette call the King in his fullness. Instead of uniting opposition and creating order, Trump is a man at the center of chaos and often even seems to thrive in it like an angry carnival barker. Indeed, chaos gives him a platform upon which he can vent his personal disgust, rage, and paranoia. His many inflammatory comments about the other, i.e., women, Muslims, Mexicans, and Hispanic-Americans is proof of such paranoia. These comments also show him to be anything but inclusive, universal, or nurturing.

The motives and amounts of his charitable giving or generosity toward those less fortunate have also been called into question. According to the Washington Post, a list produced by Trump’s campaign “reveals how Trump has demonstrated less of the soaring, world-changing ambitions in his philanthropy than many other billionaires. Instead, his giving appears narrowly tied to his business and, now, his political interests.” The only world that Trump wishes to nurture and change for the better is his own. Moore and Gillette’s contention that the Tyrant Usurper often manifests in people with a narcissistic personality disorder comes as little surprise.

The two authors also write that “[The Tyrant Usurper’s] degradation of others knows no bounds.” Such degradation feeds his sense of grandiosity and superiority. One need only think of Trump’s spiteful name-calling and personalized attacks on Ted Cruz and others, his claim that John McCain is not a true war hero, or his bullying of Megyn Kelly. Trump’s more general statement that victims of bullying should just “get over it” itself is degrading to those same victims. Other degrading instances of Trump’s tyrannical behavior include his many lawsuits real and threatened, his revocation of press credentials at political events, his praise of dictators’ so-called strong leadership, and his haughty disregard of climate science.

What, then, are we to do? The solution to this predicament is to not give in to either side, neither the side of hatred nor of indifference. The solution is to not be reactionary but responsible. The King must respond with grace, humility, and generativity, and as Moore and Gillette develop at greater length in their books, he must be a provider, protector, and procreator for his people and kingdom. He must not divide his kingdom for then it will become a wasteland.

Contemporary analytical psychologists believe that images or archetypes such as the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover are gender-neutral. That is, they are found in the psyches of women as well as men. This fact means that their shadow forms are found there, too. We would do well to demand of ourselves and our leaders, both male and female, that none of us becomes the next Shadow King, the next Tyrant Usurper or Weakling Abdicator.

Posted in Culture, Depth Psychology, Myth, Politics | 6 Comments

The Recurring American Nightmare — A Freudian Perspective

bpp5After the deadly shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, earlier this month late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert momentarily struck a somber note. Like many, Colbert admitted his uncertainty about what to do in the face of the unremitting gun violence plaguing the U.S.: “Some say the answer is stricter gun laws; others say the answer is mental health care, that we need better treatment or just to keep the guns out of the hands of the insane. Maybe it’s both, I honestly don’t know.” He concluded, “But I do know that one of the definitions of insanity is changing nothing and then pretending that something will change.” For those of us who join Colbert in wishing for positive change in such matters, perhaps we might turn to a few late ruminations from psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud for guidance and inspiration.

In the last two decades of his life Freud came to realize that other drives besides that of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain influence human behavior. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle he observed that frequently we are compelled to engage in repetitive actions that have little if anything to do with pleasure achievement or pain avoidance. One example of such a repetition compulsion is a veteran’s involuntary reliving of his or her traumatic war experiences in dreams and hallucinations. The human psyche seemingly requires this reliving, this repetition, but why?

In answer Freud proposed that the psyche has two drives which are more basic or primal than the pleasure-pain drive. He called these the Eros and death drives. The former is progressive and pro/creative. The latter is regressive and restorative. If Eros is the energy of life animation and preservation, the death drive longs to restore us to our original inanimate state free of tension, want, and worry.

In The Luxury of Afterwards Christine Downing writes that Eros might also be understood as the attachments which bind people together into communities and civilizations. As such, Eros provides an important counterweight to fear and aggression: “Freud sees civilization, communal existence, as dependent on libidinal attachments not just on the containment of aggression: society is based on love and our fear and hatred of others” (65). Eros-inspired love not only manifests as love for another human being or beings but more generally as the love for life in all its beauty and potential.

Downing stresses that though the Eros and death drives are in constant struggle with each other neither drive is always and only “good” or “bad.” While Eros takes us out of ourselves toward others, the future, and the new, the death drive turns us inward to considerations of our mortality, our vulnerability, our fears and desires, including our desire not to die. Awareness of how both drives operate in our lives, pulling us this way and that at any given moment, is essential to human health and well-being.

What is unhealthy is when either drive becomes literalized. We then identify Eros with the erotic, specifically sex, which is only one important aspect of human creativity and relationship. Reduced in this manner the fullness of Eros is repressed or denied. We become isolated from others and experience impaired social skills, low self-worth, and the devaluation of life.

Similarly, the death drive when literalized or repressed turns into destructive aggression. We become death incarnate and no longer fear the end of life out of a belief that the actions we take will immortalize us in the memory of others. Going out and with a bang become of equal importance.

The human struggle between the Eros and death drives is evident both in the tragic mass shootings in America and our response to these shootings. It is as if we are compelled to repeat this cultural nightmare over and again until we learn to engage these drives in more conscious ways. First the unconscious: one common denominator among many of the shooters is isolation. They are unable to relate to others and have become withdrawn into themselves. Also, like Christopher Harper Mercer in Oregon and Elliott Rodger in California they bemoan the fact that they have never had sex. In these and other instances repressed or frustrated Eros also takes the form of hatred toward the “other” to whom the shooter cannot relate the most, e.g., the other gender (Rodger), religion (Mercer), or race (Dylann Roof).

The excessive number of weapons used in the shootings, rounds fired, ammunition found, and victims killed or wounded are hallmarks of a repressed and unconsciously lived out death drive. Armed to the teeth and often wearing black, the color of death, these shooters have become killing machines. The deadly school stabbing in Sweden this month by a man wearing a Darth Vader mask may be the most recent example of this cross-cultural phenomenon.

Finally, the overwhelming desire to join earlier killers in infamy has already been alluded to. Whether committing suicide or dying at the hands of police, many if not most of these killers have become identified with the idea that in death their lives can reach a state of exalted completion, a nothingness of utmost importance. To them the best antidote to a meaningless life is a “meaningful” death.

The Eros and death drives are also at work in our collective response to these shootings. First and foremost a repressed Eros drive is most evident in our complete lack of a collective response. The libidinal attachments that connect us to each other and eventually to an idea of community and commonwealth are entirely absent. Individual talk show hosts, politicians and pundits weigh in on the best course of action but none is taken.

The discussion or debate that follows these tragedies, then, exemplifies this form of repression. Focus is placed on individual gun ownership rights and health privacy laws. As a result, the individual reigns supreme in public discourse completely isolated from any substantive lasting concern for the collective. On some level we seemingly prefer the comfort of life as we know it to the uncertainty of the change we both need and fear. Noted by Colbert, this insane desire not to change is a desire on the part of the death drive for a state of permanence or “changelessness.”

The way out of our nightmare toward collective healing is not to make so-called soft targets like schools and churches hard. It is not to replace Eros with the aggression of the death drive. Instead we would do well to proactively and not only re-actively engage Eros in our response to these tragedies. That is, rather than only coming together as a grieving community after these events we must learn to come together beforehand—way beforehand.

More and better parenting, sex education, multiculturalism, diversity, and special education classes all through the formative years may be a good place to start. Although such classes are no guarantee that extreme violence will be avoided in the future, the benefit of this education to individual and communal well-being is self-evident. Truly, in the soft targets that are our homes, schools, and religious institutions extra effort must be made to ensure that no child is left behind in anger or isolation.

The discussion of gun safety also needs to be re-framed in light of the Eros and death drives. To sacrifice some gun rights does not mean to sacrifice all gun rights. It does mean that our need to protect ourselves and those we love is tempered by a concern for the other person and the community of others in which we live. Put differently, homes, cities, and nations need protecting but they also need building. In his tribute to Sigmund Freud upon the latter’s passing poet W. H. Auden conveyed the active masculine energy contained within Eros when he described this drive as a “builder of cities.” What we seem to have forgotten is that Eros is a builder of nations, too.

Posted in Culture, Depth Psychology, Psychoanalysis, Violence | 6 Comments

The Death of Adolescence in American Culture, Part III


All of the films thus far discussed contain multiple overt references to initiation, to what Hillman describes as the initiation of the puer into puer-et-senex consciousness (239). The union of the sames. Consideration of another recent trend in the film genre of action thrillers reveals the same process but from the perspective of the senex. That is, the initiation of the senex by the puer into the senex-et-puer.

In the popular Taken trilogy starring Liam Neeson, The Equalizer with Denzel Washington, and John Wick with Keanu Reeves a wifeless protagonist returns from the exile of retirement, puts his “particular set of skills” to use killing his antagonists, and in so doing unites with a re-awakened puer aspect in himself.

In The Equalizer, Washington’s character, Robert McCall (pictured above), is a particularly striking if not entirely subtle example of such a senex figure. In an early scene in a diner he meets a young prostitute whom he is going to protect and become friends with over the course of the film. She sits at the counter; he sits at a table reading The Old Man and the Sea. McCall also times himself as he dispatches his many antagonists. If Katniss Everdeen, the huntress, resembles a young 21st century Artemis, then the stopwatch-wearing McCall is a modern-day Chronos, a death-dealing Father Time.

In the context of the present blog series these contemporary versions of Artemis and Chronos need each other. They need to reunite with their respective senex or puer pole. This reunion is the “metamorphosis” which Jung alludes to when he writes, “We are living what the Greeks called the kairos—the right moment—for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols” (CW 10: para. 585). Hillman appropriates this passage from Jung for use as the second epigraph to his 1967 essay. The third and final epigraph from English astronomer Fred Hoyle is meant to convey the same idea: we are in a “transitional phase” from a primitive puer and senex to a sophisticated puer-et-senex way of life (30).

That men and women over the age of 18 (and sometimes into their 40s or 50s) read Young Adult fiction suggests that unconsciously if not consciously they may be seeking initiation into this more sophisticated way of life. The films thus far discussed suggest several characteristics or qualities of this way, i.e., the new puer-et-senex. First, the films and books end somewhat ambiguously or ambivalently. Rather than a decidedly triumphant tone at the end, the land and the people in it, the survivors, are emblematic of what Hillman calls the “scarred wound” or “weak-strength.” “Soft-hardness” (239). These characters experience nightmares, deal with loss, and suffer betrayal, yet they are able to go about the business of rebuilding their homes, their communities, and their relationships.

Related to this rebuilding is the role played by memory at the conclusion of these stories. In almost all of the tales the characters have the option of restoring or removing their memory so that they do or do not remember that which has gone before. Likewise, at the end of The Hunger Games series honoring the memory of the tributes and others who have died over many years is of particular importance. If as Hillman argues history has become “The Great Repressed” with the splitting of puer from senex, then their reunion undoes this repression (80).

Hillman concludes his first essay in Senex & Puer  by reiterating the notion that the ego or willful mind which has caused the split between puer and senex cannot bring them back together. In fact the ego must get out of the way. He writes, “In the absence of ego and into its emptiness an imaginal stream can flow, providing mythical solutions for the psychic connection or ‘progressive mediation’ between the senex/puer contradictions” (66).

The films discussed above are the imaginal streams of which Hillman writes. Their ideas and images provide solutions that are needed now. Psychologically these solutions can be labelled the puer-et-senex and senex-et-puer, the adolescent who has “died” or been initiated into adulthood and the adult who has reunited with his or her inner child.

Mythically these solutions are Katniss Everdeen and Robert McCall.


Note: This post concludes “The Death of Adolescence in American Culture” blog series. The next post will appear in October.


Posted in Archetypal Psychology, Art/Creativity, Cinema, Culture, Puer Aeternus | Leave a comment