From ISIS and the media to Kim Jong-un, Mexicans, and China – Donald Trump considers himself a white knight defending America against evil threats. His supporters share this view. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is a recipe for destructive political ideas.
The violence that accompanied Trump’s campaign is the direct result of this thought process. To create more constructive political debates, we should overcome the belief in inherently opposing forces of good and evil. Luckily, there are political and psychologic concepts to help us with this task.
Why Trump’s division of the world into good and evil is a problem
When Donald Trump talks about political problems, his first step is to blame someone. The American economy is changing? It’s Obama’s fault. Someone lost their job? Mexicans. Climate change? Liberals and China.
This reasoning is simplistic, but it is also dangerous. It implies that there are two forces in the world, good and evil, and that these forces are inherently opposed and embroiled in a historic fight that we, the good guys, must win.
The Theory of Moral Duality alerts us to the fact that the belief in a world of good and evil is a destructive idea. It shows the three typical elements of destructive ideas:
- It divides the world into irreconcilable groups. We, the good guys, and they, the bad guys, are inherently different. Nothing in the world could help us agree on anything. The struggle between us and them is eternal, until one side wins. Therefore, we must fight them and win. They will attack us anyway, and if we don’t fight back, they win.
- It forces a binary argument. You are either with us or with them. Ambiguity and a lack of complete faith are signs that you are with them. We demand complete obedience.
- It appeals to higher wisdom. We have the higher wisdom of goodness; they lack this wisdom. This is why they oppose us, and why we must fight them. If they win, the higher wisdom dies with us, and that outcome would be worse than anything we do in the fight against them.
These three points position them as the infinitely evil threat and us as the white knights who must fight this threat. Nothing could be worse than allowing the infinitely evil threat to win, which is why everything we do in our fight against them is legitimate.
This reasoning eliminates the safeguards we need to behave in constructive ways. When we think that everything we do is legitimate so long as it targets them, we often act unethically and in disparity to our moral convictions. The influence of the white-knight/infinitely-evil-threat thinking tricks us into doing things of which we would ordinarily disapprove.
The effects of this thought process influence all of Trump’s policy decisions. Because he considers himself a white knight and people opposed to him as evil threats, he is quick to condone violence against criminals, political opponents, and unwelcome members of the media. His divisive and insulting rhetoric encourages violence.
To create constructive political change, we must overcome the urge to divide the world into inherently opposed forces of good and evil. At the same time, there are actual threats, and we should retain our ability to oppose them. This difficult challenge was most apparent when the great minds of the mid-20th century discussed how to deal with Nazi war criminals. At the time, one of the greatest psychologists found a way to constructively deal with such challenges and overcome the division in good and evil.
How to create more constructive political debates
The thinker who helps us best understand the relationship between good and evil is Carl Jung, Austrian psychologist, and partner of Sigmund Freud.
Jung rejected the idea of an absolute, radical, and unresolvable conflict between good and evil. In his view, we all have light and darkness within us, and only by acknowledging both, can we deal kindly with one another.
To the degree that we condemn and find evil in others, we are unconscious of the same things in ourselves, or at least of the potentiality of them. Ignorant of our own darkness, we project it outward onto people of a different country, belief, or ethnicity. In them, we see the things we want to suppress within ourselves. We think that the darkness exists only in them and not in us and that we are therefore justified to fight the supposed enemy.
With this reasoning, Jung delivered the model that explains the psychologic processes that lead to the destructive effects the Theory of Moral Duality describes. Ideas that show the three characteristics of destructive ideas provide the ideal basis for the outward projection of our inner darkness. When we consider Islam, China, or the media infinitely evil threats, we can project our suppressed inner dark side onto them. We then fight proxy wars against them to avoid having to face ourselves.
Jung’s views were put to the test when the young state of Israel tried Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, in 1961. While Jung admitted that he would have been furious if he had been in Eichmann’s position and would have fought the Nazi injustice with all his energy, he was reluctant to condemn Eichmann.
Jung emphasized that he would have known the relativity of his own emotions, believing that he was fighting a man like Eichmann in the same way a spider would fight a wasp, not in the way a hero would fight the devil. He would have seen Eichmann as his enemy in a struggle for survival, not as a bad person fighting a good one.
As Jung pointed out, the Eichmanns and Hitlers of the world can only commit such horrible crimes because they are unconscious of their dark sides. They project their own darkness onto Jews, immigrants, and others, believing that their crimes against them serve a higher purpose, and that the positive effects will outweigh the negative ones. When we make the same mistake and ignore the darkness within us, we become like Hitler and Eichmann.
To admit our own dark sides, we have to refuse to be an enemy to it. We must accept that we are just as imperfect as others and that our political convictions might be imperfect, too. To reduce the intensity of the debate, we should start with ourselves, rather than hating someone else for not doing the same thing.
Is Trump evil and his opponents good?
Jung’s logic also applies to everyone opposing Donald Trump. Those who consider Trump evil and their fight against him the embodiment of goodness, also neglect their own darkness.
Even when we strongly disagree with what Trump says or does, we have to remind ourselves that our differences are political. We can oppose his policies, but there is no reason to hate Trump or his supporters. These people do the same thing as everyone else – they support their beliefs. While they do so without recognizing Jung’s insights, this provides no reason for us to ignore them, too.
To create constructive societies, we have to avoid supporting destructive ideas. Carl Jung provided the road map for how to achieve this goal within ourselves.
- The idea that there are inherently opposed forces of good and evil is destructive. It creates a white knight – us – and an infinitely evil threat – them. Nothing could be worse than them winning; therefore, we can do no wrong.
- To overcome the division of the world into good and evil, Carl Jung advises us to acknowledge the darkness within us. When we suppress this darkness, we project it outward and fight proxy wars against the scapegoats for our darker sides.
- Those people who oppose Trump must avoid the same mistake that Trump and many of his supporters make. Trump, too, is not an infinitely evil threat, but merely a bad politician.