After the election results began to come in, observers began to say things like this:
As of this moment on Friday morning, we do not yet know for sure that Joe Biden will win. But we know for sure that Donald Trump is a mirror. Others have been saying so: Andre Parry of Brookings, Eddie Glaude in an interview on MSNBC (without using the word “mirror”), Michael Gerson in his Washington Post column.
In 2016 I saw what Trump was (as did many others). Since then I have seen a lot but I have seen nothing unexpected from him; and I have said a lot, but I have said nothing new about him. Rather, for four years I wondered why around 40 percent of us persistently failed to see. How to account for this blindness? And what possible way out, way forward, could there be for people who have so completely given themselves over to delusion? People incapable—willfully incapable, it seems—of looking at Trump and seeing him for what he is?
As an American, I mourned the loss of the 40 percent of our citizenry who had given themselves over to incipient fascism. As a child of American white evangelical Christianity, I grieved for the 80 percent of that population who had taken the mark of the Beast on their foreheads, exchanging Christ for anti-Christ. In darker moments, I have felt of them as we sometimes say jokingly of those who have crossed us in some way: they are dead to me now. A terrible loss.
But no. I was wrong. I always knew that couldn’t be right. And it was not. The metaphor of the mirror tells me why. It was not simply a matter of those people failing to see Trump. It was also a matter of us—all of us—failing to see ourselves.
Here is what I am thinking now: if Trump is a mirror, he is a special kind of mirror. A mirror that reflects only id, not superego. Or, to switch from Freud to Jung (probably always a good idea) a mirror that reflects our shadow side.
The latter, Jungian, perspective is more hopeful than the other. It suggests that what we (individually and nationally) need is not to annihilate or even deny our Trumpish side but to understand it and integrate it into a healthy whole.
Maybe Trump, for all of the ugliness of nearly all of his words and deeds, really does represent a side, an aspect, of the energy that made America great, or, rather, made America aspire to greatness. He points to it defectively because he fails to represent the higher moral and spiritual principles that can direct that energy into positive speech and action. But the energy that he represents needs not to be unplugged but to be redirected, harnessed, integrated.
Which is good news because it means that we don’t need to give up on our Trump-supporting neighbors. They cannot be dead to us, or we to them. We need each other. We need to hope and work for a reintegration of our society to replace the bifurcation of our society. This has all sorts of implications. For example, I can stop hoping for FoxNews to go bankrupt and cease broadcasting; I can hope instead that the competent and honest reporting that still happens there in some cases will overmaster the false and destructive elements.
I am not having a Pollyanna moment. Our Trump-supporting neighbors have done a truly bad thing. In empowering and encouraging a man who has unleashed such destruction upon us (and within us), they have done something far worse than the crimes of any drug user or seller, any domestic-violence or sexual-abuse offender, any home invader or burglar, any thief, and fraud artist, and murderer in our prisons, any court-martialed deserter or traitor, because Trump has wreaked more harm than any of those, perhaps more than the entire prison population taken as a whole.
But, leaving aside the self-aware and deliberate “alt-right” racist haters, and the sophisticatedly cynical oligarchs who knew what Trump was but didn’t care because they could profit, our Trumpist neighbors—I prefer to think—knew not what they were doing.
Can we choose to hope? I know that a case could be made that the Trumpists knew exactly what they were doing. Those who (mis-)led them are discredited and need to be demoted. Christians must repudiate the “court evangelicals” (see John Fea). Nearly all of the national Republican leaders and officeholders, from Ben Sasse to Mike Jordan and all the rest should, in my opinion, retire. (Mitt Romney can stay in the Senate, and I wish Justin Amash all the best in the wake of his honest, self-sacrificial stand in the House.) But otherwise, we must reach an understanding, and unite, and move forward. That will seem practically impossible to accomplish. But we must. With our friends, relatives, and neighbors who supported Trump, we need a truth-and-reconciliation process.
That process has to involve, for all of us, individually and collectively, looking in the mirror, and seeing our shadow side, and acknowledging that for all its ugliness is it nevertheless a part of us, and befriending it, because it tells us something we need to know, and can help us become, as a whole self, what we need to become.