I began writing this piece before the first presidential debate on September 30, which I watched and sorry to say it turned out exactly as expected, although I was hoping for a surprise, something with substance. Trump was combative and primarily defensive, but I was disappointed that Biden allowed himself to be derailed by the emotional attacks. I won’t watch another one. There is nothing comparable in my memory.
The upcoming Presidential election is the strangest that I have experienced in the many elections that I have lived through. However, I do not think this situation came out of the blue, so to speak. Our United States has been less than united for some time. The turmoil in the country now may be more extreme but is not unexplainable.
For one thing our political ideology and our economic reality are at odds. We can hear, read, and see on YouTube that there is a secret cabal (it seems that fearful imaginations have created many versions) that runs the economy and controls the government. Whether or not there is a hidden cabal, someone is exploiting the people and they don’t know where this threat hides. This automatically generates suspicion and fear. This unknown exploiter takes the form of a dark god hidden behind a cloud of conspiracy theories. Certainly, it does not exist within the ideally transparent framework of democracy. There are many citizens that are disillusioned, frightened about the direction of the future and on the edge of a free-fall into poverty. Fear generates projected monsters of all kinds and our current political climate has these monsters popping up faster than we can remember their slogans.
Just one example of invisible but immense power in the money world is Big Pharma. It bullies natural medicines into a corner because health insurance doesn’t cover natural medicines. The big pharmaceutical corporations operate in tandem with the health insurers. Our health, or more to the point, medicine itself is fixated on a technology and chemistry that needs our sickness to feed its great economic generator. Thus, many isolated malfunctions of the body are necessary in this system. We are living with little acknowledgment of the humanity or the wholeness of the individual patient. People don’t want to be machines whose lives are captive to impersonal corporations conveniently feeding on their suffering. Nor, do they want to be seduced into giving their power to those who promise to cure problems they didn’t know they had.
The unbridled competition that was supposed to make capitalism a self-correcting system because competition encourages invention and excellence has turned out to encourage deception and addiction even more. Furthermore, when growth becomes unhinged there is a race to a disastrous collision with reality. We are dependent on a planet with its own system of checks and balances that our economy wantonly ignores in the effort to make more, sell more, and encourage us to consume more. Mental health is more tenuous, crime rises while mood altering substance addictions continue to surge. Even crime and disease have become monetized as prisons and hospitals are now largely run by corporations.
People want to be represented as important to their government representatives and they have been left out of the know for a long time. Even a trapped mouse can be surprisingly fierce, and the people have been deceived with the big talk of empty promises, black suits, and white shirts. For many, Trump with his completely undignified street talk, disdain for rules, laws and even truth is the bad boy they wish they could be. He thumbs his nose at the system, declares bankruptcy, cheats on his taxes, and keeps on keeping on. He knows that lies told so often they numb the mind combined with the magic of getting away with anything he does gives him an aura of invincibility. Of course, that is exactly what he counts on. He has been flying by the seat of his pants and so far, it has worked. In short, he is a trickster.
He is an empty vessel with nothing tangible to give who changes shapes and colors like an octopus. Like other dictators he speaks to the fears and resentments of people to get their support. Trump’s rough style lures his followers into believing he isn’t part of the system that is exploiting them and that he understands them. His Republican coalition in Washington know who he is but want to ride on his appeal to low income struggling people, farmers disenfranchised by corporations, and people whose jobs and investments are disappearing. He takes attention away from the real culprits.
Trump’s people want to give hell to the leaders of a system that exploits them and keeps them futilely treading harder to stay above the deepening murky waters. This was the swamp that Trump promised to drain, but he doesn’t have the authority or ability to drain it and functionally deflects attention from the real culprits. His need for attention and admiration is a convenient distraction obscuring the real issues.
The growing animosity between political parties is yet another time bomb. We have wandered a long way from a real democracy. When the political system and the economic system operate under opposite values. The top down structure and confusing dissonance is deceiving. Corporations are not democratic. Employees are often almost slaves, with the difference they can quit, and they can be fired. Unless they are in one of the higher positions, they can’t afford to quit, and a real change requires either a leap of faith or just a fall off the edge.
Real democracy requires respect for people who are given equal value despite different backgrounds and different points of view. An attitude of respect and genuine interest in how to make our shared life work would be a good goal for respectful exchange. No one has the final truth. We are all in the school of life and of history. Defending one’s point of view as if one’s life depended on it has made real discourse and the possibility of seeing issues through someone else’s lens psychologically impossible. In Trump’s presidency winning an argument in any way conceivable is the only way. Unfortunately, this makes all the “losers” enemies. Thus, the divisive nature of Trump’s presidency. If one acts like everyone with a different point of view is an enemy, they will indeed become an enemy. It’s a self-fulfilling behavior.
We are becoming negative shadow images of each other. Opposites are not necessarily enemies; they are each other’s mirror. How did we create a Trump presidency? He was much happier as a reality TV performer. His supporters don’t seem to notice that he became the victim of a role he isn’t equipped for. He may be a user by background and habit but in this role, he is also being used. It may be that something has been unleashed with his presidency that will be uncontrollable by the very one’s who intended to use him as a cover and distraction.
I hope that Joe Biden wins the upcoming election, but I don’t think that will return us to peace and order and I don’t think that he can change the social tsunami heading our way. I fear that a number of recently uncaged monsters are now running away from it. They are bigger than Trump, and nobody will be able to put them back in their cages. This may be a necessary part of growing up as a nation going through an adolescent crisis, but I hope I’m wrong.