By Dr. Laurie Nadel
“Have you Americans gone bonkers?” my friends in England keep asking. The Donald makes them nervous.
It’s not just what he says.
A landmark study called The Silent Language identifies 93 percent of all communication as unconscious. Fifty-five percent of the message is conveyed through physiology: facial expression, posture, gestures, breathing and the faintest ideomotor muscle movements known as “tells”. Thirty-eight percent comes through tone of voice: volume, pitch and rhythm. Only seven percent is verbal content.
That’s correct. Only 7% of any given message is conveyed in words.
With two doctoral papers on the physiology of nonverbal communication and 25 years of private practice under my belt, I consider myself a student of the unconscious mind. What I see is that Trump’s march through the electoral minefield has gained such momentum because he speaks to the collective unconscious; specifically, that collective 11-year-old who feels threatened and helpless. Although a number of analysts have accurately identified the current of anger that Trump has tapped, anger comes from feeling helpless. Fusing with a wave of rage makes us feel empowered. The Republican candidate’s physical bulk, posture, facial expressions and tone of voice hook into the psyche of that 11-year-old who wants Daddy to beat up those bad guys.
Seriously, no one person can fix the range and complexity of crises erupting right now. It is as delusional for us to believe that any one person can rescue us as it is for anyone to believe that he or she alone can do it. But riding in on a primal wave of visceral emotion, Trump wants you to believe that if elected, yes, Daddy will fix it.
As a reality TV star, Trump swept onto the political center stage as a glamorous celebrity whose status reflects cultural values gone south. No longer are we focused on the Founding Fathers’ values—freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble peacefully and the rule of law. They have been replaced with what I call The Four Assumptions: Bigger is better. Faster is better. Newer is better. More is better. To millions of voters, more fame plus more money = more smart.
From this perspective, it’s easy to perform sleight-of-mouth maneuvers that distract attention from core values to pseudo values that fame and wealth are more important than freedom and integrity. Seduced by The Four Assumptions, we see what we want to believe rather than believe what we see. After awhile, we can’t tell the difference between reality and reality TV. It’s easier to be entertained by someone who plays three-card monte with the facts. His unpredictability keeps us wondering what’s going to happen next. What’s happening next is that for the first time, Amnesty International is sending human rights observers to the Republican and Democratic National Conventions to document potential abuses by law enforcement. “There’s a potentially toxic mix here of very heated rhetoric and an increase in law enforcement preventing people from protesting lawfully, and that combination is deeply concerning to us,” Eric Ferrero, Amnesty International USA’s deputy executive director told CNN on Thursday.
On May 22nd, Randy Kay reported on CNN’s AC360 that Drs. Drew Weston and Joel Weinberger had conducted a study of some 750 voters’ unconscious responses to words associated with both candidates. Participants were shown 15 words in different colors and asked to click on those they associated with each candidate. The unconscious response to candidate Clinton was that she is “scary” and “presidential”. Candidate Trump: “bigot” and “leader”. Regarding the apparent cognitive dissonance Dr. Weinberger said, “Consciously, you don’t like what he (Trump) says, but laughing is a positive emotion”. Therefore, the unconscious mind coded Trump as more likeable.
According to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the collective unconscious is a reservoir of universal patterns of perception that anyone understands. He found that universal patterns and symbols occur in cultures all over the world going back to the primitive cave dwellers who carved into the walls symbols of stars, moons and crosses as a way of seeking connection to a force greater than themselves.
In announcing Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate Donald Trump said, “I’m doing a good job, but I’m only a messenger”. Teresa Oster, a retired Jungian analyst and screenwriter in Stuart, Florida says, “The collective and cultural unconscious communicates to Trump. It has possessed Trump. He reflects this message back to his audience. Unconsciously, the audience has created him”. Oster sees Trump as the archetype or universal symbol of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger. But Hermes is also the trickster. “He is the jokester, a thief and the inventor of lying,” she says. “He is disruptive to Apollo and turns the tables on power. This is what Trump’s audience seems to feel about him, so they hear what they want to hear. His audience feels disenfranchised, left out of America’s promise of prosperity. Trump promises to give it back to them. They are not much concerned about Trump’s contradictions (another Hermes trait), or his lies or his ruthless style.”
Oster sees Hillary Clinton as the archetype of Athena, “the Greek goddess of wisdom, war, the arts, industry, justice and skill”. She says, “Athena is the goddess most prepared to win in what is still called a man’s world. On the level of the cultural unconscious, Clinton would be on the receiving end of negative projections of deeply held American beliefs in male dominance, which goes back to our Puritan roots”. Athena is perceived as unfeminine and her double-edged sword, warlike.
No one understands the collective unconscious better than Dr. Clotaire Rapaille, author of the international best-seller The Culture Code. A Jungian analyst in Paris in the 1970s, Dr. Rapaille was asked by an executive of Nestle to see if he could figure out why the company was having so much difficulty introducing coffee to Japan. He writes, “I knew that tea meant a great deal to this culture but I had no sense of what emotions they attached to coffee”.
He developed a three-stage process for focus groups to help him get to emotions and beliefs that were embedded well below the level of conscious, rational thought. First, they sat around a table and responded to questions. Then the table was removed and participants sat on the floor cutting up magazines to create collages about how they felt about coffee. In the third stage, they had to lie on the floor, listening to soothing music while Dr. Rapaille conducted a hypnotic regression session, taking them back to childhood. They revealed that they felt tea was the drink of their grandparents. It represented history and tradition. On the other hand, coffee was the drink of America and America was the land of tomorrow. Coffee was the beverage of the future. Dr. Rapaille told Nestle to develop animated commercials to air on Saturday mornings when children were watching cartoons on TV. Today, he writes “coffee sales—nearly nonexistent in 1970—now surpass half a billion dollars a year in Japan”.
In the 1990s, he was hired by Chrysler to figure out what the collective unconscious wanted in a Jeep. “They’d done extensive market research and had asked dozens of focus groups hundreds of questions…they just hadn’t asked the right ones,” he writes. “They kept listening to what people said. This is always a mistake.”
Following a similar three-stage focus group format that he had developed for Nestle, Dr. Rapaille uncovered people’s early memories about Jeeps. The recurring theme was being in the great outdoors and being able to drive where there were no roads. The Jeep represented the American pioneers’ spirit of freedom. “The Jeep means, ‘I don’t need a road. I make the road’. That’s what the American spirit is all about. Let’s go and do where nobody has gone before,” he says. It was Dr. Rapaille who came up with the strategy of those TV commercials showing a businessman leaving the office, getting into a Jeep and driving to the top of a mountain. Sales exploded. The collective unconscious had a new vehicle. But did the dream deliver?
In the 1990s, I was teaching critical thinking for the American Management Association, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and several pharmaceutical companies. For two and a half years, I conducted an informal survey of the executives and managers from major corporations who were my students. My question: “Did you ever make a decision without thinking critically?” Consistently, in each class, more than 2/3 of my students raised their hands. The answers went something like this: “I saw a TV commercial with a Jeep on top of a mountain and I had to have one. So I bought it and now it doesn’t fit in the company garage/my driveway/the parking garage in the mall.”
The margins of reality blur when the conscious mind is lulled into a quasi-hypnotic state. Maybe spending 12 hours a day staring at screens has something to do with it but when the conscious mind is on overload, the unconscious takes the wheel and starts driving the personality. Not only does the collective unconscious go shopping, it votes.
I caught up with Dr. Rapaille in between his consulting trips to China and Europe to ask him how the collective unconscious is affecting our electoral process. (He and I met several years earlier when I was a field producer on a shoot for a documentary about the business of disease.)
“If you don’t understand the collective unconscious, you don’t get anything done. Here’s what’s fascinating about this election,” he says. “It’s better than any novella. That’s why the cable stations are so happy with Donald Trump. They never had so many people watching. If we didn’t have a Donald Trump we would have to invent one.” Comparing the candidates as cars Dr. Rapaille says, “Trump is doing something that nobody has done. I hope he can be the Jeep. As for Hillary Clinton, she’s a Volvo station wagon”.
Americans are “anti-intellectual..afraid of ideologies,” according to Dr. Rapaille, who believes that “Donald doesn’t have an ideology. I’m not sure he knows what an ideology is”. His appeal to the collective unconscious comes from his ability to be surprising. Dr. Rapaille says, “We don’t know what the next crazy thing he is going to do or say. He sees Trump as a John Wayne archetype, “the hero who shoots first and asks questions later”. In contrast, Hillary Clinton speaks to the conscious rational mind. “She is giving us a structure that is from the cortex: pre-organized, coached and reading from the teleprompter. Something is missing,” he says. “Maybe she should go out with a crazy boyfriend like a hard rock singer. It will make her more human.”
In the end, it comes down to survival and safety. The candidate who can reassure the voters at an unconscious level that ensuring their safety is his or her prime directive will come in first. “We need to take our kids to school without worrying that a crazy guy with a machine gun is going to kill them,” says Dr. Rapaille. “To do this, we need a breakthrough.”
If not, my English friends’ concerns could come to pass. A year from now, we may indeed be going bonkers.
One winter Wednesday morning in August I huddled against the snow to look for flowers. On my way to Buenos Aires Airport, I planned to bring them to the Mothers of the Disappeared who march in front of the Presidential Palace holding photos of their children who were taken by the secret police during the Argentine military government’s
“dirty war”. Between 1976 and 1983, between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed after being arrested for being dissidents or on suspicion of opposing the military regime. The statistics vary so greatly because thousands disappeared. Elections were restored in 1983 but the mothers walk to remind the collective unconscious not to forget to remember.
The woman who sold the flowers worked out of the back of a small van. She wore a sweater with holes, held together with safety pins. The tips of her fingers were red and chapped. Clearly, she was struggling to earn a living standing in the cold. This was the best she could do. So I felt bad when she pointed out that I had paid for the roses with Chilean, not Argentine, coins. I offered to go to the drugstore on the corner to get the correct change.
Folding my hand in hers, she placed the Chilean coins in my hand and held on. Our eyes locked. “Senora,” she said, “Sometimes we lose things that are worth far more than money.”