By Carol S. Pearson
An Archetypal Plan for Recovering
from the U.S. Presidential Election
The U.S. presidential election has left Americans more divided than perhaps at any time since the Civil War. In this series of three blogs, I offer an archetypal approach to understanding the forces at work both in the U.S. and around the world that produced this outcome and that threaten catastrophe, and a possible means to achieve greater unity and renew our faith in our democratic system of government.
Part One: Prologue and Acts I & II
The Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone provides a five-act narrative for achieving unity after the recent U.S. election made Donald Trump president-elect. Four things are important to know as background:
- To understand this election in its fullness, it is essential to recognize that it is at least in part a symptom of the rise of the white supremacy movement and also of various totalitarian, nationalistic, patriarchal, and disruptive movements all over the world, including the Brexit vote and the rise of ISIS. We can learn a great deal from the 1930s, when similar movements were taking over, and extrapolate from that history to figure out how to avert similar destruction.
- These events are symptomatic of growing imbalances in the archetypes in the global macrocosm, in the U.S. and other countries, and, likely, in ourselves.
- Zeus and Demeter are associated with the classic patriarchal tough father and matriarchal caring mother. Persephone and Dionysus are associated with the youthful feminine and masculine.
- These archetypes inform the major characters in the myth that was the basis of the major spiritual initiation rite (the Eleusinian Mysteries) in ancient Athens at the time of the invention of democracy, drama, empirical science, and much else. A greater balance of all four is more possible today than it was over 2,000 years ago when the myth, then as now, provided a path to individual and collective happiness, prosperity, and freedom from fear.
Act I: Setting the Stage & A Call to Action
Dissatisfaction with The Way of Holdfast the Dragon sets in. Joseph Campbell saw Holdfast as the archetype holding old structures in place. Its emergence is a call to the quest for heroes to come forward to transform the kingdom.
The Myth: Cronus, chief of the Titan Gods, so wants to govern forever that he swallows all his children to prevent them from rebelling against him. His wife Rhea, finally saves Zeus, her sixth child, and sends him into exile. He returns to end his father’s reign, rescue his siblings, and declare war on the Titans, keepers of the status quo.
U.S.: For years, the Republican Party has run against government. Reinforced by the Tea Party movement and threats by the Freedom Caucus, GOP leaders in Congress worked relentlessly to keep President Obama from succeeding. Then Trump ran, promising to shake up Washington, dismantle the “mommy state,” overturn “political correctness,” advantage white males, and substitute nationalism for global concerns, to “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton, his opponent, ran on a “build on the progress of the last eight years” platform that balanced Zeus and Demeter qualities that she said made us “Stronger Together.” Were Trump’s victory somehow to be overturned, as a result of a recount or electors deserting him, many of his supporters are threatening armed revolution. The outcome is uncertain.
You and Me: Often when we feel dissatisfied, we may want to just dismantle our lives, do something—anything!—different, whether or not it is the right thing. We may vent our dissatisfaction, blaming others for our problems and accepting the simple solutions offered by those who claim they can save us. Alternatively, if others are threatening to shake things up in ways we do not like, Holdfast can capture us and lead us to fight all change. Still a third possibility is that we can be called to our own hero’s journey, to find our treasure (our gifts and purpose) and help identify adequately balanced and complex ways to transform the kingdom that consider the needs of friend and foe alike.
Act II: The Challenge: The Status Quo Disrupted
The Way of Power triumphs, creating psychological and political imbalance. The Orphan, Warrior, and Ruler archetypes help us individually and as groups move from feeling victimized, to fighting for ourselves and our interests, to taking charge of our lives. They also help us aspire and compete to become the best we can be. Ideally, these archetypes lead us to create social structures that work for everyone. Yet, when the Way of Power is out of balance with other archetypes that follow in this blog, people confuse their worth with their status and wealth and live driven, unhappy lives; groups compete for dominance; misogyny, racism, and xenophobia come to the fore, and social structures become totalitarian.
The Myth: Zeus led a revolution to take over as the chief Greek god, but he won narrowly. The Titans who had been in power continued to resist him at every turn. He got away with being a philanderer and objectifying women. However, he made himself vulnerable by dissing Demeter and Persephone and the values associated with them—for Demeter, maternal caring and caring more generally for others and the earth, and for Persephone, autonomy and freedom to make her own choices. One result was a famine that, like climate change, threatened to wipe out mortals and consequently threatened Zeus’s reign.
U.S.: Trump is now president-elect, and has declared that he has a mandate by having defeated Clinton in the Electoral College. However, as votes continue to be counted, it has become clear that Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million, and many people are worried about what a Trump presidency will bring.
- Even in his own party, many see Trump as unfit to be president and find alarming his disdain for normative presidential behaviors and apparent disinterest in addressing conflicts between his business interests and the business of governing.
- Because Republicans, who prioritize the Zeus archetype, will control Congress, the presidency, and soon most likely the Supreme Court, the country lacks the balance traditionally provided by Democrats, who typically hold Demeter caring values as well as Zeus ones. Happily, however, this is only Act II of a larger narrative, the outcome of which depends on what we do now.
- The country is more divided than ever before, with progressives threatening civil disobedience and alt-right conservatives potential violence.
- The article at this link also describes positive Zeus ways to begin taking action as citizens to avoid the tragic outcome of the events that led to the holocaust and WWII. It demonstrates the Orphan’s ability to recognize danger, the Warrior’s ability to fight back preventively, and the Ruler’s sense of taking seriously the responsibility of citizenship.
You and Me: By recognizing this pattern in our local macrocosm, we can be aware of its impact on us, and how it potentially can trigger a similar imbalance. However you voted, you may find yourself focusing on your own discontents (Orphan), waging mental war with others (Warrior), and perhaps even getting into arguments with people around you and wanting to get your own way and shape them up (Ruler). If this is happening, you can focus on the positive side of the Zeus triad by comforting your inner Orphan, calling up the Warrior’s focus and persistence to achieve your own goals, and partnering with others to create mutual support for everyone becoming successful. Zeus energy can trap us into defining our worth by our status, wealth, or power. We can escape by recognizing that we all matter, and our first priority is to become the best “us” we can be.