John has been a public school teacher for 17 years in Michigan.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide. - Abraham Lincoln, Address To Young Men’s Lyceum, January 27, 1838
The morning after the election my wife and I are getting ready to face the day. Learning the outcome of the presidential election I feel like someone has kicked me in the gut. Hollowed-out. Lost. Betrayed. A speaker at a protest gathering in Kalamazoo described it as waking up Christmas morning only to discover your home was robbed- tree and all. Speaking to my wife I explain that despite how upset we feel we want to make sure we set a normal tone for our children. I’m surprised by a sudden burst of emotion when she yells back at me, “Don’t tell me how to feel!”
The morning tone leaks into my workday. I teach 8th grade at a public school just outside Grand Rapids. The winning candidate had just visited the city the night before. At school during my planning period I come across a colleague in the hall who is in tears. “John, what’s going to happen? Some of my students are afraid that they’ll have to go to war. What’s going to happen?” She doesn’t say students, though. She says “my children” and I just now remember that she doesn’t have a son or daughter. Her students are her children. She is just as afraid as my wife but instead of anger it’s the end resolve of tears. My response to her comes not so much as a history teacher but as a student of C.G. Jung, “Just know there is nothing so bad that some good can’t come out of it.” I believe in the statement and it’s like a mantra that helps me through the week.
In the same essay [Two Essays] I uttered the almost banal truth, “The best, just because it is the best, holds the seeds of evil, and there is nothing so bad but good can come of it.”
Within loss there is potential for new growth. This does not dissipate the loss but gives it meaning by some type of valuation. My perception of the United States as a exceptional progressive nation, not bound by tribalism was shattered in the election. Historian Kevin Baker reflected how for him the election destroyed the national self-image of American exceptionalism. “America was always supposed to be something, as much a vision as a physical reality, from the moment that John Winthrop, evoking Jerusalem, urged the Massachusetts Bay Colony to ‘be as a city upon a hill.’ ” There may be some sobering value in this. I’m starting to see that our national narrative is not exceptionalism but is more akin to tragedy. You can line up the Founding Fathers who created the sectarian gospels of government trumpeting liberty and equality only to see behind them the long shadow of enslaving individuals personally and allow its continuance nationally. This isn’t an exercise in feeling bad. Nor is it an exercise in our superiority to the past. Our current strained partisan games of one-upmanship are just as paranoid, conspiratorial and hyperbolic as the discourse of the 18th and 19th century. That we haven’t deviated or learned from this past is tragic. I keep searching for more sober reflections. Reading how George Washington in his second term was painted by a growing opposition as a doddering used-up old man clarifies how far our self-immolation goes back. Deceivingly the past never looks messy since we know how the story ends. Knowing that it was lived with the same uncertainty and fears found in myself, my wife and co-worker the day after the election brings some solace.
This begs the question, what is to come? Jung was witness to two global catastrophes of world wars and the emergence of Nazism that psychically possessed Germany. He was still cautious in prognosticating the future path of a collective phenomena. He continues in this passage,
"The contents of the collective unconscious, the archetypes, with which we are concerned in any occurrence of psychic mass-phenomena, are always bipolar: they have both a positive and a negative side. Whenever an archetype appears things become critical, and it is impossible to foresee what turn they will take."
Following the presidential election there has been historic worldwide mass protest movements such as the Women’s March and heated town-hall meetings, responding to perceived attacks from the executive branch on core democratic values of equality, diversity and truth. There is no doubt that a mass-phenomena has erupted in America in reaction to the presidential election. But which turn will the quasi-tragic American narrative take us? Is it the more optimistic vision of C.S. Lewis? - “Tragedy occurs in human lives so that we will learn to reach out and comfort others.” Or is it the banal truth that Charmezel Dudt knew, "What makes a tragedy so tragic is not that the noble individual falls into ruin, but that his fall causes so much suffering in others." The outcome, as Lincoln well knew during his generation’s challenge, will be authored ultimately by Americans.