Why You Should Throw Away Your “F*ck Trump” Bumper Sticker
Since the summer of 2016, my radio and T.V. time has moved from sports to politics. The spectacle we witnessed during the campaign and since the inauguration is like no game I have ever seen: somewhere between a train-wreck and a circus. Yet, with this circus, virtually everyone I know has been recruited to participate in the three-ring show. Now, before I begin the main thesis of this blog, I want to make a few things clear. I disagree with almost everything Donald Trump says and does. I do not need a commentator or an op-ed piece to dissect his latest rally or his press secretary’s press conference. I know by listening to him speak that he is compromised and most likely deserving of a mental health diagnosis that people typically use to deride those they loathe. More precisely, in the context of the position he occupies in our government, I am not okay with who he is. I am embarrassed by what America has become in the world. I identify with almost every aspect of the democratic progressive agenda and have become a much more active participant in local and national politics and organizations as a result of what I have seen since the most recent presidential campaign.
Having said all of this, this blog is not written to the audience sitting on the right side of the aisle. This is a reflective piece, putting into words how I have reclaimed some of my serenity with the energy and republican agenda and some of its players whom I strongly oppose. In part, it is just for me, but it is also an open letter to the next leader of the Democratic Party or to anyone who hopes to be an influencer for the democratic agenda. In some ways, it is to all those who seem swept into this cauldron of hate and division that Trump and his proxies have so successfully brought to a boil. However, the Republicans do not stand alone to blame for the division; the left bears some responsibility as they often respond in kind to the right.
Lately, as I scroll through my social media feed or listen to CNN or MSNBC on the way to work, an idea or question has become crystallized for me: “Who are they talking to?” Of course, I value the information and the role that the press plays in informing the electorate and exposing all forms of corruption, but when it comes to the commentary, the left sounds more and more like those they are condemning. Of course, there is value in venting among friends who may share the same consternation, but that is different than proliferating public commentary. Spreading hatred toward Trump, his apologists, and his base is still hate. Bob Dylan once wrote “…others say don't hate nothing at all except hatred.” What I often hear from those who can’t help themselves from meeting hate with hate seems to be this justification. With the atrocities we are witnessing on a daily basis, such as children being torn from their parents at the border and held in cages and the growing number of falsehoods and crimes amassed by the current administration, the mob utters, “How are we supposed to stand by without pointing out the devil we see before us?” Furthermore, the resistance seems to think that the louder they yell and the more vile and sharply critical their rhetoric, the more it might get through to those fence sitters who are either uninvolved or unconvinced on which way to cast their ballot. Perhaps, it may invigorate the Democrat who has not felt the need to be involved or vote, but I believe there is a different way to energize the electorate without fostering polarization.
If we look at the divorce of a couple or a war between two countries, we will find similar ingredients: certainty on each side of their “rightness” and an inability to understand the other one’s position at the deepest human level. Someone once asked me, “But aren’t some people, some of the parents you work with, just assholes?” I responded, “I don’t have the luxury to think in those terms. If that is what I thought, I wouldn’t be very helpful in my work.” I was taught many years ago that one doesn’t attack the defense—meeting the defense head-on only leads to its reinforcement with taller and thicker walls or for the person to go into hiding. A defense is built to protect individuals from perceived threats. Instead, effective therapists seek to understand the defense, how it has served the client, and in which context the defense makes perfect sense. Reflecting back such compassion leads to openness and healing. And this compassion needn’t rob one of their values or position.
The story of Aphrodite and Psyche, from centuries ago, offers some insight into how to deal with a formidable antagonist. Aphrodite, angry that Psyche completed the first task required to earn back Aphrodite’s son Eros, sends Psyche on another dangerous and seemingly impossible mission. She is to gather fleece from the golden rams. Psyche finds the golden rams grazing near a river and realizes that they pose a mortal threat. This is because their golden wool, under the heat of the day, makes the rams dangerously hot to touch. Faced with such an impossible task, Psyche decides she is going to kill herself by throwing herself in the river, but the river reeds stop her and offer her some advice. They tell her that if she gathers the fleece from the rams during the day under the hot sun, she will surely burn, but if she waits till the sun sets and gathers fleece left on the thicket where the rams have been, she will live. With that she will be able to gather enough of the golden fleece to satisfy Aphrodite with no cost to the rams or herself. What is the lesson here? The rams are a symbol of masculine energy and aggression. Meeting anger with anger would be like going to gather the fleece during the day, under the hot sun. Very little will be solved and both parties are likely to suffer. Waiting for it to cool and for the sun to go down means going around the anger instead of facing it head-on. This story dates back to the second century AD. In some ways, we have not learned much in the last couple thousand years. J.D. Gill writes,
The point is you cannot confront power head on—or you will be destroyed by it...Power need not be confronted. In fact, it is typically stupid to do so. The reeds whisper vegetative wisdom: wait, be patient, things change. This is the wisdom of growth.
We need not assume that the sensibility that Gill offers is akin to inaction, but we are encouraged to have patience and press forward without stoking the fire we are trying to extinguish. There is no shortage of enlightened leaders who have had tremendous success at leading a movement against hatred or tyranny while employing this philosophy. As the Buddha said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, only by love, that is the eternal rule.” And Martin Luther King offered the same idea when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Friedrich Nietzsche warned, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” Yet, when this sensibility is suggested so many people conflate it with passivity or lack of passion. This sensibility is what Michelle Obama employed at her convention speech, “When they go low, we go high.” It is the same sensibility demonstrated by President Obama, at a rally, when he listened patiently to a heckler and quieted the boos from the crowd warning them “to not lose their focus.” Senator John McCain modeled this way of being during his 2008 campaign when he defended President Obama as “a good man” at a town hall when audience members talked about being terrified of an Obama presidency and referred to Obama as an [non-citizen] Arab.
In reality, this way of responding to hatred or cruelty requires capacity and the truth is that we all have a limited amount of that. This capacity varies from person to person and sometimes varies based on the time of day for all of us. Gandhi called the capacity to love someone different from ourselves heroic,
Projection, fusion, "going home” is easy. Loving another’s otherness is heroic.
To be clear, however, our capacity or the lack thereof is ours to own. Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that when our capacity wanes, we retreat to our practice of self-care until we are able to meet others with love and understanding. I admit this may seem like an impossible task when so many problems are constantly in view, but that doesn’t mean that the idea is without merit. It is both more effective in changing others’ minds and on a practical level offers one with more serenity.
Moving from psychology and philosophy to the applied, I would like to identify what a practical application looks like. First, however, I want to talk about what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like a “F*ck Trump” T-shirt. It doesn’t look like talking about the hue of his complexion or criticizing the way the president looks. It doesn’t look like name calling or other insults. It doesn’t come with yelling or interrupting others during a panel discussion or sarcasms. What it does look like is listening. I am not talking about listening or tuning in to his pundits or his apologists, although we would be wise to listen to them to learn which inmost human needs they are appealing to in their audience. More precisely, I am talking about listening to those who felt left behind by the Democratic Party and by the government–those who feel condescended to and marginalized. I want a candidate who can say I’m sorry. “Sorry for your feelings of isolation and sorry for how scared you were after you lost your job or your health insurance.” We need someone who can model the strength it takes to hold us all and oneself accountable as Senator John McCain exemplified so well when he said, “Both sides have let this happen. Let's leave the history of who shot first to the historians. I suspect they'll find we all conspired in our decline–either by deliberate actions or neglect. We've all played some role in it. Certainly, I have.” Like McCain, I too am guilty of creating division and meeting hate with hate. C.S. Lewis once remarked, “No man, I suppose is tempted to every sin. It so happens that the impulse which makes men gamble has been left out of my make-up; and, no doubt, I pay for this by lacking some good impulse of which it is the excess or perversion. I therefore did not feel myself qualified to give advice about permissible and impermissible gambling.” I know the temptation to meet hate with hate and still do fall into the trap from time to time. So, one might also view this piece as a confession as much as it is a plea to practice compassion toward those we vehemently oppose.
When Hillary referred to Trump’s supporters as “deplorables,” she made a fundamental error. She and other commentators in the media have failed to speak to those who found it necessary, because of their feelings of powerlessness, to identify with a bully. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow explained to us what would happen if we could see deep into another’s soul to know about the pain that led to any “deplorable” behaviors,
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.
Not all will be convinced. Not all will heal because of a listening ear. But, it is the most effective, long-term road for a solution. Maya Angelou said it this way, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet.” I think many find it difficult to fight the fight without the fuel of anger. We must develop the practice of coming from a place of love in this fight if we are to be effective—otherwise it is self-indulgent and will leave us farther from our goals.
As a fan of the Star Wars saga, I am drawn to the battle between the dark side and the force. Darth Vadar believed in his approach. He believed that the only way to overcome fear and pain was to block it out with anger and autocracy. As young Luke Skywalker was embarking on his heroic journey to confront Vadar, Yoda warned, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I see this same path on either side of the isle in our political dialogue today. If we carry the burdens of anger and hate in our social media posts, our commentary and conversations, we will be the ones who suffer as Dr. King reminds us, "I have decided to stick with love…Hate is too great a burden to bear."
So, to the individual who will become the next nominee to oppose Trump; to you whose job it is to offer commentary on the state of affairs of our politics; to you who so passionately want to resist this administration and the turmoil and divisiveness it creates; to you who would hope to inspire those on the sidelines or to tip the fence sitters; I ask you, implore you. We need a teacher. We need a healer. We need someone who can actively and courageously carry the banner of this democracy and address the ills promoted by the current administration as well as the ones that predate it. In the words of President Obama, “stay focused.” And following the counsel of his amazing wife, “go high.” If we don’t, there will be less and less that separate us from those we oppose. We must extend our hand to those we hope to lift. Rather than lobbing insults and casting derision, we must teach them up. We must listen and learn why Trump appeals to them because at some very deep level, it is a need we all have in common. We may be critical of their solution, but we must first understand their problems. We must speak about love from a place of love. We must look in the mirror in order to be accountable for any way we are part of the problem. And lastly, as Nietzsche said, we must look in the mirror to make sure we are not, in fact, “becoming the monster we are fighting.” If we do not do this, my fear is that Trump will incite and fan the flames of this divisive cultural civil-war. If we follow the paths set by Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, we could be partly responsible for fulfilling the vision Theodore Parker, a Unitarian Minister and abolitionist, portended in 1853.
I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
And we could fulfill this without losing our soul.