No matter the Election Day results, the broader cultural malaise, a divided America, will persist. Elections have consequences. But resolving the culture wars is what will bring about a rebirth of American ideals and unity. Let’s play the long game, if just for a moment.
One way to grasp our cultural zeitgeist is to look through the lens of archetypes and identify those exerting influence. People’s health, economic, spiritual, political and cultural behaviors are stirred by a mélange of archetypes, for example the Mother, Warrior, Trickster, Child, Clown, Hero, Devil.
A nation’s psyche encompasses of all the archetypes in varying proportions. In a better world, each has their place at the table, none dominates, all are heard and represented. You can’t kill archetypes, you shouldn’t repress them, and you can’t let any of them get out of hand. But we have. A segment of our culture is Warrior-obsessed, and it needs calming.
President Trump can mirror and amplify such energies through his actions and words. Is he like Heath Ledger’s, or even Joaquin Phoenix’s archetypal Joker? Yes, in the sense that he revels in chaos. Evil in this case manifests as greed and narcissism, and the eventual betrayal of allies, be they nations, his wives, senior staff or base.
But Trump sees himself not as devil but warrior, and Sean Hannity as his supplicant and advisor. Following the first Presidential debate, Hannity’s FOX News spin fervently summoned the Warrior archetype….
One thing I’ve concluded at the end of tonight is, it’s basically, you’re gonna get a gladiator warrior fighter in Donald Trump. A guy that is going to go to battle….I actually prefer a new style of debate….And that is, let them go, let, just like, you know, we like to watch football, warriors and gladiators in the Octagon, and boxers box, let ‘em go. Let them have at it, and let the American people decide….I don’t run from a fight. I actually like it because I think it’s refreshing, and I also think it’s real. And I think the American people like real too.
A significant minority of Americans are caught in this toxic web of “real.” They don’t run from a fight, they do not feel any shame in America’s original sin of racism, or that the US is the most warlike nation in history, and this nightmarish, feverish shamelessness boils over: in varying degrees, they believe in white supremacy, glorify a racist past, preach xenophobia, wear camo fashion, display manic sports fandom, proliferate false conspiracy theories, and notably boast about their willingness to use guns and violence in outright vigilantism (Plotting to kidnap a governor? How does that happen?). Do they feel aggrieved? Sure, but they fight and plot rather than learn and dialogue. After the final debate, Jon Meecham described Trump’s base: “There is a lizard brain in this country. Donald Trump is a product of the anguished, nervous white guy’s lizard brain.”
Trump as gladiator warrior fighter is what Hannity means and the appeal of the Warrior is what he exploits . . . but the Clown is what we get. When handling a pandemic requires brains not brawn, and that handling results in one of the most epic fails in history…when leadership demands admitting to mistakes, but personality does not allow it, when you just can’t help lying, then you really are more of a Clown than a Warrior. Biden’s characterization of Trump as such sounds less like name-calling and more like he understands the president’s archetypal tendencies. A very dangerous clown, to be sure, but only a clown persists and doubles down in foolish behavior—catching a virus, for example, and then weaponizing it against his own staff.
A pendulum swing should not mean the rise of the Puritan or the coastal elite political correctness Trump’s supporters so justifiably resent. But it should mean open minds, independent ideas, resistance to trolling and lies, respect for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and the working class; and national leadership that crosses party lines and leads by example. This clown delivers none of these things. And sadly, when embrace of the Warrior drives combative hysteria, it’s easier to be fooled by a Clown pretending to be one.
We must have free, fair, respected and safe elections, pursued in accord with all branches of government. House Democrats propose legislation that limits presidential pardon power, strengthens laws banning presidents from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments, protects independent agency watchdogs and whistleblowers from firing or retribution, and requires better reporting by campaigns of foreign election interference. This is not an anti-Warrior piece of legislation. It’s anti-Clown. But these guardrails can set the stage for the calming of American warriors, first by protecting them from clowns. Congress could hasten a reborn America by passing this legislation. Without controversy or delay.