Psychological Perspectives on the 2016 US Presidential Election

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“It’s hard not to think sometimes that the center might not hold, that things might get worse. . .We must reject such despair.” President Barak Obama, from his memorial for slain officers in Dallas, Texas.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

It is has become the mantra that has defined one of the most charged moments in recent times: that this is a presidential election unlike any other, taking place during a chaotic time of roiling unrest, at home and abroad. A time when a cluster of explosive political issues, from terrorism to racism to climate change, has each taken on a demanding urgency—even as the country is divided along partisan and economic lines. Adding to the volatility, President Barack Obama is poised to make his final exit from the political stage—a president who, whether we agreed with his policies or not, has governed with statesmanship, whose family has been a model of grace under pressure, and whose election as the nation’s first black president represents a high point in our history.

Against this backdrop, the current nominees, two of the most disliked candidates in the past ten election cycles, can seem almost like a fall from the height of one of our best achievements. On the Republican side is entrepreneur and reality TV star Donald Trump: a wealthy businessman who has never held public office, and who exhibits disturbing racist, misogynistic, and authoritarian tendencies, and who possesses an unpredictable temperament. On the Democratic side is Hillary Clinton, whose substantive political experience and glass-ceiling-shattering, history-making nomination as the first woman to run for president has been marred by ongoing investigations and the baggage she carries as President Bill Clinton’s wife.

It is at just such a time that wise voices are called for from thinkers who can help bring insight to the problems we face as a country. Psychologists, who have available to them a body of knowledge on human nature unique to the modern era, and who daily witness how the American dream shapes the day-to-day lives of the country’s citizens, are among those who occupy the kind of sane middle ground so needed at this critical juncture. To learn more about the collective psychology of this political moment and the deeper currents underlying the 2016 Presidential election, psychiatrist Dr. Steve Buser, MD and the Asheville Jung Center will bring together a panel of four noted psychoanalysts—Murray Stein, Nancy Furlotti, Nathan Schwartz-Salant and Luigi Zoja—to offer their perspectives into the unconscious forces, complexes, and other patterns as they are played out with great political theater during the conventions and debates. Moderated by depth journalist Pythia Peay, the panel will address these topics:    

—The psychological background of this particular historic moment.
—The psychology of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, as well as the psychology of Republicans and Democrats, and what they each  of the candidates and their parties reveal about the psychology of America at this time.
—Racial tension, and the rise of Black Lives Matter and the marginalization of economically disadvantaged white men.
—Violence and terrorism.
—Polarization, economic and political.
—Climate change denial.
—The anxiety of being an American voter, and as a psychological consequence of democracy but most especially in these times
—Healing symbols to guide the country forward.

While we certainly don’t aim to solve these problems, or even to address each of these issues in their totality, we do hope to do our part in helping the country hold together during this fragile period, without fragmenting into factions. We aim to do this by helping voters stay connected to the process of understanding the political issues as they are thrown into sharp relief during the campaign process, as well as their own unconscious responses, empowering them to stay in the fray without getting overwhelmed so that they can cast the vote that best represents their vision for the country. Finally, we also aim to satisfy the need for a deeper relationship to the complex problems of our time than is provided by the mainstream media.

Panelist Bios:

Murray Stein, Ph.D. is a graduate of the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich and of Yale University, Yale Divinity School and the University of Chicago. He is a founding member of The Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the Chicago Society of Jungian Analysts. He was president of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP) from 2001 to 2004 and President of The International School of Analytical Psychology Zurich from 2008-2012. He has lectured internationally and is the author of In MidLife, Jung’s Map of the Soul, Minding the Self, and Soul – Retrieval and Treatment as well of numerous articles on analytical psychology and Jungian psychoanalysis. He is the Jungian editor for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis as well as the editor of Jungian Psychoanalysis. He lives in Switzerland and is a Training and Supervising Analyst with ISAP Zurich, where he has a private practice.

Luigi Zoja, Ph.D., a native of Italy, received his diploma in Analytical Psychology from the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich, where he has also been a training analyst. He is the past president of CIPA (Centro Italiano di Psicologia Analitica) and the IAAP (International Association of Analystical Psychology), and has taught at the State University of Palermo and the University of Insubria in Italy, and at the University of Macao in China. He is the award-winning author of numerous papers and books that have been published in fifteen languages, including Growth and Guilt, The Father, The Global Nightmare: Jungian Perspectives on September 11, (ed.), Violence in History, Culture and the Psyche and the forthcoming book, Paranoia: The Madness that Makes History.

Nancy Furlotti, Ph.D., is a Jungian Analyst, co-chair of the C.G. Jung Professorial Endowment in Analytical Psychology, UCLA, and board member at Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is a past president of the Los Angeles Jung Institute, and past co-president of the Philemon Foundation. Her longstanding interests include Mesoamerican mythology, the nature of evil, dreams, and the environment. She has written numerous articles, and co-edited The Dream and its Amplification with Erel Shalit. Through her publishing imprint, Recollections, she brings into print works by first generation Jungians, such as Erich Neumann.

Nathan Schwartz-Salant received his doctorate in Engineering Science from the University of California, Berkeley, and then trained as a Jungian analyst in Zurich, Switzerland, earning a diploma in 1970. He has written a number of books orienting Jung’s work towards clinical practice. His latest book, to be published in 2017, is The Order-Disorder Paradox: Understanding the Hidden Side of Change in Self and Society.

Host Steve Buser, MD is a psychiatrist in private practice in Asheville, NC. He trained in medicine at Duke University and served 12 years as a physician in the US Air Force. He spent his final year in the military in the Republic of Panama and is reasonably fluent in Spanish. In 2008 he completed a 2 year clinical training program at the Jung Institute of Chicago and subsequently founded the Asheville Jung Center, bringing internationally known Jungian speakers to a world wide audience via internet technology. He is active in the community and strives to integrate faith and spirituality into his treatment. He has been engaged in cutting edge research, including the use of advanced neurostimulation technologies in psychiatry (Vagus Nerve Stimulation and Deep Brain Stimulation)

Moderator Pythia Peay is an author, speaker, and award-winning depth journalist on psychology, spirituality, and the American psyche. Over a span of more than thirty years, her work has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, including Religion News Service, The Washington Post, Utne Magazine and elsewhere. Currently she writes the “America on the Couch” blog for both The Huffington Post and Psychology Today and is the author of American Icarus: A Memoir of Father and Country and America on the Couch: Psychological Perspectives on American Politics and Culture (Lantern Books, 2015).


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