MAGA & the Irrational
“Make America Great Again.” “We will win again.” With those simple words, Donald J. Trump, convinced a large portion of the American electorate to vote MAGA. But, to win, really, that was all it took? The three lettered word is important, no doubt, but in 2016 it had the vitality and force of an 800lbs gorilla. “Winning,” clubbed everything sensible to death; it bashed critical thinking, tolerant debate and reasonable behavior into a lifeless pulp. All presidential norms were erased nearly overnight. And as we head into the 2018 midterm elections, we have little reason to believe that the nonsense will stop. To understand why and how this happened we can’t look to statistical polls or civic case studies. But rather, to the unseen or the metaphysical. Namely, to the human psyche and the latent forces of the collective unconscious. For some time now, a few great thinkers (particularly, Carl G. Jung) have been pointing to humanity’s over-reliance on scientific-mindedness or the purely rational. Most Americans would balk at my previous statement because they view the scientific method as sacrosanct. After all, the mental model is credited for the great march of technological advancement through the ages; moving humanity from hieroglyphics to Twitter (maybe that was only a slight improvement). The indisputable triumph of science and technology has engraved in the human psyche the dominance of rational thought. And nowhere is this more palpable and truer than in America.
In America we expect, and even demand, that folk view the world empirically and rationally. And yet, the “Make America Great Again” movement has proven to be wildly illogical in its credulity of conspiracy theories and obvious deceptions. The harsh reality is that, the MAGA movement, at its core is a stubborn lurch toward the irrational. To cast a MAGA vote is to return to the power of the irrational. And it is powerful, indeed. At the turn of the 20th century, famed psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote on the breakout of irrationality:
“The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective (unconscious) forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.” – C.G. Jung
Humanity and life are deeply irrational. And for good reason, the irrational is responsible for the baffling functions of intuition, the flux of infinite external events and synchronicities. We know this to be true and yet our conscious mind and societal structure has vehemently suppressed the dark side of the human psyche – or rather, the irrational. The American zeitgeist is to think and speak in strictly empirical terms, almost completely devoid of heart, soul or mystery. To speak of revenue, networking and political power is to be culturally adept; to speak of myths, wisdom, and paradox is not only boring, but also, embarrassingly weak. And it doesn’t take a political scientist to discover that one of the most common themes heard from Trump devotees is that they enjoy his lack of political correctness and pseudo-strength. “Trump is a man’s man,” his supporters declare! Or that is what Trump would have us believe. Running through it all, is a stubborn streak of hyper-masculinity. You see, it is exactly this overcompensating persona of the manly-man in our society that is on the brink of a break down. And it is for that reason that “Winning” was the ultimate criterion for MAGA voters. For the boyish-minded, points on the scoreboard is the highest possible goal; winning is manly; winning is finally the ultimate reason or truth. The hyper-masculinity and obsessive rationalism are two-sides of the same coin; and the resultant paradigm leads the MAGA fanatic to unwittingly manufacture his own psychological collapse. In their bullheaded suppression of all things soulful, intuitive and irrational they have been swept away in a frenzy of the very thing they initially denounced – irrationality. Irrationality is a positive influence when integrated into the human psyche as meaningful part of life and reality, but it is also destructive when it is negated, as it becomes a negation of life itself – life as it really is. And today, we are seeing in the MAGA movement a collective negation of realities and facts. Nothing can be repressed for too long without it finally bursting forth into consciousness doubly as powerful. The overcompensation of manliness and its worship of rationalism has in the end resulted in the forcing up of irrationality – the very thing they avoided. The irrational aspects of life are bursting forth on all sides. Empowered women, homosexuality, foreign gods and even modern art is just too much for these folks to handle. Ultimately, these aspects of life loom threatening and represent the ending of life as they know it. I wish I were overstating the thing when I say that the MAGA fanatic sees progressive society as an existential threat. Given that fact, we can expect violence as a inevitable conclusion. And if you doubt that such a thing could occur then how do you explain the sudden outbursts of violence and mass-murder that mankind has repeatedly fallen into: the French Revolution, the American Civil War, WWI and WWII? Are these not obvious periods of colossal irrationality? And don’t be fooled by our warped notion of time and the proximity bias of historical events or memories. The people that fill our history books were in many ways just like you and I. They too worshipped benevolent gods; they too wished for the safety of their children; they too hoped for a peaceful future of progress. We are men and women of the future, but find ourselves just as ill-prepared for the destructive inclinations of humanity as our brothers and sisters of the past. And what’s worse, we daily see the MAGA movement sliding closer to fascist tendencies. Historically speaking, fascists movements have always been plagued by a common paradox; they have all proclaimed self-righteousness while simultaneously committing every conceivable sin under the sun. And today, do we not see the widespread adoption of cruelty by Evangelical Christians and Traditionalist Catholics for the sake of protecting Trump and the MAGA movement? How is it that the self-proclaimed morally-superior and religious crowd ends up throwing society into absurdity and nihilism? For the answer to that I once again refer to Jung:
“For every manifest case of insanity there are, in my estimation, at least ten latent cases who seldom get to the point of breaking out openly but whose views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced by unconsciously morbid and perverse factors.” –C.G. Jung
The unconsciously morbid and perverse factors are latent and repressed in these folks until they are triggered and finally brought up by some force. And Donald Trump has succeeded in at least one significant way; he has succeeded in bringing those perverse factors to the light of day – and what power they have! For too long, American culture has forced down the throats of every citizen the worshipping of scientific mindedness and reason. Unknowingly, we were all helping to perpetuate an image of life that just wasn’t consistent with the psyche. Life isn’t politically correct; it can be ugly, cruel and deadly, too. That may be morbid, but it’s true. The MAGA movement seems to have stumbled upon truth in that one aspect: in its breaking beyond the boundaries of reasonableness, the movement has succeeded in painting a fuller picture of life – showing us that life is also cruel. Now, this isn’t an exercise in Trump apologetics, it’s the opposite. The MAGA movement is decidedly wrongheaded, but it can be understood. And it must be understood if we are to overcome the present danger. Moreover, we’ve all helped in some way to bring the MAGA culture into existence. As a society, we have collectively repressed the soulful and intuitive in favor of the scientific. And we in America, daily reaffirm our faith in numbers, lists, polls, self-help programs and the idea that more funding will solve our most pressing issues. They won’t. The sea of data hasn’t, and can’t, bestow wisdom, but only disorientation. And so, we now find ourselves stranded in an ocean of rationalism, crazier than Tom Hanks when Wilson floated off the raft.
We should not pretend to understand the world only by the intellect; we apprehend it just as much by feeling. Therefore, the judgment of the intellect is, at best, only the half of truth, and must, if it be honest, also come to an understanding of its inadequacy. –C.G. Jung
The simple, but hard truth to swallow is that the American consciousness is currently experiencing the sudden outburst of irrationality due to decades of repressing it. We have better find a way of reintegrating the darker sides of our humanity (as individuals and as a society) or reap the havoc of a rageful mass of people unable to reconcile their shadow-self. The MAGA folks are afraid. Ultimately, they are afraid of themselves. And they will scapegoat any group of “strangers” to escape confronting themselves. Destroying the menace “out there,” that foreign and external group perceived as an existential threat, will become the ultimate “win.” Slowly, tensions may be escalated to bring the MAGA movement to the brink of terror and hysteria. In their fit of fear, they can and will justify any evil as “Winning again.”