Some of Barak Obama’s original supporters have grown disenchanted. The depth of disappointment moved inversely with the collective appetite to make him a king and savior savior during the 2008 election cycle. The combined effects of the economic maelstrom that began in 2008 and collective, infantile hopes are now apparent in the rabid disappointment. The impulse to select a scapegoat is understandable. What, if any, insights does archetypalal psychology offer during the upcoming United States election cycle?
Obama burst on the national scene out of nowhere galvanizing the US electorate and people in other countries. He was vested him with symbolic, transformative qualities that few leaders achieve. Dr Tom Singer proposed suggests Obama carried the “transcendent function” for our collective psyche. Obama’s own mixed heritage of Caucasian and African American, Christian with a Muslim background, Ivy league educated but upwardly mobile with humble roots made him a suitable figure to bear the transcendent function. Candidate Barack Hussein Obama was a lightning rod whose power arced through the electorate and through people across the planet in almost palpable ways.
Howver,President Barack Obama inherited an economy mired in debt, slow growth, and unforeseen consequences that resulted from complex investment schemes that went awry. The confluence of these forces and our collective hopes for deliverance are now exposing the enantiodromia present in the prersent-day political fervor. The pall upon the age of American expansionism (some prefer imperialism) is made worse by the naive hopes we projected upon the man who would be king. Something shifted and the choruses of “yes we can”, reminiscent of Reagan’s “it’s morning in America”, began to sound like a vengeful mob.
The Old Testament prophet warned of the perils of turning away from Yahweh in favor of a king (1 Samuel 8). The nation of Israel wanted a leader, they wanted to be like other nations.
Samuel issued one final warning (1 Samuel 12:14) “If God’s people will remain faithful to God’s Commandments” and if they would preserve Yaweh as their ruler, God would do great things. Samuel proclaimed that God’s people must not abdicate their responsibility simply because a king had been appointed.
Modern history offers another example in the rise and fall of the Third Reich. The collective despair of a defeated Germanic people, burdened with impossible war reparations, was transformed by a charismatic leader who restored hope and purpose. The degree to which the German people invested exaggerated hopes in their Fürher (leader) correlated with their subsequent disappointment and shame.
Let me be clear, I am not asserting a link between Obama and Hitler, but others have. I am proposing that collectively charismatic figures activate complex tendencies to project the wish for deliverance and the fear of evil rulership.
Time and again we witness how unbridled hope precedes a fall. When emotional investment in being “saved” crests, like it did in 2008, we should prepare to be overtaken by a trough of disappointment. From Heraclitus to Jung this principle of enantiodromia reappears again and again. The pendulum swings swings back, again and again. Here, archetypal psychology offers guidance through the recognition that collective influences are at play and through the possibilities provided by the transcendent function.
Obama became an icon, one who delivers. Yeshua, a name used by Messianic Jews and certain Christian sects in place of Jesus, means “one who delivers“. Strains of this run throughout Judeo-Christian culture and the Western tradition. While the the duties of the President of the United States allowed Obama to place his hands on some of the levers of this world, his election did not imbue him with Yahweh’s power. It barely equipped him to play a convincing Oz. The last 2 1/2 years of proven that he neither governs the world nor can he (or anyone) sustain the illusion of such a reign.
Perhaps some of the malaise and disappointment being expressed can be accounted to Obama but such disappointment can also become an invitation to recover the extreme projections we placed on him. Perhaps we can admit our role in the outcome. Instead of placing the sin of naive, exaggerated hopes upon a scapegoat (President Obama) let advance a more transcendent, individuated perspective. Let’s admit the part we play in this and similar political dramas.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, the tendency to project hopes on a “führer” leader contributes to the subsequent clamor and complaint. We’ve yet to learn this lesson. Our individual work can help us pull the reins when exaggerated hopes of deliverance surge. And when our exaggerated anger and disappointment surges we can remember that we paved the way. Archetypal psychology frames these dramas at the personal and collective levels. Here we a Jungian perspective has something timely and universal to offer.
I invite you to watch the conference on President Obama that was placed on sale this weekend in light of the current election cycle. Look for examples in the present race to select a Republican candidate of the impulse to project exaggerated hopes on successive individual candidates first Palin, then Bachman, and most recently Perry. Consider that with each overstated hope emerges the seed of later disappointment. Then consider how these outer narratives can in-“form” a more integrated, mature engagement with the world and politics.
Don’t miss the sale (http://ashevillejungcenter.org/dvd-store/40-off-dvd-sales/)
To candidate Obama I hope he can maintain sobriety. May he be mindful of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer ” God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”.
Those who cherish archetypal psychology might become purveyors of a new “golden mean” stirred by the cause of integration and individuation. Share your thoughts with others (in this blog) and elsewhere in the months ahead.
– Len Cruz, MD