Quite the pickle America and the world finds itself in. While I am Canadian, I’m just going to say “we” for the rest of the piece because a Donald Trump presidency is unprecedentedly significant for the rest of the world. Besides, we all have a hand in this.
Confusion and fear reign as many wonder how on earth this election outcome was possible. Collective shock has taken hold. Dazed, and on the heels of Brexit and the US election, we immediately find ourselves at yet another crossroads.
With the nuclear codes having somehow been placed into the hands of such a damaged and volatile human being, the dysfunctionality of our economic and political systems have been laid bare. Why are we here? There is plenty of blame to go around, between the ratings-hungry and fear-mongering cable news networks, both major political parties and the people. But the challenge is to move beyond the partisan fingering-pointing. There are bigger picture, deeper issues facing the Unites States, and the world, that are more relevant to the situation than anything to do with Democratic or Republican parties, both of which have become transparently corrupt and ineffective.
The nature of the current citizen response is critically important. If those on both sides continue to parse and cherry-pick information in order to vilify each other the danger to the nation, and the world, could be catastrophic. The reality, masked by decades and centuries of avoidance and denial, is that America is beset by disowned foundational trauma, revolving around the Native American Genocide, Slavery and The Civil War, the effects of each of which continue to wreak havoc, hundreds of years after the fact. Standing Rock, the police shootings of African-Americans and the recent election highlight the explosive synergy between these three historic traumas, which has now come to a head.
In all three traumas, responsibility and contrition have been largely avoided by Christian Americans who now suffer from a generational and profound shame that nobody wants to really look at, for obvious reasons. Some will balk at what is being presented here, suggesting that those things happened long ago. The argument that those are issues of the past has never been as hollow as it is at this moment when the continued impact of these traumas is now plain as day.
In the long term, when traumas, personal or global, are left untended to then the perpetrator becomes the victim, a slave to the guilt that has not been reconciled. Carrying around this burden has become debilitating for the United States, but also for the world as much of humanity struggles under their own versions of terrible betrayal of their fellow humans.
Our avoidance in tackling our traumas is totally understandable. We are afraid to look in the mirror because of what we will see. It’s painful. Between the latent historical traumas and our personal childhood trauma, which so many of us have, we find ourselves at a tipping point. This state of affairs can no longer be endured. One way or another, it must shift.
Enter: Donald Trump, an extreme manifestation of our collective neglected trauma screaming for attention, desperate for acceptance, yet perpetually rejected. It’s not on purpose. It’s too painful to engage with, so we distract ourselves to avoid the truth that has become patently obvious: America, the world, is sick, the severity of the condition represented by President-elect Trump.
Whether you voted for him or not, his is the prevailing energy at the fore at this point in time. And everyone has a piece of it because nothing happens without the tacit/active approval of the people. At the extremes, which have become increasingly normalized, some of us hate along with Mr. Trump, and others just hate Mr. Trump. In the end, beneath the veneer, there is little difference between the two positions.
What does it mean that Congress has a 13% approval rating? In what other arena are the players so inept yet still allowed to keep doing the same old same old? What does it mean when a paltry 53% of eligible voters participated in one of the most consequential elections in the history of the United States? By the way, let us not distract ourselves with the Electoral College and the argument that Hillary Clinton won more of the popular vote – by an unconvincing 2%. The more important figure is that almost 75% of eligible voters cared neither for her nor Donald Trump. Does democracy get any less watered-down than the ‘winner’ sporting a 25% mandate?
Like it or not, our representatives reveal how well we think of ourselves. We are the bosses. These are the people we have hired. A 13% Congress persists because of a 300 year old legacy of sacrificing our feelings at the altar of The Age of Reason. Regardless of gender, the feminine, the emotional, the instinctual, the gentle and the big picture have been overwhelmed by a masculine, logical, specializing, practical and penetrating perspective that crosses class and religious boundaries. The result of this profound, historic imbalance between the masculine and the feminine is a fearful, abusive, violent, misogynistic, racist, pornographic culture that has relegated community, compassion and empathy to sideshow status, leaving in its wake a traumatized and confused culture that escapes and survives via its cornucopia of addictions that have become normalized.
Mr. Trump is the living embodiment of what is axiomatic but still not well understood: what we reject most vigorously in others is an energetic match for what lies within ourselves. That’s tough, because it requires us to look within. It requires us to take responsibility for ourselves. Unfortunately, self-reflection is not a strong suit of the hyper-rational mind, since it lies in the emotional sphere, where the heart connection resides. How many of us have only limited access to that receptive and loving place? Who amongst us knows what joy really tastes like? Instead, how many of us are fixing for a fight, our latent anger and frustration lurking just beneath the mask we deploy every day to engage with a world that makes so little sense? We chide our children for throwing tantrums or bullying when we have taught them everything they know. Things haven’t gone the way of Trump haters so they’re going to throw a hissy-fit – a tantrum because things didn’t work out the way they needed them to; so that they could feel okay; so that they could feel that things are still under control.
How many of us regularly unleash our incredulity on a random person over a harmless infraction? As pedestrians, cyclists and drivers we are ready to wag an accusatory finger at one another over some apparent advantage taken, or a moment of unawareness, that might have delayed us from reaching our destination by thirty seconds. And while we are fiercely condemning them for their act, we instantly take in their appearance, their race, their gender, their age, their sexual orientation, their fitness level and come up with a personality profile that is born of ego, fear, judgment and bias; that conjures vulnerability in the other; to make us feel better; superior; to give us the justification we need to avoid recognizing our role in creating that very experience in order to show us our state of consciousness; empathy on life-support.
THE CIVIL WAR AND THE CREATION OF THE CONTINENTAL POVERTY DIVIDE
Nothing more needs to be said about the lasting ignominy of both the Native American Genocide and Slavery. However, the third trauma, The Civil War, is not so straight forward. A closer look at the motivations behind The Civil War sheds an important light on the ever-present North-South divide, represented here in a map which details the aptly named, Continental Poverty Divide:
How did this grossly unequal state of affairs come to be? A great myth of American history is that disagreement between North and South over Slavery was the primary reason for the Civil War, and that Slavery was mostly a Southern problem. In fact, the reason for the conflict was overwhelmingly economics. Of course, the victor always gets to write the history, and so it is that Abraham Lincoln has deified, having been credited with acting on behalf of slaves when in fact he only became an abolitionist, and a limited one at that, when it suited his political ends.
In September, 1858, during his campaign for the Senate, Mr. Lincoln said to a crowd in Charleston, Illinois:
“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races (applause); that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people… And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Furthermore, “racism in the North was as entrenched as slavery in the South, and it would take the war to shake both. New York blacks could not vote unless they owned $250 in property (a qualification not applied to whites). A proposal to abolish this, put on the ballot in 1860, was defeated two to one (although Lincoln carried New York by 50,000 votes).”
For Lincoln, the overwhelming imperative was keeping the Union together with Federal Government supremacy over fiscal matters, especially taxation. During the Civil War, in a letter to one of his generals here wrote:
“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy Slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about Slavery and the colored race, I do because it helps to save this Union…”
When the Emancipation Proclamation “was issued January 1, 1863, it declared slaves free in those areas still fighting against the Union (which it listed very carefully), and said nothing about slaves behind Union lines. The London Spectator wrote concisely: “The principle is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States.”
153 years later, the revisionist history is gospel, which keeps alive the idea that the South was, and is, clearly more racist than the North. Jessica Barron, a sociologist at Duke University, says, “We as a nation do not like to talk about slavery in the north or our 12 presidents who owned slaves…” She goes on to say, “we need to understand that the entire foundation of the US is built on a racial hierarchy that has always said that white is better than black – not just in the south.” No doubt African-Americans in Chicago, Baltimore and New York would concur. (Sidebar: while African-Americans are almost 3 times as likely to be killed by police than Whites, any guesses as to who has it worse? The long forgotten who are even lower on the totem pole, if it can be believed, than African-Americans: Native Americans)
In short, despite conventional American denial, The Civil War was largely about economic and political control (which, of course, included control over decisions regarding Slavery). The Southern states resisted; in keeping with the ideals of the Declaration of Independence in which they would be free from the tyranny of centralized control. Indeed, it could be argued that inasmuch as the South might be ‘more’ racist than the north, that this position has been heavily influenced by the disingenuous prevailing history that the Civil War was about Slavery.
Regardless, The Civil War resulted a horrendous loss of life and the economic devastation of the South, from which it has yet to recover. The trauma the North inflicted on the South has not been reconciled or remedied, which means the trauma still remains in place, the deep distrust of the Establishment forces within the Federal Government passed down from generation to generation, still fresh, 153 years later.
Presently, the focus of the Left is, mistakenly, on the racist component of the vote instead of on what is more pertinent: namely, the continuing alienation of, and humiliation of, the Tier 2 Americans in the South. Add to this, the nation’s general Depression-era level income inequality and you have many millions of people who have been left in the economic dust and who have little faith in a political system that has not acted on their behalf.
After 153 years, millions of people are still tired of not being heard, tired not being acknowledged, tired of being so taken advantage of by a political and economic system that is absurdly skewed in favor of the Establishment and tired of being dismissed as simply racist. Is there a racist component to the Trump vote? Undoubtedly, since the Republican Party and their new President, have cynically used the racial card to gain support from frustrated and disenfranchised people. But to focus too much on the racial component, at the expense of the aforementioned factors, misses the larger point and perpetuates the divisions that brought about a Trump Presidency. If this chasm is allowed to persist, and expand, it could boil over into another national conflict.
THE MORAL AND INTELLECTUAL BANKRUPCTY OF AMERICA’S POLITICAL PARTIES
The status quo is so intolerable that millions risked electing, yes, a dangerous man, but also a man who spoke some truth to power, which no other Republican, or Democratic, candidate did. No doubt, to the extent that Mr. Trump spoke truth to power, it was self-serving. Nevertheless, he tapped into the national, nay global, push by people who have had enough of a system that benefits the few and abandons the many.
America is still living with this unresolved Civil War trauma, which has come to a head in our extreme left-brained culture that has trouble seeing, and feeling, the spaces between right and wrong, Left and Right, black and white, Democrat or Republican. We are stuck between a revisionist history rock and a binary approach hard place.
The emperor, the political system, has no clothes, or more accurately has had the clothes torn off. Do politicians really underestimate the people this much? Do they think we don’t see when they are being so crassly obvious? Well, we are starting to see. Don’t you see that? No, as amazing as that sounds. They do not see because the blinders that the elite have worn for centuries have engendered a generational myopia. Politicians of all stripes are so embedded in the game, so obsessed with maintaining or gaining power, so rationally divorced from their feelings, so beholden to their financial backers, that they are literally incapable of acting in the best interests of the people. This dog-eat-dog virtual-reality bubble that the Establishment, political and economic, has marooned itself in, has been at play for so long that they cannot see the forest for the trees – with grave consequences for the citizenry. Meanwhile, the confused citizenry extends the unconsciousness deep into the culture, unable to see through the fog…
This lack of vision and clarity has America on the precipice as their deep shame, entombed as it has been in the netherworld, rears its ugly head. The knee jerk reaction, generationally practiced, is to avoid and reject, in order to protect ourselves from the pain. The question is, will we open the door and engage with the beast on our terms, which will require unprecedented courage, or will we try to barricade the door, shut our eyes and cover our ears while shouting, la la la la la la, as loud as possible to drown out the sound of the battering ram that will, eventually, smash down the door?
We are all now perpetrator and victim, all rolled into one. None of us are purposely trying to make things worse, not the people and not the politicians. We’re all just trying to keep up, running, hair straight back, afraid to slow down, to stop. Afraid it will all catch up to us, like it has with 25% of Americans who suffer from mental illness, and countless more who are wondering what the hell is going on. We hear of epidemics all the time, none of which materialize, while we ignore the true epidemic in our midst. We are doing the best we can with a limited emotional toolbox.
How much global hate and ridicule have been, and continue to be, hurled Mr. Trump’s way? Many will argue that he clearly deserves it. After all, he’s just a loathsome, irredeemable fellow isn’t he? In our binary, rational world, we want to paint him with a single, vile brush. There. Done. Moving right along.
WHO IS DONALD TRUMP?
Speaking of a limited emotional toolbox, who is Donald Trump? “According to biographers, Trump’s father was a workaholic, a ruthless, cold and authoritarian man who believed life is a competition where the “killers” win.” He passed his public bigotry and trauma on to Donald, who was such a trouble-maker that his father sent him off to military boarding school. We don’t usually have to dig too far to glean that it’s likely the unruly child has been damaged, unconsciously to be sure, by the family. How many of us unwittingly pass off our trauma to our children, then deny it, then leave the confused child to try to figure it out, foreshadowing the seemingly inexorable continuation of generational betrayal and trauma.
Rest assured, like many of us, Mr. Trump has suffered – mightily. How can we know this? He infamously suggested to the Pakistani-American father who lost his son in combat that he, Mr. Trump, had sacrificed as much as Mr. and Mrs. Khan. Of course, he was roundly condemned for his apparently absurd comment, which he then doubled down on for good measure. We write him off as a fool, but his life and actions reveal deeper truths.
Many people are afraid of Mr. Trump. That they are correct to be concerned is ironically and frighteningly displayed in this video of Mr. Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, recounting their father’s foundational advice when they were 11 and 4 years old, respectively. It is with pride that the brothers speak of their father telling them that they must never trust anyone, including each other, and including himself, their father. What a thing to tell your children. Why would Mr. Trump tell them that? It’s not because he’s just a jerk, though that’s one aspect of his life experience. It’s because he has unquestionably – yes unquestionably – been visited with extreme betrayal in his childhood, his heart connection severed. The extremity of this betrayal, on one end of the continuum, mirrors the extremity of the absence of trust that he so unconsciously bequeaths to the world and to his sons, who continue the tradition. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If we don’t trust our parents, our gods, then how can we trust life? That’s exactly the point for Mr. Trump. Life is not to be trusted. Only someone who has come from trauma and betrayal feels this way. Earnestly believing he is helping his children, Mr. Trump brands his “wisdom” onto his children’s foreheads, for all to see. To Mr. Trump, anything other than this realpolitik approach would be naïve and irresponsible.
A person who has no trust is capable of the gravest actions. This is the person who is now steering the ship.
So, in a way, Mr. Trump has sacrificed more than Mr. and Mrs. Khan. The Khans’ lost a son yet exude dignity and decency. At some point, unable to cope, Mr. Trump lost himself, as do many of us. He sacrificed himself to survive. The alarming consequences are on display for the world to see; alarming because quite a few Americans are so traumatized and/or far gone with their disgust towards the Establishment that they will consider voting for such a man. Dig a little deeper and understand that some of these people are an energetic match for the traumatized Mr. Trump. The ascendency of Donald Trump reveals just how widespread the trauma is, and how badly the Establishment, bolstered by the populace, has mismanaged the country.
Meanwhile, the more his supporters are derided, the more emboldened and unpredictable they become, including the millions of them who may not display the obvious unsavoriness of Mr. Trump, but who feel deep-seated and unbearable dissatisfaction and insecurity with the status quo. Despite the complexity behind Mr. Trump’s support, our extreme black and white culture, like the old Loony Tunes cartoons, creates simplistic explanations to try to account for the widening chasm that is threatening to derail the American experiment. We’re afraid to see that all involved have legitimate beefs; and that the anger and confusion on both sides are simply two sides of the same coin.
Exiled from our emotional selves, we are suffering from a major compassion deficit. How can we have compassion for those apparently on the other side when we are so uncompassionate with ourselves? Well, in the place of compassion, what really may have won the day for President-Elect Trump is a national American pastime: Ridicule.
Where does this endemic ridicule come from? It is born from a deep insecurity that has been in place since America wrenched independence from Britain. America is still trying to prove itself; a brilliant but immature nation that resorts to constant self-aggrandizement to cover up rot upon which the self-professed greatest country in the world is built.
It is said that Donald Trump decided to run for President after the infamous 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner at which President Obama savagely humiliated him before the country’s elite. During the same dinner, comedian, Seth Meyers, also unleashed a full-scale assault on Mr. Trump. All told, it was a public humiliation for the ages. That dinner came on the heels of Donald Trump’s relentless harping on President Obama’s birth certificate. The frame of reference has drastically changed in recent days, but how many of us in the past laughed along with the ridicule, easily able to convince ourselves that Mr. Trump deserved every ounce of what the President dished out?
Before the election, Frontline on PBS had an excellent short video chronicling the events of that fateful night which helped set forces into motion that have somehow led to a Trump Presidency. In the video, Michael D’Antonio, author of the book, The Truth About Trump, says, “Donald dreads humiliation. And he dreads shame. And this is why he often attempts to humiliate and shame other people. So, in the case of the President ridiculing him, I think this was intolerable for Donald Trump.” The legendary level of Mr. Trump’s crassness perfectly reflects a man who has been deeply humiliated and shamed in his childhood. It has all been about payback ever since; to show the world that he is worthy, in the face of a never-ending barrage of insults that he has endured for decades, first from his father, then from the world. It all came to a head that night, when one of the most respectful men to ever hold the presidency succumbed to the ubiquitous ridicule that is not just tolerated but celebrated in the culture. All in good fun right? Short-term laughs and ego-boost; long-term underestimation and heartache. The truth is, dismissiveness and sarcasm, normalized in our culture, are outgrowths of deep-seated trauma that we are taking out on others instead of healing.
There is a fallacy that one needs to meet the bully head on; toe to toe; take them down a notch. Bully the bully. That will show them. This approach sometimes may appear to work in the short term, but in the long-term that violent impulse within the bully is only affirmed, with predictable collateral damage down the road. Does that mean we stand by and watch the bully wreak havoc? Certainly not. But the intention behind the response to the bully is key. To hope that he gets his just desserts connects us to the very same energies we condemn in the bully.
How many of us have been, and continue to be, on the Trump-bashing bandwagon? Egging him on; fueling the wounded beast within; confirming for him the unforgiving nature of the world. It is at our own peril if we persist in making fun of, and underestimating, a man who has achieved the remarkable, the unthinkable, especially if we understand the dark place that he is drawing his inspiration from.
THE ROAD AHEAD
We, and our ancestors, all created this mess but we just can’t believe that this is our baby.
Humanity is now presented with a stark choice:
(1) Have the courage to look within, to re-ignite the heart flame, and work to heal our own pain and shame; to look beyond the borders of labels like Democrat-Republican, gay-straight, black-white, Christian-Muslim, etc. Seek out the wonderful nuance that lives on the continuum between these limiting, extreme positions. Embark on the ultimate journey to identify, acknowledge and heal the betrayal and trauma within, while inflicting as little of it as possible on the world. For Americans, there’s also an opportunity to address the still-festering and unacknowledged trauma from the three main traumas; or
(2) Continue down the current divisive path by attacking and denigrating President Trump and his supporters, feeding the beast that already presents a solemn threat to the well-being of the nation and the world. Match their ferocity and disdain with our own.
How are we any different from Mr. Trump and some of his supporters if we spew fear and vitriol? This path sews within it the seeds of unfathomable suffering – again – because when we return similar fire, the recipient, the original bully, gets to divert their attention away from their own culpability and shift their blame on to us, thereby justifying their bad behavior. After all, they suppose, in the end everyone’s an asshole just like me, and we confirm that for them.
If we are searching for a glimmer of hope in a sea that has been colored Red, ponder this: Many are afraid of the Republican control of all levels of government. But, maybe things are, as usual, not so cut and dried. After all, President Trump is not a Republican, and never has been. He’s an independent that flew the Republican standard only to achieve power. He has about as much time for Republicans as he does Democrats. He has no allegiance to anyone but himself (remember the one debate when Mr.Trump didn’t hesitate to dismiss and embarrass future VP, Mike Pence, regarding Syria policy). He will put forward his agenda and if the Republican Congress obstructs him, he will use executive orders and/or the bully pulpit to appeal directly to the people, including his millions of rabid supporters, but also including everyone else.
Might he use the bully pulpit to nefarious ends? Possibly. If we keep hating him and his supporters, will we exacerbate an already volatile situation? Most definitely. Might things become ugly? Maybe. If so, we will have to learn another difficult lesson on the collective human journey, the severity of which will depend on our ability to grasp that our reaction, more so than his action, carries the day.
There is an incredible liberation that comes with not taking the bait to denigrate another, especially when they ‘deserve’ it. The alternative is always further separation – and consorting with the very same negative forces we so often condemn in the recipient. Once we cease to take the bait, a challenging journey to be sure for most of us, we have the opportunity to dissolve the historical and personal patterns of trauma that keep us trapped within an interminable tit-for-tat existence.
Let’s see what President Trump will do. His tendencies remind us of some of the worst leaders of human history. However, let us not assume, because we heard some things during the campaign, that he will follow through on the most unsavory aspects of his platform. Let us not bow to the relentless armaggedonization of our culture, which promotes extreme positions, while undermining community. After all, Mr. Trump, and every politician, will spout all kinds of nonsense to get elected. They don’t or can’t follow through on most of it anyway. Conversely, while seemingly preposterous, since the Establishment has made such a crazy hash of running the country, let us be open to the possibility that he may help the situation, just probably not in a linear or obvious way that is familiar and comfortable.
Neal Gabler said, post election: “We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist… No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.”
The police shootings of this past year, Standing Rock and the election, have revealed what lurks below the dishonesty of that civility, which could no longer be hidden. The faux-civility bubble had to burst. The imperative ‘politesse’ that has now been lost, and that Mr. Gabler presents as having been positive, was in a fact a tool of denial. As we can now plainly see, the very best that could have been hoped for in its shadow was grudging tolerance, emphasis on the grudging. That civility was a lie that has, over generations, contributed to a collective American depression, and to the election of Donald Trump. Of course, the problem lay in the original presumption of the exceptional nature of America, or any group of humans, a position that automatically creates separation with others, and contains within it the potential for perpetual conflict.
It is from this uncomfortable place of being laid bare, distracted from the hollowness of our unfeeling, individualistic and materialistic culture, that we are presented with the opportunity to evolve as a species.
The road ahead is not to make America great again but to make America and humanity great, for the first time. Though it may seem counter-intuitive because we are so bad at loving the badness within ourselves and each other, let’s try sending the President-elect some good vibes. Throw him a bone. He needs it badly. So do we all.
It may have to get worse before it gets better. If so, we can, as individuals, not only do our utmost not to exacerbate the situation, but try to muster as much compassion and non-judgment for ourselves and our perceived enemies as possible, to lead humanity in a more empathetic direction. Despite our rational need for solutions, and quick ones at that, this is, and has always been, about the long game.