With this incredibly poignant election fast approaching, I’ve been fielding a number of questions, emotions, and spun-out thoughts in response to the state of our world. They come from all sorts of dear friends and from clients in my psychotherapy practice alike. Of course I’m having my own questions, emotions and spun-out thoughts as well. What follows is where I usually wind up. It starts off dark and then gets darker, but if you hang in there, I think there is some light to be found near the end. Metaphorical? Most definitely.
Disclaimer: if you are a Trump supporter or even a Trump apologist, I am not writing this letter to engage with you. I am potentially willing to engage with you about the state of our world, the election, etc. But I am not writing this with you in mind. This is more likely suited for anyone else who is also grappling with the heaviness and anxiety of these times… seen as a direct result of the Trump era.
Like many others, I often feel waves of overwhelm, fear, and despair about the disturbing level of hatred and divisiveness we’ve all been observing, specifically over the last four years. It’s easy to point at the current POTUS and his legislative choices that have hurt multiple groups of marginalized folks, not to mention the environment as a whole. His rhetoric seems to empower prejudice and embolden abuse. His very way of being in the world, the way he speaks to others and carries himself — there’s no other way to say it, he is the definition of a bully. He seems to have risen the ranks by embodying something of a mascot for everyone’s little inner mean-kid. His attitude appears to resonate with anyone whose own heartbreak, sometimes manifested as an axe to grind, has never been resolved.
I bring up heartbreak because in my work as a licensed mental health professional it’s easy to see that the bigger the narcissistic defense, the more wounded and broken someone’s heart actually is inside. It seems that Trump’s heart has been so wounded, and deeply, fiercely defended for so long, it’s as if he’s lost touch with it entirely. He seems incapable of tolerating vulnerability or feigning empathy, both of which are imperative for connection. He clearly cannot model or lead others in ways that he himself is incapable. Which means we have somehow elected for ourselves a leader who is fully identified with his narcissistic defense and is entirely motivated by self-interest. Because he can’t relate to others, he relies solely on intimidation, manipulation, and abuse. And yet, he has come to represent us, and I have to wonder if that’s not because perhaps that’s actually who we are. Collectively. Biden says it’s not who we are. Biden argues that we are better than our chosen leader would suggest. I hope he’s right, but I’m not so sure.
Sometimes I mentally rail against the possibility that perhaps it’s true that this is where we’re at as a species. This is simply our karma, so to speak. I rail against it because if it is true, this is just where we’re at developmentally, learning what we need to learn or else die trying — it’s scary as fuck. If humanity really is this unskillful at taking care of ourselves (as in all of us) and the planet on which we depend, my individual sense of safety and peace are wildly threatened. And that sucks. There was a time that this wouldn’t have sucked for me. I wasn’t particularly attached to my life, as I lived with passive, underlying suicidality for a number of years. Throughout that time I could fully consider and sit with existential threats with relative ease. But that is no longer my story. I’ve grown to cherish my existence and opportunity to enjoy this insanely beautiful life. I have children whom I hope to see grow old, preferably unperturbed by trauma. In general, I am instinctively attached to my own life and the lives of my loved ones and therefore my need for safety.
But sometimes when I’m down this rabbit hole I can temporarily detach from my need for peace and safety. What I see when I can get outside of my own individual, ego-driven self, is that this need for safety and entitlement to a peaceful life are conditions that have not been achieved for all people, and that it is erroneous to imagine that I am personally entitled to that which has not been established for all humans, let alone all beings. It is in fact because injustice and abuse have been here all along that we are in this situation now. We are not in this situation — civil unrest, fear, hatred, violence, mistrust, because of the current POTUS. But conversely, we have the current POTUS because xenophobia — racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, corruption, greed, and abuse have not been resolved. They’ve been here, part of us, hurting us all along. To be clear, hurting some a lot more than hurting others. For some folks the last four years have been more or less the same. For those who experience extreme injustice, and for those who continue to be insulated from any injustice at all, the last four years have been par for the course. For others of us, the last four years have been an embarrassing eye opener, and while pissed off and upset to be made aware of such abuses, many of us are still absorbing this news without our own babies being torn from our arms, our loved ones being deported, or our family members killed by the police. What I’m getting at is that despite the understandable outrage at Trump and his enabling cronies, I don’t think it’s their fault that we’re here. And I think it’s important that those of us who were even reasonably comfortable before the Trump era need to stay uncomfortable about what’s happened and is happening long after the Trump era is over.
The bias and injustice that has been here all along was smoothed over like a veneer that more or less concealed the mess that exists underneath. I think that some previous administrations probably worked in earnest to purify the foundation. Others worked harder at maintaining a smooth enough surface to disguise the ugly parts, the parts that continue to wreak havoc on the vulnerable members of society. The truth is that there is unresolved trauma at our core, collectively and within each of our individual hearts; trauma that is festering into fear and hatred. And what this administration has done, yes, has grossly exacerbated and empowered that which was already there. He has been an exemplary leader of the damned, if I may be so bold. Not damned in the traditional, biblical sense, necessarily, but I do think that an incapacity to empathize and connect with others would lead to a painfully isolated and perhaps very hellish existence. However, he has also managed to effectively melt the veneer that perhaps had kept me complacent prior to his reign (I mean presidency). In my comfort and imagined sense of safety, I was complicit in a system that simply hurts too many and doesn’t represent, consider, or support enough of the people it’s intended to serve. This terrible, wounded man and despicable “leader” has made me take a hard look at myself. And I’m glad.
So here’s the good news. Sure, on the surface what I’m saying is that perhaps we collectively deserve to be here because we didn’t work hard enough, know better, do what was needed not to be here. But I feel really clear that what we’re being offered is an opportunity. We have been given without any uncertainty the feedback and understanding that we have a lot of work to do. We simply aren’t entitled to be safe and live with ease until we’ve made sure that that right has been established for everyone. Everyone.
Like I said, I haven’t always led a thoroughly charmed existence. There was a time that I was personally impacted by unresolved misogyny in our culture in some painfully tangible ways. I learned how to keep an eye out for those pitfalls and managed (largely through privilege and opportunity) to establish a pretty safe and happy life in spite of the remnants of internalized and global misogyny. But then I became so comfortable enjoying my own safety that I forgot to remain vigilant and dedicated to the need for safety and freedom for all.
Well, I’m not comfortable anymore. Thanks to 45, I’m more acutely aware then ever before that there is WORK to be done. Of course I hope that when those ballots are all counted and added up we feel relieved by the swell of a beautiful blue wave. I hope people vote like they care about other people, like they actually don’t revere a tragically insecure conman. I hope we elect a leader under whose sensibility we can begin the work of healing this divide. But more than that, I hope we continue to work on healing the division, the wounds, injustices and abuses that were already there. Whatever happens in this election, we cannot forget what has been revealed these past four years. We are inescapably interdependent, our destinies are impeccably interwoven. We cannot look away from the travesties we may be privileged not to experience directly. We cannot be free to thrive unless we are all free to thrive.
I promise to vote. Of course. But I also hereby promise to remember that this is my karma and that I am determined to learn what I’m supposed to learn from all this so that I might do my part to make it better. May we all do our parts to make it better for everyone.