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Meet the Psychotherapist Studying Your Dreams About Trump

Unpleasant as they may be, our dreams about the president reveal volumes about our hopes and fears

Ever dream about Trump? I do, which may not be surprising for someone who frequently has to think and write about our political climate — but that doesn’t make it any less awkward. When I bed down for the night, I expect some hours of relief from our big orange boy, and then, bam, there he is. I believe this first happened around the week he was inaugurated, and I dreamed about having to sit next to him during a somber service in a cathedral-like space. Another dream or two focused on his long black coat, which seemed to grow even longer before my eyes, billowing out like a sail behind him.

Most recently, it was an oddly conceptual and happy dream that involved a popular Trump meme. I’m sure you’ve seen the photo of the president bellowing something at a boy mowing the White House lawn, which has been variously captioned ever since:

Well, in my dream, I was scrolling through Twitter (sad, I know) and came upon a version where Trump was edited out of the shot. Immediately I understood from this image that he had also been removed from office — the meme was a comment on his abrupt departure.

My tweet about the dream got picked up by 45 Dreams Project, an ongoing collection and analysis of Trump dreams (and nightmares) by psychotherapist Martha Crawford. So far, she’s amassed more than 3,000 examples, beginning with a Trump dream she had herself in September 2016: In it, she was expected to care for a feeble, diaper-clad Trump who appeared to survive on bowls of dog food. More than a year later, after a frightening medical diagnosis, she dreamed about righteously campaigning against him. “Might our dreams be call or a warning from something real in our psyches that we have not yet faced?” she wondered. From sessions with her patients, she knew she “was not the only one who had dreamed of this president and the forces he represents in the American psyche.” So she put out a call for more of these dreams.

“Let’s listen in and see if we can hear the wisdom of the collective unconscious,” she wrote in the first blog post for the 45 Dreams Project. Now she is doing the work of sorting those dreams into topics and subcategories including propaganda, authoritarianism, sex, dementia, hair, impeachment, genocide and pee. (My own meme dream would no doubt belong to the social media section.) Each month, she’ll be releasing a new chapter of her findings; the first deals with dreams of “hubris and inflation,” encompassing all manner of material on narcissistic themes.

I had a few questions for Crawford about her process, the trends she’d identified, and what Trump dreams may tell us about our hopes and fears.

For starters, can you tell me about your background as a psychotherapist and your specialties in the field? Have you studied dreams before?

I have had a generalist practice seeing many different clients from many walks of life for the past 25 years. I’ve always had a strong interest in contemporary psychoanalytic thought and Jungian theory, and so I’ve worked with my own dreams and the dreams of my clients for a long time.

How did you come up with the idea to collect Trump dreams? What do you hope to learn from them?

I was diagnosed with a rare cancer at the time Trump was elected — and felt a strong urge to figure out how I could, while using my limited energies wisely, help confront, ground and process the collective crises that had become explicit. I thought of Charlotte Beradt’s dream collection, [written in 1930s Germany and, in 1966] published as The Third Reich of Dreams — and realized that I could collect and consider our dreams at this national crossroads. And that [that] might be the best use of the skills I had to offer.  

Have you identified any common Trump dreams/nightmares, or are they all pretty different? Do you see recurring themes? I know your most recent analysis touched on “hubris and inflation.”

Yes — I sorted the dreams into categories — many simple dreams repeated themselves verbatim across multiple dreamers, many explore similar themes, fears, hopes etc.

Here is a link to the outline of the sorted collection — each category has multiple dreams circulating the similar themes. Some dreams shed light on the same topic from different perspectives.

Much has been made of Trump’s omnipresence in media — he saturates it, and he’s everywhere. Is that why he intrudes on our unconscious lives as well?

I think he both emerged from and activates — as a symbolic figure — our unconscious conflicts. Do you remember the “evil clown scare” that possessed the country and the media in the months leading up to the election? Did the clowns make us scared or did we make the clowns because we were already scared?

The president holds the power that manifests aspects of our culture and our psyches that have been repressed and ignored. And once it has surfaced, we must confront the reality we created.

Is Trump possibly a figure of the dreamworld because he seems to make real life surreal and nightmarish?

As I wrote in Chapter One of my project:

Just as each of us holds a fiercely glorious individual lens on our lives — we may only see our way through our collective fate when we hold all of our individual pieces up together, to assemble each piece of our partial truth into a larger picture. What might these dreams tell us about all of us and each of us?

“If the whole is to change, the individual must change himself.” —C. G Jung, On Marginalia on Contemporary Events

Could you tell, based on a Trump dream, whether the dreamer supports his agenda or not? From what I’ve read of your findings, even people who hate him sometime dream of him in a sympathetic light.

Some people interpret or comment on their dreams [and] make their stance obvious.  But oftentimes the dream is stated without a clear allegiance. There are dreams of approval, for example, that coincide with the dreamers conscious stance and [are] reported as “good dreams.” Someone with a negative view of this administration might report the same dream content and be distressed by it.  

Is there any trick to avoiding dreaming about Trump, or anyone else we might find unpleasant?

I think the more conscious we are about what this era says about us collectively and as individuals, the more actively curious we are about how we are affected and how we affect our national lives, the less our unconscious will toss up these images. I’m hoping that this dream collection is a way to just hold up a small mirror so we can see how we each are driven and drive our mass psychology.

I’ve noticed you’re also collecting dreams about climate change, for a separate project. Have you come across any dreams that combine both topics?

Absolutely: There is a subsection of the category on Violated Norms and Taboos, “Against Nature,” which are dreams of ecological, environmental violence — which could have many interpretations. Certainly one of them could be anxieties about this administration’s environmental policies.   

Finally, what do you think the president’s dreams are like?

Some people who are primarily driven and by unconscious impulses are kind of controlled by their unconscious imagination — and often don’t remember or concern themselves with their dreams. But I have no idea about or access the president’s inner life, so I really couldn’t say or speculate. I’m more interested in what he shows us about ourselves.