the shadow


Random quote of the day:

“Every man is a moon and has a side which he turns toward nobody: you have to slip around behind if you want to see it.”

—Mark Twain, The Refuge of the Derelicts,” Fables of Man

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Key and Peele, Celine Dion, or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

I am an American, which is a complex thing. I know how some of us act in the world, and sometimes that makes me cringe in shame. I want to tell the world, “We’re not all like that.” But that’s a complex thing, too, because sometimes, in some moments, there is something in the American psyche which makes many of us go from 1 to 60 on the boorish scale in less than a second. Where does that American rage and boorishness come from? It’s entitlement, of course. I think it’s mostly a white middle to upper class thing. But sometimes even that’s a complex thing, an exercise in finger-pointing that no one, it seems, is completely immune to.

Some of us try hard not to be like that. I’m fortunate that I came from the lower classes, didn’t grow up thinking the world and everything in it was mine by right. Doesn’t mean I don’t snap sometimes and go into boorish mode. I’m human. And I’m American. And I’m white. But I’m always deeply ashamed and apologetic afterwards, so I try really hard not to go there—so I can live more comfortably with myself if nothing else.

I’ve been thinking about my last trip to England, in 2004. I’d been aware for some time how badly some of us acted overseas. So much so that if anyone asked if I was American, I would sometimes lie and say I was Canadian. It’s possible some rare Canadians act boorishly overseas, but I think it’s got to be much, much rarer than with Americans.

On that 2004 trip, there were three of us middle-aged ladies traveling together, and inevitably, inevitably whenever we overheard someone whining or complaining or acting childish in general, that person had an American accent. We decided we would go out of our way to be the polar opposite in every dealing we had with locals. This was about a year after the bombing of Baghdad and Bush’s invasion of Iraq, so Americans were even more unpopular at the time. Most people were decent to us, especially when we poured on the charm offensive, or when we voiced our own deep opposition to what Bush had done, but some were barely polite.

As I pondered all this, it occurred to me that Donald Trump is the Ugly American Made Flesh. He is the ultimate of loud-mouthed, ill-informed, corrupt entitlement boors. He is all American sins made manifest, a tulpa created from the worst instincts of the worst aspects of the American psyche, a thought-form embodying the American shadow. We made this tulpa—even those of us who would rather pretend to be Canadian. We allowed him to be elected, even those of us who voted for someone else. The 2016 election was the very embodiment of American arrogance and rage. How could we expect to have better candidates when we were all pulling so hard against each other? When we were all sunk so deep in our own arrogance that screamed, “My way or no way at all”?

Donald Trump isn’t just the worst president in American history, he is a reckoning for the American psyche, a lesson I believe we have failed to learn. Oh yes, he may (or may not) be on the ropes now, and good people are working hard to block him and bring him down, but have we truly learned anything from the last terrible years? I can’t say that I see it. Greed and arrogance and entitlement and “my way or no way” still abound. Americans have never been particularly good at self-knowledge, deep examination of our own souls, or acknowledging and working with the shadow. We’re still in denial. I fear we have learned nothing.

The ugly American lives on.