Nobody told this brain-washed Manchurian Candidate that he was supposed to shoot the president, not grab the throne for himself.
Donald J. Trump is like a figure in an apocalyptic comic strip, created for us by gods(1) who decided we were too slow to get the point via more subtle means.
Up until last year’s election, the decay underneath the surface of economic and political life was not, apparently, obvious enough. So along came Trump.
He takes “all the creeping horrors of corporate opportunism, all the self-serving, reflex mendacity of political operators with a more emollient pitch,” and ratchets them up a few notches.
Now we can watch our country’s tailspin undiluted, like a drink taken neat: America’s devolution embodied in a single humanoid.
A humanoid who is, as Sam Bee puts it, trying to impersonate a real human, but whose only research was watching Charlie Sheen videos.
Since the election, the big danger facing consciousness-seekers is that of slipping into numb acceptance.
Not that we should hold onto our outrage; that’s not healthy. In any case, Nature won’t let us. She designed the human organism so as to make extreme levels of stress unsustainable. All that anger has to turn into something else.
Our job is to keep track of what it’s turning into.
As last November recedes into the past, many conscientious Americans are lapsing into grim passivity.
It’s a lapse that has the quality of a collapse, from outrage fatigue. But collapsing, while understandable, is not inevitable. And spiritually speaking, it’s not good for us.
Keeping our integrity(2) means staying wide awake, while negotiating a tricky transition: from horrified incredulity into creative opposition. That is the state we need to live in right now.
Managing this transition is essentially a soul-path exercise. Each of us must dig into our own unique resources to find a way of responding that works for us.
Meanwhile, on a political level, bonding with others of like minds can be a source of great strength. So can keeping an eye on thinkers who are raising their opposition to an art form — like Stephen Colbert, whose ratings have skyrocketed since November 8th.
Frog in the pot
Have you heard the story about the frog in the pot?
If suddenly dropped into boiling water, a frog will jump out and save itself. But if put into water that is heated up gradually, the frog will stay in the pot, and perish.
The analogy is about getting used to something that shouldn’t be gotten used to. It’s a warning about what we might expect if we listened to those who advocate backing off and “giving Trump a chance.”
A tyrant succeeds not by a sudden coup, but by the incremental takeover of the dominant paradigm. Step by step, the intolerable starts to seem normal.
Crossing a line
So we need to keep calling a spade a spade.
All politicians lie, but Trump’s lies are attacks on the very possibility of a reasoned discourse.
Americans have had plenty of leaders who lack competence and character. We’ve had no lack of presidents who have broken the law, practiced nepotism and failed to understand the concept of public service. We’ve elected men who’ve had shady dealings with foreign powers and fudged their financial dealings.
But we’ve never elected one who has done all these things openly and unapologetically. To accept this as a valid presidency is to give up on the notions of civic morality and rule of law.
Responding, not reacting
At the same time, we must be careful with the energy of resistance. Opposing reactionaries by reacting tends not to work.
The gurus have been telling us this for centuries. When we react instead of responding, we end up trapped by the thing we oppose. Carl Jung called it enantiodromia: we become the thing we rail against.
This doesn’t mean we should repress our feelings for fear of being “just as angry as the other side.” It’s a supreme cop-out to hide ourselves away in a bubble of “spirituality” — a word often misused to mean ignoring the outside world. (Good luck with that.)
Has it ever been more clear that there’s no such thing as “apolitical” (a truth reiterated not only by activists but by spiritual teachers, like Ram Dass)? We are kidding ourselves if we think that the toxicity swirling around in our society has nothing to do with us.
At certain moments in history, we are called to speak out against the system of which we are a part. At certain points in our lives, transits compel us to jump into the fray.
But before we act, we need to understand.
Kicking the bum out
The danger of reacting blindly is a hot discussion topic among Trump Resisters right now.
As we know, if the gilt-topped madman-in-chief is impeached, we get his Vice President: a cool, silver madman who poses as sane (it seems likely that the GOP chose Pence with this in mind: as a political human shield).
Also sweating it are the “moderate” Republicans. As each week’s new scandal unfolds, I imagine these guys tossing and turning in bed at night, cynically recalculating their re-election risk.
How much longer do they dare associate their reputations with a chaotic sociopath?
The politicians on the losing side are tossing and turning for different reasons. They have just been buried by a political earthquake.
Not that this prevents their wielding ideas with righteous force. Indeed, one would think it would be a shoe-in for Democratic politicians to ride the moral high ground back into power (see Chris Hedges). This is exactly the kind of historical moment that has inspired extraordinary leadership on the part of the vanquished.
But we’re seeing nothing like this from the Democratic Party.
With exceptions so few you could count them on the fingers of one hand (Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren(3), Barbara Lee, perhaps Kamala Harris), instead of insight and courage we’re seeing a bunch of career politicians stumbling around, trying — just like their fellows across the aisle — to keep their jobs.
Democrats know that the votes of progressives alone won’t be enough to win upcoming elections. And they realize Trump supporters aren’t about to change their minds (indeed, each new Trump fiasco seems to have the opposite effect. Facts don’t affect the opinions of people for whom Fox News is reality. As Journalist Ross Barkin has written, “news consumption [has become] tribal.”)
To reverse their party’s losses, Democratic politicians need to reach two groups: people who stayed home from the polls out of apathy or disgust, and people who usually vote for Democrats but this time went Republican.
But the Democratic establishment doesn’t have a strategy to appeal to these groups, because it still hasn’t grasped why Trump won.
To be continued: Still Not Getting It
1 Specifically, Uranus and Pluto.
2 This is the Jupiter part of the 2017 T-square. We are being subjected to a morality test. See Rejecting the Intolerable.
3 Considering Sanders’ advanced age, Warren is seen by many as the best hope within the limited realm of party politics. But although she is well-versed in the economics of disparity, she seems less aware of the role of class resentment, and of sexual and racial injustice – variables that are more elusive, more deeply emotional, and less easily quantified.