The last blog I wrote was in September 2016. I was challenging my modest readership to not get sucked into what was becoming the Trump Train and suggested that, like the Uncle Remus story about a ‘tar baby’, we were likely to become stuck in a pattern of ‘the-more-we-resist-the-more-embroiled-and-trapped-we-become’. In the year and a few months since, I suspended my blog-a-day habit and joined the army of the resigned, wringing our hands and bemoaning the apparent collapse of our nation’s traditions, civil discourse and love for each other and our way of life. Even more disturbing was to watch myself fall deeper and deeper into resentment against those who support Donald Trump and his cadre of sycophants and who are seemingly bent on deconstructing our most cherished institutions and humane policies. In short, I’d become a spectator in the public discourse of who we are as a nation and society. I had given up thinking that my blogging or anything else for that matter could make much difference. And in my complacency and hundreds of ‘ain’t-it-awful’ hand-wringing conversations, I was losing my personal ambition, my dignity and my confidence. I don’t think I am alone in this downward spiral.
A week in bed with a cold has allowed me some downtime to reflect on who I am and what I want to say about what I observe is going on in the world. Consequently, I am renewing my commitment to write, if for no other purpose than keeping myself engaged in the unfolding narrative we call ‘reality’ and perhaps discover how I can become more active and meaningfully participate in the political space. One thing I’ve learned in my work is that possibility is the cure for resignation and that when we lose connection with possibility we will inevitably fall into a circumstantial drift from which our only options are to cope or react to what is happening around us. So, a place to begin expressing my renewed commitment is to invite everyone who might be reading these thoughts and ideas to share your experience and assessments as a way to expand and engage others in this conversation.
I find it remarkable that one individual, Donald Trump has succeeded in being at the center of a very large percentage of our conversations. He is the subject of dozens of articles or commentary every day and in virtually every media – print, TV, on the Internet. If you think about how often his name or some point of view about him comes up in ordinary conversation every day, it is unprecedented. And moreover, coverage of his latest Tweet or other activity seems to dominate our conversations globally. I cannot think of any individual in history who has been at the center of our global conversation for any sustained period of time. Regardless of what we think about him or his pronouncements, this is an incredible fact in and of itself.
This is a ‘tar-baby’ on steroids! (If you are unfamiliar with this metaphor which has nothing to do with racial sensibilities, you might think of ‘quick sand’ or a ‘Chinese finger puzzle where the more you resist the more you become trapped).
How can we account for this?
First, he speaks in absolutes and generalities ¾ “no one is as compassionate as I am” or “they are a threat to our national security”. Anytime someone does this they will generate contrary points of view. They will generate resistance to their statements. People will look for what is the grounding or basis for the claims, or they will find exceptions to invalidate them. Whether we agree or disagree the speaker remains at the center of the conversation assuming he or she has a platform and is holding the microphone. At some moment, “the” conversation persists because of the arguments regardless of what the argument is about. The conversation is the reality independent of the content of a particular conversation.
Second, he is constantly changing the conversation when circumstances change. For example, “there was no tampering with the elections by the Russians” to “if there was tampering it didn’t affect the outcome of the election” to “the evidence of tampering proves there was no collusion with my campaign”. He is very effective at absorbing new information and circumstance and then interpreting it to validate his point of view or changing his point of view to include what is being proposed. This style of communication – taking a hard position and then moving off of it once strong resistance arises – is a great technique for disarming opposition and keeps the conversation open and incomplete. This is analogous to being trapped in a conversation in our mind about some topic where we go in circles or add endless layers of complexity and cannot get the conversation out of our heads. The self-referential nature of this kind of conversation whether it is with ourselves individually or in our organization or in our body politic leaves us addicted to the status quo and blind to other possibilities.
Third, and one possibility that is emerging from this conversation, is that the nature and content of what is happening is antithetical to many of our most fundamental values having to do with respect, civility, political compromise and the fundamental basis of democracy which is freedom of speech and of the press and the rule of law. If there is a ‘dark side’ to our individual and public psyche is would seem to be manifesting daily ¾ regardless of which side of the ideological divide you are on. Just as an alcoholic can justify and explain self-destructive behavior we can endlessly rationalize why we’re doing what we’re doing or live in a hopeful state that ‘this too will pass’. But as any alcoholic knows, their ‘stinking thinking’ is what kept them drunk and in denial. Their blindness or ‘dark side’ only became evident to them once they hit bottom. At that moment, personal responsibility and choice appear and the possibility of sobriety and restoring ‘sanity’ appears. I don’t know what the societal equivalent of hitting bottom will be – war, mass starvation or disease, or economic collapse, or perhaps like many addicts we’ll declare what is called a ‘high bottom’ and say enough is enough right now.
Whatever form it takes I hope we’ll all be ready to deal with our future with a profound acceptance of and personal responsibility for the way it is, humility and a relationship with possibility or a higher power in whatever form that may take. It has taken us a long time to get to where we are. Getting to where we might be will be a one-day-at-time journey but one which at the end of the day can restore us to a life and as a nation a people that are ‘happy’, ‘joyous’ and ‘free’.