Like him or not, Donald Trump is larger than life. He is big, loud, orange, vocal, forceful, and absolute. His uncompromising, unmistakable features appeal to the imagination. That is why he also shows up in our dreams.
Trump's male dominance routine is well rehearsed after twelve years of reality TV. Behind George W. Bush's tough-guy cowboy, we could often see the little boy peeking through. But Trump is too reflexively Trump for that; no vulnerability allowed. Underneath the hood is a completely unexamined life. As he's stated, “I don’t like to analyze myself because I might not like what I see.” Rational, issue-oriented voters are dismayed by Trump's policy ignorance, and sane and decent humans are appalled by his bigotry, racism, and misogyny, and yet he's still close to winning the presidency. His real appeal is subterranean, invisible to reason. Although he's unstable, unqualified, and frightening, he has succeeded in part because he's become a candidate in our dreams.
In the natural dreamwork I do, I focus on our encounters with images and presences—and the feelings they evoke. I've been working with people's dreams for the past 15 years, listening in to them and discussing them weekly. Since his candidacy, I've noticed many dreams where Donald Trump appears.
Thinking about dream-Trump can throw some light on the mystery of his appeal. His archetypal undertow, his gravitational field of attraction can't be detected by reason but is visible in the graphical user interface of dreams.
Here's a fairly typical one from "Kate," a 40-year-old yoga instructor.
I'm teaching my yoga class, and in the middle of the circle there's Trump. I tell my friend I will make him do a difficult pose to humiliate him. She reacts with anger. She says, "You wouldn't work with him would you?" I say “of course not” but still I realize I feel somehow special that I know him personally because he is famous.
Kate's encounter with Trump is brief and wordless but stirs up a lot of reaction. She says she'll teach Trump a pose to humiliate him. But her friend exposes her real motivations. Kate realizes she likes having him in her class because it makes her feel special. The dream teaches her about her thirst for that kind of specialness, and the cost to her own integrity. I believe a lot of voters who consciously despise Trump secretly also find him charismatic. This ambivalence leads to a strong desire not just to defeat him, but to humiliate him.
There's a similar ambivalent response in men's dreams, but with different motivations. My client "Joe" is a successful writer in his fifties. He has issues about connecting with male authorities. He's had encounters with dream-Trump several times.
One dream starts close to the surface of waking life. Joe and his wife are bad-mouthing Trump as they do in everyday conversation. They agree he is a bully, a demagogue, a hate-monger.
But then I watch as he climbs up to the back seat in the bed of an orange pick-up and sits down with a tired sigh. Then he smiles and starts waving to the crowd. “Hi,” I say, friendly. I explain about the anti-snore guard mask I’m wearing. “What’s that?” he says, leaning his head forward, apparently not having heard. I repeat the explanation.
Joe and I laughed about the snore guard approach—but he admitted he desperately wanted dream-Trump to like him. It was more than a desire to associate with someone famous. It's a deep-seated longing for love and approval, something he never felt from his father.
Dream-Trump looks like a likely candidate, even if in waking life he's a terrible candidate.
But is Trump in his dream really Trump or in this case, is he an archetype in disguise?
An archetype is C.G. Jung's term for an ancient phenomenon: when Homer wants to depict the goddess Athena advising Odysseus, she appears in the form of his friend Mentor. So it operates in our dreams. Certain intermediary figures appear to mentor us, befriend us, even love us—and they take whatever disguises suit their purpose.
Joe was always negative about his own father, and other mentors, so it's not surprising that the archetype appears in a form that overtly reflects this negativity. When Trump sat down “with a tired sigh," that open vulnerability gave Joe the confidence to approach him.
After Joe worked with this material for a week, dream-Trump returned.
I’m at a big business meeting around a large table. I’m sitting next to Donald Trump. Someone says that the problem is we need a better story. I can feel Donald Trump looking at me and I know that if it’s about the story, he expects me to do it, that he knows I’m really good at it. He gives me that look like “You got this” and then playfully puts his head down on the table smiling at me.
Trump isn't verbal in this dream, and there's lots of possible projection on Joe's part. But the dream ends with a strong gesture. Trump lays his head on the table and smiles. In effect he lays down his power. It is a vulnerable move, one we would never expect from waking Trump.
I asked Joe how it felt to see that. He said the gesture and the smile together felt overwhelming, joyful, liberating. He was surprised that he had that feeling given his strong negative views of Trump. Although waking Trump is a gross caricature of the patriarchal archetype—he can be a perfect fit in a dream. His persona is like a little boy's view of what a man is supposed to be like.
Here we see dream-Trump acting out of character. His silent gesture seems to respond to the dreamer, meeting Joe's longing half way.
Joe sees that the archetypal father can also be playful. Dream-Trump is stripping off his waking persona and revealing himself as a male archetype.
I like the Trump in this dream better than the candidate Trump. He has great authority, but uses it to build another man up. He shows his own vulnerability in order to welcome the vulnerability of the other.
By vulnerability I mean an openness to your feelings of fear, pain, and the need for love. The beauty of vulnerability is a deeper kind of strength. One of my clients, "Mary," showed that in her encounter with dream-Trump.
She's in her sixties and a gifted spiritual teacher.
I look down and see I am in colorful underpants and bra and open a door to a long hallway. There are people around in other doorways and they see me. At the end of the hall I see Donald Trump who starts coming towards me quickly. I take a few steps towards him until he is standing right next to me. He says something and as I listen I sense he doesn’t understand me or my nakedness.
To understand the dream, you have to know how she's feeling. I asked in our session how it felt to step towards Trump. She told me her heart was pounding the whole time.
We can contrast her courage in this dream to Trump's actual behavior. He has boasted about walking in on naked women and on half-dressed teenage girls at his beauty contests.
In her dream Mary isn't thinking about any of that. But her heart-pounding vulnerability in the dream looks much stronger to me than Trump's creepy male predator behavior in waking life.
My sample is skewed and small—I'd be curious to read the dreams of Trump supporters. For his male supporters, Donald Trump may well represent an archetypal father or mentor. Given that his dream charisma seems strong enough to attract even those who consciously detest him, I'm guessing that for both men and women, Trump's aura of celebrity and power and his impersonation of strong masculinity has a deep psychological undertow. By associating with a "strong man," people feel special as Kate did in the yoga dream. They might want to suck up to him as Joe did in his dream. (Probably they should drop the snore guard.)
But there's a greater strength that comes from the courage to acknowledge your inner feelings and needs instead of constantly reacting to them as Trump does.
The truth is, as long as we voters confuse our own vulnerability with weakness, we will elect politicians who do the same.