Donald Trump, Collective American Shadow and “The Better Angels of Our Nature”

A PDF edition of this essay is available here.


As with any written statement, what follows is filtered through the author’s worldview – in this case, mine – the result of my experiences, beliefs, values, relationships and aspirations, and also those aspects of myself of which I’m not aware – my Shadow (more about this below). To the extent I’m self-aware, my worldview at its best is global, perhaps universal, and embraces the importance of paradox for 21st-century adults – it allows me to see and hold simultaneously, as true, apparently contradictory facts and opinions. At its worst, where it only is nowadays under significant stress and when I forget myself, it can be ego- or group-centric – in the sense of “knowing” that I am, or my particular group is, good and right, and everyone else or all the other groups are bad and wrong.

These lines capture one example of what I mean by having a global or universal worldview:

[Someone] who feels and speaks from 
exactly the same gut-wrenching heartache
when the first-grader, the police officer, the
black man, the soldier, yes,
the human being
dies a violent death
in Bethesda or Baghdad,
Singapore or Sandy Hook,
San Bernardino or Saigon,
Hiroshima or Harlem…
[read more]*

As his words and actions filter through my worldview, my sense is that the 2016 Republican candidate for the presidency embodies the collective Shadow of the United States of America – those cultural traits that this country sees “out there” in others and denies in itself. My biases tend toward the strength that’s found in truthfulness, clarity, belonging, compassion, empathy, vulnerability and in the broadest sense of the word, love.

I am fully aware that there are quite a few more worldviews out there. The diversity available at the intersections of genetics, experience, ethnicity, ancestry, beliefs, values, development, etc. etc. etc. is daunting. My desire in a leader is that he or she understand at least as much of “the world” – in the broadest, deepest sense of that word, as I do. Preferably more. My request is that anyone who responds to this writing actually reads it in its entirety and then responds, in fact, to this writing – and not to something that I have not said or intended here. If you have something to say about the Democratic candidate, the current president, your Uncle Bob or any other issue, please don’t share that here. Write that somewhere else.



In mid-March, 2003 I sat with Animas Valley Institute’s Bill Plotkin, Geneen Marie Haugan and others at the Merritt Center in Payson, AZ for 5 days of “Sweet Darkness: The Initiatory Gifts of the Shadow, Projections, Subpersonalities and the Sacred Wound.” On the evening of our first day there, America began bombing Iraq, and while we were working on our respective individual Shadows and projections during our time together, our country’s collective Shadow and projections – the evil “out there” – what we tend to see in all those other nations, groups, cultures and people, provided an opportunity for recognition, ownership, and integration.

“Shadow,” as I’m using it here, refers to disowned or repressed aspects or traits of an individual or group that the individual or group doesn’t recognize in itself and unknowingly tends to “project” onto to others (whether or not the others actually embody the projected trait – sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t). If I tend to have a disproportionately highly charged emotional response to someone I experience as “angry,” there’s a good chance that I’ve repressed or disowned my own anger. Until I recognize this, and work to integrate it, it will follow me around and allow me to see all these angry people everywhere I go, oblivious to my being the one constant at every scene of all this anger. Everyone else is angry. I’m not.

So, the behavior or trait itself, whether considered healthy or unhealthy, is not Shadow; the repression/denial, and then projection of the trait or behavior onto others – again, whether or not they actually have or do it, is Shadow. There’s more to Shadow; this will suffice for now.

Thirteen years after that mid-March “Sweet Shadow” gathering and bombing, the citizens1 of the United States of America once again have an opportunity to see their disowned and repressed traits embodied not in a pre-emptive attack on another nation – which was rationalized through a series of lies about weapons of mass destruction, and which continues to manifest in in 2016 in such a way as to make the Middle East and, in fact, the entire world more unstable and susceptible to acts of terrorism – but in the presidential candidacy of one man.

In the first case, despite the reports from two separate teams of U.N. weapons inspectors – the first led by a U.S. Marine Veteran, Scott Ritter,2 whose team reported that no such WMD existed, and the other, David Kay,3 whose report corroborated Ritter’s – the U.S. began bombing Iraq on March 19, 2003, and on May 1 of that year, President Bush, standing before and below a banner that read “Mission Accomplished” told the world that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”4

What’s the View Like for an ‘Ordinary’ Iraqi (or Vietnamese) Citizen?

The number of Iraqi civilians who were killed in those 6 weeks, and who died subsequently as a result of the destruction of much of the country’s infrastructure, remains a debatable issue – ranging from a low of around 151,000 to just over a million5^ – depending upon what is counted, how it’s counted and who is counting. Beyond Iraqi civilian deaths, by the end of 2004, “attacks on American forces averaged 87 per day, and the American death toll had passed 1000.”6^ As of September 11, 2016, 4,499^ American men and women in uniform had died in Iraq since the invasion, and of that number, 4,013 occurred since 20047^ – 8 months after ‘the United States and [its] allies [had] prevailed.’

The careful selection of “Major combat operations” at the beginning of that statement allows it to carry at least some morsel of truth, depending upon what “major” means to the respective speechwriters, the speech “deliverer” and the speech receivers, but it’s painfully clear that no one has prevailed and that the mission has not been accomplished, since the destabilization of Iraq still facilitates regular terrorist acts in that country, and over time has led to the emergence of the group now known as ISIL or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). The ‘ordinary’ Iraqi teacher, nurse, carpenter, student – citizen – lost both a dictator and a moderately stable, if not fully “free,” middle class existence, and lives now amid the rubble of the American invasion and the daily possibility of firefights, terrorist attacks and an extensively disabled infrastructure. Many Iraqi’s are grateful for the demise of Saddam Hussein, and many – especially, but not only, male children who saw their families, neighborhoods and country decimated by American bombs – see the United States as evil and an aggressor. Some Iraqi’s hold both these views simultaneously – paradox, which, for anyone trying to get to the heart of and deeply understand the “truth(s)” around this issue, as opposed to win an argument, is essential.

Many of us in America are unable to see our country from the perspective of such an ‘ordinary’ Iraqi. While we felt the events of September 11, 2001 deeply, the impact of 13 years of ongoing terrorism and violence after eight months of attacks seems to be beyond our scope of understanding – and empathy.

Another example of the American projection of “evil out there” is Vietnam. While 40-plus years later, many of the architects of the American involvement there, including the late former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, have admitted the futility of that campaign, and many veterans – both those who volunteered and those who were drafted – have returned to Vietnam and met with their former foes, recognizing that they are more alike than different, our willingness to incessantly bomb that nation – with both human targets and the napalm-based attempts to defoliate the forests so the enemy could not hide, was seen as “evil” by many people on the planet and in the United States, and marked a divide that saw returning veterans being treated like criminals by antiwar activists while both Republican and Democratic administrations and Congresses perpetuated the war which claimed 58,220^ U.S. military lives and, depending on how the counting is done, over a million^ Vietnamese military and civilian lives on both sides.8

The “Evil Out There”

The Republican candidate for President in 2016 has, in what seems to be a surprise even to him, self-selected to become a lightning rod for the fear, bullying, bigotry, misogyny, violence, intolerance and xenophobia of the collective American Shadow.9 He is allowing those of us who do, in fact, hold racist, sexist, violent and generally bigoted beliefs to find a champion in him – or at least in his rhetoric, and he is allowing others of us to look in horror – sometimes surprised horror, and sometimes not, at his language, his promises, and his apparent willingness to say anything – even when it is obvious that he either does not know what he’s talking about, he does know and he’s lying, or some combination thereof.

The Republican candidate personifies the bully that the United States, and any insecure, fearful and powerful individual or entity, can be – albeit without the ability to back up his rhetoric with strong action. Bullies tend to bully due to fear of their own inadequacy, weakness and competence – their sense of not being “enough,” and they tend to whine when someone stronger, more adequate, more competent shows up and does what has to be done to stop their bullying. Donald Trump did this during his party’s primary debates. He initiated the insults directed toward his opponents and toward the moderators, and then claimed he was being treated unfairly when someone criticized him. He claimed the role of victim amid his often inarticulate, fragmented insults.

Many of his supporters and his detractors are scared – the world is changing around them, and while they see themselves as good people, generally tolerant of others who have different skin pigmentations and beliefs, they don’t recognize that their latent prejudices are alive and well.  Others of his supporters are outspoken bigots – including former leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and current leaders in a variety of “hate groups” who value a predominantly, if not exclusively, white, male and “Christian”10 world.

People who know us, and especially people who know us well, can see our Shadow and projections much more easily than we can: if I’m angry most of the time, don’t realize it, and am constantly pointing to others’ anger, my friends and family see that pretty clearly (and I’ll tend to deny it). If a country has 90 children, women and men die every day from gunshot wounds11 – a number that is unprecedented among citizens in every other post-industrialized nation on the planet; and a country is the only one to have ever used atomic weapons on another nation; and a country has its history in Vietnam and Iraq as noted above; and a country refers to other countries as an “axis of evil,”12 an “evil empire,”13 and proclaims to the world that “you’re either with us or you’re with the enemy,”14 and seems to perpetrate and perpetuate the illusion that all the “evil” is “out there,” it’s safe to say there’s some projection going on.

And, it’s essential to note that this same country can lay claim to an abundance of some equally important ‘good’ acts and traits as well – including its mobilization during two 20th-century World Wars; including countless billions of dollars in international aid when and where it’s been needed; including, despite all of the above, still being a country that attracts the foundational element of its existence – immigrants who want the opportunity to improve their lives. Again, this writing is focused on the opportunity to embrace Donald Trump’s candidacy as the personification of the collective American Shadow, not in any way to deny that there has been and is significant “evil out there” that needs to be addressed, and there has been and is significant “good in here” of which we can be proud. America has done and does both great harm and great good. Both are true. The denial of either captures a partial view, is dangerous and serves only to perpetuate partial truths toward some selected, limited agenda and end. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds…”15

Donald Trump’s candidacy is allowing us to see and reflect upon uncomfortable aspects of our national culture and choose the direction we would like to take as Americans. His varied messages are fear-based and fear-inciting, and in the words of M. Scott Peck, definitely grounded in an ignorance that could be evil: “The briefest definition of evil I know is militant ignorance. But evil is not general ignorance; more specifically it is militant ignorance of the Shadow.”16 Options abound for us, including the final words Abraham Lincoln spoke in his first inaugural address, inviting us to be touched “by the better angels of our nature.”17



*from “A New President”

1Use of the word “citizens” is noted here because “American citizens” and/or “the American people” are ambiguous, if not meaningless phrases due to the diversity of beliefs, developmental worldviews, ethnicities, etc. that makes up the United States, or any nation or large group. I recognize that not every “American citizen” would agree that Donald Trump personifies the collective American Shadow (or even that the country has a collective Shadow). I believe he does, and it does.

2Scott Ritter  Much more available online.

David Kay Much more available online.

4 The quote, and the entire speech, are available from news sources around the world.

5^ Again, depending on what is counted and who’s counting there have been between 163,545 and 182,685 documented civilian deaths due to violence in Iraq between 2003 and 9/11/16. The numbers continue to increase weekly, if not daily.

^Regarding notes 5, 6, 7 & 8: One of the most insightful comments on what gets lost when we hear or speak about large numbers of deaths comes from Rabbi Marc Gellman’s remarks at the September 23, 2001 Prayer Service at Yankee Stadium: “On that day — on that day, 6,000 people did not die. On that day, one person died 6,000 times. We must understand this and all catastrophes in such a way, for big numbers only numb us to the true measure of mass murder. We say 6,000 died, or we say six million died and the saying and the numbers explain nothing except how much death came in how short a time. Such numbers sound more like scores or ledger entries than deaths of human beings.

“The real horror of that day lies not in its bigness, but in its smallness. In the small searing death of one person 6,000 times, and that one person was not a number. That person was our father or our mother or our son or our daughter or our grandpa or grandma or brother or sister or cousin or uncle or aunt or friend or lover, our neighbor, our co-worker, the woman who delivered our mail or the guy who put out our fires and arrested the bad guys in our town. And the death of each and every one of them alone would be worthy of such a gathering and such a grief.”

6^Stanley McChrystal, Tantum Collins, et al. Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. New York: Portfolio-Penguin, 2015 (p. 130). Beyond this particular quote, General McChrystal’s book unfolds a powerful look at evolving leadership that takes into account the business world, academic research, powerful lessons from NASA, the airline industry and military history, all of which inform his experience and evolution as Commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force. The contrast between the author’s leadership perspective and that of the current candidate is striking.

7^4,499 American military deaths as of 9/11/16 (4,013 of those from 2004-2016)

8^This site provides one starting point for calculating deaths in Vietnam:

9Examples of the candidate’s statements are abundant and ongoing. This link is just one source, chosen because it correlates his language with his loss of support from Republican leaders. A sampling of the statements follows.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” – June 16, 2015, on undocumented Mexican immigrants.

“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”- July 18, 2015, on AZ Republican Senator John McCain, former pilot and POW in Vietnam.

“I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.” – November 12, 2015.

““Now this poor guy, you ought to see this guy.” (Mr. Trump jerked his arms around in front of his body and used a mocking tone to imitate a disabled New York Times reporter.) – November 24, 2015

“Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
– December 7, 2015.

“I would bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.” – Feb. 6, 2016

“I don’t know anything about David Duke. O.K.? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists.” – March 3, 2016 after fromer Ku Klux Klan leader Duke endorsed aspects of Trump’s message.

“I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I’m building a wall, O.K.? I’m building a wall.”June 6, 2016 on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, a federal judge overseeing a suit against the defunct Trump University.

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” On the parents of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, whose family is Muslim and who was killed in Iraq, after they denounced Mr. Trump at the Democratic National Convention July 30, 2016

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people — maybe there is, I don’t know.” – August 9, 2016 implying a connection between the right to own guns and stopping Hillary Clinton’s ability to nominate judges should she win the election.

“He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder of ISIS. He’s the founder. He founded ISIS. I would say the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”   – Aug 10, 2016 referring to President Obama

10See the Southern Poverty Law Center’s database for more on the individuals and groups who have publicly supported Trump’s messages: The use of “Christian” to refer to these groups is misleading, as is the use of “Muslim” to refer to individuals or groups who claim to kill in the name of Islam. In both cases, Christian and Muslim, these groups have bastardized the religion they reference – whether in ignorance of the religion or in an intentional attempt to legitimize their bigotry/hatred/violence.

115-year average, 2010-2014: Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

12“axis of evil” was used by President George W. Bush in his January 29, 2002 State of the Union address to refer to Iran, Iraq and North Korea:

13“evil empire” was used by President Ronald Reagan to refer to the Soviet Union. He later recanted his use of the phrase:

14President Bush repeated several iterations of this statement: The fallacy of his simplistic “either-or” and “no in-between” stance played itself out in real time as many nations who “were with us” and joined the alliance to find those responsible for the September 11 attacks, were neither “with us” nor “with the enemy” when the United States chose to attack Iraq in March 2003.

15Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The Gulag Archipelago. “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Accessed via

16M. Scott Peck. The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Spiritual Growth in an Age of Anxiety. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 (p. 74).

17President Lincoln’s final paragraph reads: “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Copyright © 2016 by Reggie Marra

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