The other night I dreamt about Donald Trump. I hadn’t planned to and hadn’t wanted to. I don’t know him personally and I’ve never before dreamt about a presidential candidate or a politician.
But there he was, large and urgent, washing his hands at a sink with ornate golden faucets in a very big marble bathroom in one of his residences. As I waited to use the sink myself, I could hear the noise of a party.
Mr. Trump is, of course, becoming a central figure in the daily drama of our national life. He’s there whenever we open the paper or turn on the news. And virtually every day, he is being described, discussed, and analyzed in the op-ed columns. He’s an uninvited presence at dinner table conversations and on phone calls from friends everywhere on the planet.
A few days before my dream, I’d received an email from a philanthropist who was congratulating me on The Center for Mind-Body’s work with population-wide psychological trauma. Just before he signed off, the philanthropist observed that if the Republican primaries were any indication, our work with psychological trauma might become even more necessary.
Reading the email, a white colleague, whose boyfriend is black, remarked that the philanthropist was likely right. She had recently had what she described a, “terrifying dream” that she believed was provoked byDonald Trump. “I was waiting,” she told me “in line at McDonald’s. In addition to the usual features – lines, stations for soft drinks and an ordering area – there was an open space where a multi-ethnic and multi-racial crowd was salsa dancing. Then, suddenly, eight armed men, in clothes that indicated that they were white supremacists, lined up in front of the entrance, blocking the way out. They were holding their rifles in front of them, covering their chests.”
I mentioned my colleague’s dream to an old friend, a veteran of the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s movements of the 60’s and 70s. She told me that she too had had a frightening dream. She attributed it to her worries about Senator Ted Cruz as well as Mr. Trump. It was words only, no visual images. “A voice boomed as if from a loudspeaker; ‘THEY’RE TAKING AWAY OUR VOTE’ I knew it meant they’re taking the vote away from women and minorities. And then my ex-husband spoke up; ‘But not from me.’ ‘No.’ I shouted to him in my dream. ‘You’re wrong. You’re Jewish. They’re taking the vote from you too.’”
More than a hundred years ago in The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud observed that dreams repeat and rework the events of the previous day. And, of course, Mr. Trump has been unendingly present, every day, for months. And people, as Freud well knew, dream about what has traumatized them. Such nightmares, are in fact, one of the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. The sleeping soldier feels immobilized once again in the burning Humvee, frantically, impotently, watching as his buddy dies. It shouldn’t be all that surprising then that Donald Trump, who is drawing angry crowds, and praising their rage, is entering and troubling our unconscious as well as our conscious life.
Freud also noted the “condensation” that comes in dreams, with one image taking on multiple meanings. My colleague said that rifles across the chests of the white supremacists signaled to her that the hearts of these aggressors were closed. My friend believed that losing the vote symbolized the loss of everything she had worked for all her life; her ex-husband’s belief that he would be exempted, recalled to her the denial of German Jews who felt that somehow they would escape Hitler’s murderous design.
Which brings me back to my dream, in a bathroom, with a man washing his hands at the sink, a man whose protests about those hands and his penis size have been occupying enormous space in our national consciousness. In my dream, I ask Mr. Trump if he has read the copy of my most recent book, which apparently I’d sent him. I’m speaking to him with care and consideration, as I might to a new patient, one who seems to be, in that dream moment, as Mr. Trump so often seems on television, insecure, as well as blustering and boastful.
Mr. Trump is a bit embarrassed and tries to be courteous, but fumbles for words. He says he has “seen” the book, and remembers its blue cover but he hasn’t “really read it.”
I silently note the “seen” and the “really,” and remind him that it’s called Unstuck. “I think you might find it useful.” Mr. Trump seems interested, and I continue “It helps people free themselves from destructive and self-destructive patterns, “I say, as he’s heading to the bathroom door.
Freud would probably have noted the wish fulfilling fantasy of my dream, the ever hopeful psychiatrist’s belief in the power of understanding and compassion to heal souls who are not only troubling and dangerous, but also troubled.
James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist and a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Georgetown Medical School, is author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
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