I was never part of the” Trump’s not my president” crowd, because it was painfully obvious to me from the start that they were in denial. Their denial was understandable, even predictable. After all, the natural reaction of psychologically sound people is to distance themselves as much as possible from Trump, to regard him as he regards Muslims: as the other.
The problem with this line of thinking is that Trump most certainly is one of us. That is precisely what is so distrubing about him. “We have met the enemy and he is us,” as cartoonist Walt Kelly famously said through Pogo. In that sense, Trump is a symptom more than a cause. Donald Trump, the despicable ignoramus real estate developer from New York City who became President, is as American as apple pie.
As Trump tries to reverse everything that President Obama did, short of sending his children back to Michelle’s womb, most Americans look on horrified, or don’t look at all. A conservative friend of mine has taken refuge in sports, a strategy which seemed promising until Trump disinvited Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors to the White House. Now Trump and the reaction to Trump is headline news on the sports page.
Trump, a virulent force, makes every social problem and international conflict worse. The wounds of slavery run deep; Trump rips whatever scabs have formed open. For decades, North Korea has been a rogue regime that poses a threat; Trump’s crass rhetoric further inflames international tensions and makes war more likely. The consequences of climate change have long been of growing concern to scientists and nations around the world; Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accords makes it much less likely that the problem will be adequately addressed.
Trump, a man of infinite privilege, lives in a swamp of resentment that breeds disease. To see this fact and to be shaken by it is a healthy response. Political resistance to Trump’s agenda is essential. But there is an even more essential task, albeit a highly distasteful one. The task is this:
See Trump as a mirror and reflect on your inner Trump.
Trump is an instinctive, bombastic, sociopathic, vulgar, lying, shallow, racist, misogynistic, self-absorbed, self-assured know-nothing. I, on the other hand, am well-reasoned, open-minded, truthful, tolerant, inclusive, ethical, cooperative and highly intelligent. Trump is evil and I am good. Trump is hateful and I am loving. Trump’s ugliness affirms my beauty. No wonder criticizing Trump and calling out his never-ending transgressions feels so good. It reminds me that I am not at all like Trump.
Trump and his supporters engage in an extremely dangerous kind of psychological projection. To them, all of America’s ills are caused by others: foreigners, gays, Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, atheists and liberals. They themselves are inculpable.
Still, the question must be asked: To what degree are those of us who despise Trump guilty of the same unconscious projection as he and his supporters? A failure to ask this question in earnest and take a personal inventory of our inner Trump is itself Trumpian. Where does our fear, resentment and prejudice live in us and how do we relate to it? Are we even aware of it, or is it all Trump’s fault?
The global outlook is always bleak. As Leonard Cohen sang, “Everybody knows that the war is over, everybody knows that the good guys lost.” I do not mean to suggest that the fight for social and economic justice should not continue. It should; it must. That said, if you want to make the world a better place, make a time and a space to turn inward and consider how what you despise in others lives in yourself.
As long as we regard the biggest problems we face as “out there,” Trumpism rules.