Chapter 4: Dreams of Incompetence and Cognitive Decline


There has been a great deal of speculation about Trump’s mental and legal competency. News articles, op-ed writers and Ivy League professors analyze his impulsivity, and his compulsive lying. Speech analysts examine his verbal skills and idiosyncratic use of language for signs of decline or dementia.

Last night I dreamt that we were all forced to go to a Trump event and at the end we all got his autograph, but he misspelled Donald as Dinald on everyone’s poster of his face.[i]

Approximately thirty-six dreams in the collection elucidate themes of decline, dementia, incompetence, disinhibition and infantilization with regard to the current leader of the United States.

Last night I had a dream Donald Trump was singing the national anthem for some event and midway through completely forgot all the words then after he was done someone yelled “hey at least were standing up though, right?”[ii]

I had a dream that Donald trump bought everyone breakfast but didn’t get anyone’s breakfast order right[iii]

Certainly, these dreamers could be processing explicit concerns about the neurological health and cognitive functioning of the current president, but it is as likely that these dreamers, and the nation as a whole, are contending with deeper archetypal content. Jungian theorist Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig writes about the aging process, and the archetypes that are projected upon and activated in older people. Most of us are familiar with the archetype of the Wise Old Man, but Guggenbühl-Craig posits The Old Fool as a shadow aspect of the aging experience. The Old Fool, increasingly nostalgic, loses interest in contemporary technologies and modes of thinking.

Old people themselves are often unaware that they have lost contact with the collective psyche, with the collective conscious and unconscious. They think the young people have lost direction. One often hears older professors complain that students are disoriented, that they have lost all values.~ Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, The Old Fool and the Corruption of Myth

The archetypal Demented Ruler, The Mad Emperor, or Wounded King of Arthurian legend, lives with a wound that never heals, and reins over a land that is likewise suffering and troubled.

When old people stay in power, it often means disaster. Power affects them like a drug: they no longer suffer from the fear of deterioration, from the fear of death and dying. Instead they turn into tyrants feeding on illusions. They lose the capacity to understand their own behavior, and since wisdom has been projected on to them anyway, nobody corrects or challenges them any more.     ~ Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig, The Old Fool and the Corruption of Myth

If, in the symbolic realm of myth dream and fairy-tale, the health of the ruler reflects the health of his kingdom, what do dreams of Trump in cognitive decline say about our unconscious diagnosis of the state of the nation and our country’s prognosis?

The night before last I actually had a dream that Donald Trump came to a party I was having. Nobody would talk to him so I tried to be nice and introduced myself. He had horrible breath and immediately started lying about the most mundane things. He was clearly not well in my dream, like you could see a deadness growing behind his eyes. When someone finally asked me what I said to him, I just should my head and said “He’s very sick.”[iv]

Last night I dreamed that Trump said something insane and mindless it was clear he had dementia i don’t remember what just lots of stuttering then today the report gets released of his statements about Haiti and Nigeria and he trends on Twitter again just like the dream[v]

I had a dream that Donald Trump punched me in the face. He was living in my house and was throwing tantrums like my g-pa used to when he was dealing with dementia. He wasn’t getting his way so he punched me in the face to try to prove his point.[vi]

I had a dream last night that trump admitted his cognitive ability was declining and he needed to move into a memory care unit.[vii]

If the president is symbolic of the disturbances of our larger national and cultural challenges, how might our institutional and collective memory demonstrate a comparable decline? Certainly the news cycle and the attentions of social media seem to be rife with a kind of pathological forgetting. The emergence of the internet as archive, and our reliance on technology has transformed what we do and do not need to store in our individual memory files. Fairly recent pre-internet historical events, if a record has not been documented online seem to be forgotten entirely.

Infantilization, treating or characterizing an adult as if they were an infant, is a common theme in these collected dreams. Excusing, under-estimating, minimizing adult actions as if they were the harmless gestures of a baby or framing the president’s behavior as “childish”

Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

~William Shakespeare, As You Like It

Accurately or not, the decline of older age has been historically, archetypally depicted as a kind of “second infancy.” Whether these dreams associate loss of inhibition and impulsivity with developmental immaturity or the regression of advanced age, there is the notion, – including in my own dream which began this project – that in our dreaming, a kind of childishness nearly exonerates the president from responsibility for his actions.

My friend texted me this morning saying she dreamed that Trump was a literal baby she had to take care of ~ Anonymous

Last night I had a weird dream about Donald Trump and Steve Bannon throwing teething biscuits and strained carrots at each other from two high chairs[viii].

Dreamt Donald Trump sat all alone in a playground, because no-one wanted to play with him. Offered him a cup of tea.[ix]

Dreams which depict the president as a “big baby”:

I dreamed last night that I applied a MASSIVE nicotine patch to Donald Trump’s back while he slumped over my knee like a giant, clammy baby.[x]

Last night’s dream. I had trapped Trump in one of those baby playpen/travel cot things and built a wall of chunky kitkats around it which I added to whenever he tried to speak. Analyse that!![xi]

I had a dream in which I was criticizing Trump with my best friend, then a giant-sized Trump appeared and started chasing me in a building. He was much taller than the ceiling and he literally made the sound of a crying toddler.[xii]

Dreams of deteriorating social inhibition activate the dreamer’s sense of disgust:

I had a dream I was holding a door shut so Donald Trump couldn’t get in and then I heard him fart really loudly[xiii]

i just remembered that i had a dream earlier where i walked in on donald trump doing a press conference but he was shirtless, orange, and eating full sticks of butter by the handful.[xiv]

Other dreamers seem to frame Trump’s incapacity either as an innate lack of intelligence, or a chosen commitment to ignorance – rather than as a sign of deterioration:

Unrelated, but I dreamed that I was watching a newscast of Donald Trump trying to add Africa to a map because he thought it wasn’t on there because he didn’t know geography, and I was almost late to class because I thought I was awake because it wasn’t too unrealistic tbh [xv]

But whether the president is viewed as incompetent due to age and disease or as a result of his characterological make-up – the consequences may still be felt to be life-threatening:

Had a dream where I was married to this weird white lady, had a heart attack at my wedding where Donald Trump performed surgery on me. I remember thinking “I can’t live like this. There is no way he did a good job.”[xvi]




[i] @celiacrisassy

[ii] @pcoyne3

[iii] @hippydest

[iv] @tilton_raccoon

[v] @fritz_gruber

[vi] @crclark51515

[vii] @SoozleMcDoozle

[viii] @HCwrites

[ix] @Dr_Milkyway

[x] @hugh_raine

[xi] @mardybum_73

[xii] @lyswenn

[xiii] @pennytbh

[xiv] @BridgetteLong_

[xv] @NerdyChineseBoy

[xvi] @davisabsolute