What is a black shaman, or black magician?
The usual answer is that it is someone who works with ‘dark forces’.
However that is not enough. Even if we were clear what dark forces were, sometimes we need to work with the chaos, or destructiveness, to produce healing.
I guess that is the point: the black magician works with dark forces for their personal power, or for the pleasure of destruction alone.
The most obvious dark forces present today, are the forces of the socially repressed but vengeful unconscious – brought out by a failing and flailing society.
The use of these forces for personal power and destruction is why I think of Trump as a ‘black Shaman’.
- [I should add that there are large dispute as to whether ‘shaman’ is a valid analytical category – see Kehoe’s book Shamans and Religion for a relatively good introduction to the debate – I’m using the term in its normal western meaning of a person who summons, travels with and/or listens to spirits, even if that is no excuse]
Trump seems to have spent most of his life creating chaos and destruction to build his power and support his ‘righteousness’ – his apparently impenetrable ability to ignore, or celebrate the harms he creates – an impenetrability which often seems contagious.
In business he appears to use threats and the promise of the law, and an ability not to be held responsible for failure. He is an excellent salesman, and self-promoter, although it often appears he sees what he wants to see, rather than what is. He is excellent at self-deception. I am sure he really believes that Covid is not a problem and that he cannot lose.
However, he has many failures and not a few frauds, but is supposed to be a success, and is partly seen as a success through intimidation.
He’s repeatedly threatened to sue individuals who speculate he’s exaggerating about his riches, and he once even made good on such a threat, suing the author of the 2005 book TrumpNation for estimating that his empire was worth as little as $150 million. (That lawsuit was thrown out.) Forbes editors also say Trump regularly lobbies them to increase the magazine’s estimates of his wealth…. Forbes pegs his fortune at more like $4.5 billionDonald Trump’s 13 Biggest Business Failures. Rolling Stone 14 March 2016
In 2015 the Washington Post Reported:
having looked at Donald Trump’s detailed financial filing with the Federal Election Commission: He owns assets worth at least $1.4 billion and has liabilities of at least $265 million.Bump, Trump has assets of at least $1.4 billion — and that’s about the best we can say. Washington Post 22 July 2015.
He supposedly persuaded workers in his Casino companies to take stock in the company as their pension fund, so when the companies went bust the workers lost their pensions. This was perfectly legal. Even more scrupulously:
Trump used his company as a means of transferring his personal debt load onto shareholders, issuing rounds of junk bonds to build up cash that would erase his own debts.Caldwell. How Trump’s Casino Bankruptcies Screwed His Workers out of Millions in Retirement Savings. Mother Jones 17 October 2016.
So he partly salvaged his loses on the backs of his workers. Despite this, his supposed business success, his TV success and his celebrity, makes him a symbol of the American dream. Winning creates its own morality, which justifies that victory. Even his documented tax evasion might help here, amongst those who hate taxes. He is not a person, but a vessel for mana – a projection of what American people should want to be, and do want to be – although it is probable that a nation composed of people like him would collapse in faction and distrust.
In politics, he works with, and summons up, the genuine grievances of the American people, who have been abandoned, suppressed, marginalised, and thrown out of work with precarious survival. Who face loss of home and landscape, and who have lost hope, through the consequences of the kinds of policies he, and his wealth elite fellows, have bought and supported for their own benefit.
The American people’s living standards have at best remained stable. Social mobility appears to have slowed. Their children probably don’t have a great future. Yet they are bombarded with messages that tell them if they just think positively, or act right, then they can overcome everything. They too can learn The Secret and succeed. They can be wealthy, sexy, healthy and attractive. Those who fail to do this are clearly worthless – it’s easy after all. There is no talk of social class or opportunity structures (inequality, corporate power, the distribution of wealth, and the coming environmental collapse) which might explain the problem. It is all personal failure, which is also known to be untrue. It is an immobilising contradiction.
Trump gives people hope again. He is is one of the few politicians (who can get media coverage) who acknowledges what people feel, and directs that feeling into action – even if the action is primarily just letting off steam, or threatening outgroups. His followers can do something, and feel something with crowds of others feeling the same, which gives them validation. Now, they can fight for their own improvement, and positively hope for further upgrades.
Rather than cultivate that grievance so as to overturn the policies that make the problems, or investigate what should be done to deal with these real problems, Trump turns those grievances into hatred and anger against his enemies – who just happen to be the people most likely (not certainly) to repeal those destructive policies.
Trump gives the real grievances a false target, and given that you cannot talk widely about the real causes of ordinary peoples’ loss in the US, then it works pretty persuasively. After all the mainstream media says similar things, and ignores or hides the real problems, and has been for a long time. This is part of what I have called the “Neoliberal Conspiracy” of the powerful and wealthy. Ordinary people seem to be being conspired against by the wealth elites, although I don’t know if the conspiracy is entirely deliberate, or whether it just depends on the wealth elites defining corporate power and corporately dominated “free markets” as good.
In this sense, Trump benefits twice. Once from the policies that transfer the people’s wealth to himself and which support his business crimes against workers and contractors, and second from the anger that the results of these policies generates.
Trump persuasively creates a fictional world in which life makes sense, people can find someone to blame (which is easier to deal with, than blaming the system which is praised on all sides), and he has plenty of people who have already been playing along with that position, who try to be radical by dismissing any critical narratives about real power, and pretending that Trump stands alone, with real Americans, against the horrors. We can see that what seem to be pure right wing ‘news’ sites are flourishing, without responsibility, and are now perhaps the new mainstream – boosting the message. The background creates the conditions for his performance.
Trump as ‘Shaman’
Trump is dependent on his audience. He must give speeches to feel their energies flowing through him. In that sense he seems dependent on the crowds for meaning as they are dependent on him for meaning. And yet the speeches are odd, full of incoherent rambling. Looked at as words they can be almost meaningless, yet I suspect they act as incantations – disrupting what is left of the rational mind and replacing it, like a hypnotist, with repeated phrases about how great we are, how persecuted we are, how we can overcome everything, how things are going well, how the Democrats are traitors. How things are better if we just hand over our power to the shaman.
You know, when people see it, I walk in, we do polls, and they do a poll. “We interviewed 73 people, and President Trump is down 57 points.” This is a poll. See, this is a poll. When you draw crowds like this. This is not the crowd of somebody that’s going to lose the state of Michigan. This is not. This is not. And look at this crowd. You can’t even see the end of it. You can’t. This is not the crowd of a second place finisher. Do you agree with that? No. No. This is our crowd, all together. We’re in this together and we’re doing it together. As long as I’m President, we will remain the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere on this planet. And for the first time, we are energy independent. You never heard that term before. We’re energy independent, and you know, we have very good relationships in different parts of the world. In some we help. We don’t have to, though. Now we don’t have to do … We do what we want, but we have some very good allies and partners that we’ll help them, but we don’t need their oil anymore. We have so much oil. We have more oil than anybody, okay? And it’s an incredible thing that it’s happened over the last few years. A lot of great things. And you’re paying, what, $2 a gallon for your gasoline? That’s okay.Donald Trump and Mike Pence held a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on November 20. Rev.com
Through this incantation, and subversion of coherent thinking, he gives hope. He gives endless positive assertions. Things are not bad, the awareness of bad things is promoted by his enemies, you can ignore them, as things are going well. And if some of the media don’t agree with him, then that just proves everything is really fine, because we know the media are evil.
And it doesn’t matter if he lies, the lies point to the greater truth. As a shaman, he utters mystic symbols, which point to the real truth (perhaps what the truth should be). This is the real truth, the truth that is felt in the heart or in the gut – which needs no testing. Reasonable speech does not speak to the passions, it is denuded of affect and ineffective – especially to crowds who want passion – who want to be enlivened, lifted out of a sense of powerlessness – and he enlivens them – he frees their energy. And this is Good.
Looked at literally much of what he says is lies. Lies repeated so often, they become assertions of faith – that mark the believer.
The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lie will now be accepted as truth and truth be defamed as a lie, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth versus falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.
…one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness…..Arendt Origins of Totalitarianism. Quoted at Vox Populi 31 January 2017
If the ‘other side’ can be defined as responsible for all evil, then victory is all that counts. If lies help win that victory, split the opponents, or cause them discomfort the lies are good by definition.
Such lies function as what some psychologists call “blue lies”; lies which are told on behalf of one’s group against another group – they reinforce identity (and the denied identity politics Trump engages in), and are recognised as being used to hurt the others. These lies can:
actually strengthen the bonds among the members of that group….
University of Toronto psychologist Kang Lee explains, blue lies fall in between generous “white” lies and selfish “black” ones. “You can tell a blue lie against another group,” he says, which makes it simultaneously selfless and self-serving….
The lies are beneficial for your group…. They help bring some people together by deceiving those in another group….
“Many people are angry about how they have been left behind in the current economic climate” [Maurice Schweitzer says]… Trump has tapped into that anger, and he is trusted because he professes to feel angry about the same things.”
“Trump has created a siege-like mentality,” says Schweitzer. “Foreign countries are out to get us; the media is out to get him. This is a rallying cry that bonds people together.”Smith. Can the Science of Lying Explain Trump’s Support? Greater Good Magazine. 29 March 2017
If correct, this serves as a further example of the functioning of ingroups and outgroups. Outgroups are those who can be lied about when it benefits the ingroup, or confuses the outgroup, or angers them. If the ingroup lies about itself to boost its standing and power, that is also good. If the outgroup lies about anything, then that is still bad, as it points to their greater falsehood.
These lies are to believed when useful. They may never be taken entirely seriously, but they are never entirely disbelieved, or put aside (truth and falsehood are no longer taken as absolute opposites in practice). People are free to use the lies whenever it becomes time to denounce the others, and they will not be called out. At worst these lies are taken as rumours which point to the real truth about how dastardly the others are.
Lying can also be regarded as an art which produces admiration. A person might go along with the lies in admiration of the sheer entertaining effrontery and fantasy of it. Going along with the lies, may well later lead to a tacit belief in the lies.
Sometimes Trump’s aim seems to be simply to turn his followers grievances against those who stand up to him, or who say he was wrong (and get defined as outgroup), but would not threaten the policies which are the basis of his power. Part of the illusion he attempts to create is that he is always right, so people who disagree must be wrong, and be deliberate saboteurs; again outgroups are evil. In any case they are enemies, and they are the real liars.
In this act of suppression, he can use the force of others. It was not he who gets armed people into the streets, or who generates death threats to Dr. Fauci, it is the peoples’ legitimate anger which he encourages and excuses. By these threats they are standing up to the elite – unfortunately not the right elites.
He also attempts to create the idea he is the victim; “no president has been more persecuted than myself”. This relies on people’s short memories. Many presidents have been attacked more than him; some have been shot, some have faced years of intrusive inquiries with little result.
However, this victimhood establishes the idea he is one of the real people who are victimised daily, just as his misspelling, and incoherence in his tweets, do; and as does the dismissive snobbishness of much of the ‘intellectual’ response to Trump – that will not recognise the real base of his power in people’s discontent and powerlessness.
However, his victimisation is fictitious, and it is easy for him to stand against it – he is squarely part of the inherited wealth elite, he has wealthy and powerful contacts in the US and internationally, and he is President of the United States – an elected King, with power of war, secret police, appointment of justice, pardon and preferment. This victimisation distracts from his overt power, and creates the illusion he is fighting against what oppresses the people, and that he is standing up for them, and mastering their problems. And he can invent solutions which have never happened, but such is his persuasive power that his supporters do not seem to question this, as these events should be happening, and will if we hold strongly to the belief and don’t challenge it.
Given the problems he identifies are immigrants, Mexicans, black people, rioters, professors, journalists, feminists etc., these are also relatively easy to defeat. They also fit in with the already established modes of hatred in the community – people who are different – people who are sometimes unpleasant, or up themselves, but who have little power.
These processes also disarm the Democrats and other opponents, who seem to think, even after these four years, that the law will stand for anything and act to enforce the conventions and fair play, when the law is largely a tool of power, and Trump and his party are the power.
The current occupation of the White House illustrates how this works.
Before the elections, Trump tried to cast doubt on the results if he lost. He threatened to challenge the results. He campaigned on the idea that his followers were going to be cheated and disenfranchised – while attempting to disenfranchise large parts of the population by making pre-polling difficult where possible, by casting doubt on postal votes and trying to suggest postal votes should not be counted, or would not be counted. This was on top of the usual Republican efforts to prevent people in their outgroups from voting. He was doing what he alleged the enemy was doing. That someone was doing it, made it plausible the enemy would do it. This would also distract from the fact that his side was doing it.
However even if these Republican threats to disenfranchise people did not disturb the awareness of his followers, they were still rightly feeling cheated (the system does not work for them) and disenfranchised (the vote and the party, really does not deliver people who really represent them or do anything for them). Corporations ride over them. They are even threatened with losing employment, livelihood and survival to protect the despicable weak because of Covid.
On top of that, if the other side is truly evil and victory is all that counts, then Trump’s behaviour is perfectly ‘reasonable’. If the outgroup won then it would clearly be dire, because even when ‘our group’ wins the consequences are not great now (possibly in the future) – imagine how bad it would be if the others got in?
So Trump used people’s sense of disenfranchisement to increase their disenfranchisement, and set up the possibility of a rule by force. A rule in which he stayed in the White House whatever the people voted. This rule would sever any responsibility to the people, because he had broken the system. What keeps it going is he, himself and his shamanic power to channel unconscious rage at the system, whose workings people are not conscious of. He can appoint who he wants to, and do whatever he wants, because he spoke directly to the people and reinforced the deception through scapegoating. Republican politicians would know that they have depended on the deception for their power and, if the real fraud was revealed, their party would probably suffer – although in reality many people would never believe the fraud was unreal. How could the President, the magic man, the success icon, really loose?
The politicians would also know that nobody would protect them from the President’s vengeance, if they did not support him.
At this moment what does it cost them to play along with the President? If he goes, and the fraud charges stick, they can use them to justify attempting to tear Biden down. If the fraud charges fade away, they can carry on as usual, without fearing others in their party, and if the President succeeds in his coup, then they can claim to have supported the fraud charges all along and without having risked the wrath of the autocrat. Also they might find it reassuringly useful to believe that the Democrats cheat and lie like they do themselves, that makes it fair.
Comments by Jung
As some people will recognise this piece is influenced by memories of Jung’s work on the period before World War II.
After writing this piece I browsed Jung’s collected Works Vol 10 Civilisation in Transition, to see what I had forgotten. In this section are some very free paraphrases of what Jung wrote, together with a few paragraphs from an old interview, and a few additions by myself – please don’t take these as direct quotations from Jung, hopefully they add to the ‘analysis’ above.
Of course Jung is talking about Hitler, not Trump, and while they may be very different, the similarities seem significant enough for the purpose.
[#454] The individual Americans’ feeling of weakness, indeed of non-existence brought about by the social system and its response to them, was thus compensated by the eruption of hitherto unknown desires for power. It was the revolt of the powerless. Americans wanted order, wanted revenge, and wanted a meaningful life, but they made the fatal mistake of choosing a victim, and creator, of disorder and unchecked greed, for their leader.
This man was the most prodigious personification of all human inferiorities. He was an utterly incapable, unadapted, irresponsible, psychopathic personality, full of empty, infantile fantasies, but cursed with the keen intuition of a rat.
[#419] Another diagnosis of Trump would be ‘pseudologia phantastica’ which is characterized by a peculiar talent for believing one’s own lies. … Nothing has such a convincing effect as a lie one invents and believes oneself, or an evil deed or intention whose righteousness one regards as self-evident. Especially if it can be changed for another lie as needed – which one also believes is true. A person who tells people what they want to hear, at that moment, will nearly always be more persuasive, than one who is consistent, or checked by reality.
[#418] All these pathological features — complete lack of insight into one’s own character, auto-erotic self-admiration, denigration and terrorization of one’s fellow man (how contemptuously Trump speaks), ability to summon the shadow, falsification of reality, determination to impress by fair means or foul, bluffing and double-crossing — all these were united in the man whom a strange fate chose to be the political, moral, and religious spokesman of the USA for four[?] years.
Is this pure chance? Or is it some kind of destructive compensation? Some longing for death and destruction to break the monotony and desperation of people’s lives?
[#454] Because of his closeness to the shadow, Trump spoke for that shadow (the inferior part of everybody’s personality), to an overwhelming degree, and this was another reason why people went for him. These failings of psychic development allowed the President to crystalise the problem, and symbolise a way forward…. He gave them other people to denounce; a focus for their hatred and loss. He joined them together in their collective shadow. He forged that shadow from the ruins of the country and its despair. He gave relief with a cause identified, even if wrong.
[#455] In Trump, every American should have seen his own shadow, his own worst danger. It is everybody’s allotted fate to become conscious of and learn to deal with this shadow. But how could the Americans be expected to understand this, when nobody in the world can understand such a simple truth when it applies to them? How many on the left, gained a sense of righteousness for themselves by denouncing Trump’s followers as their own shadow, rather than engaged with them as people? The point of the shadow is to separate, and promote retreat into fantasy and violence, to keep oneself proud, while bonding with others who denounce the same people.
[interview] Trump’s voice is nothing other than his own unconscious, into which the American people have projected their own being; that is, the unconscious of seventy or so million Americans. That is what makes him powerful. Without the American people, and their collective psychological states, he would be nothing…
[interview] Trump does not think – he listens to his shadow and its whispers and speaks it directly. He is like a man who listens intently to a stream of suggestions in a whispered voice from a mysterious source, and then acts upon them….
[interview] Trump’s power is not political, it is magical. With his unconscious perception of the real balance of political forces at home and in the world, he has so far overcome the merely rational expectations of any opponent. His apparent irrationality is a strength, which undermines any supposedly rationally acting opposition with its unreal, customary and derogatory, expectations of him….
[#426] Believing one’s own lies when the wish is father to the lie is a well known hysterical symptom and a distinct sign of a sense of inferiority – one cannot face up to truth… Reality, only dimly perceived at best, is to be completely blotted out. In an individual we call this sort of thing an hysterical twilight-state. When a whole nation finds itself in this condition it will follow a mediumistic leader over the housetops with a sleep-walker’s assurance, only to land in the street with a broken back.
[interview] With Trump you are scared. You know you would never be able to talk to that man; because there is nobody there. He is not a man, but a collective. He is not an individual, but a whole nation, or the nation’s disruptive unconscious. What he thinks at that moment is taken by him as righteous with no quarter. Agreeing with him merely 95% of the time may not be enough to satisfy him. I take it to be literally true that he has no personal friend. How can you talk intimately with such a person?
[#432] The phenomenon we have witnessed in America is nothing less than an outbreak of epidemic insanity, an irruption of the unconscious into what seemed to be a tolerably well-ordered world (but which, ultimately, was not), channeled by an otherwise empty shaman, probably initially by accident, until he came to crave the power and meaning it gave his own life.
Trump is no mere gangster or thug and understanding him as such will not help combat him.