by D. Patrick Miller
I experience a distinct uneasiness whenever I see Donald Trump speaking. It’s not just because I disagree with his chaotic governance or policy positions. And it’s not because he has a radically different vision of America’s present condition, and where it needs to be going, than I do — although I definitely disagree with his apopleptic message of disgruntlement and fear.
No, what makes me uneasy is that Trump’s childish bravado, relentless bragging, and constant enmity feel a bit familiar. I recognize a man struggling wildly with his own unconscious misgiving that there’s nobody at home inside — or at least, nobody he can live with. I understand his self-hatred, and the horror of facing his own deadly emptiness, because I have both feelings sometimes. I suspect that we all do. Trump has been variously diagnosed as a narcissist, a sociopath, even a fascist. These are all aspects of the human ego that can gain dominance over anyone’s consciousness, given the right formative conditions and social stimuli.
What’s unusual about Trump is not these personal excesses; blowhards, bullies, and demagogues have always been with us. What’s disturbingly different is that such a deeply unbalanced individual has tuned into the psyches of enough Americans to bring him to a position of enormous power.
History has shown that this can be a catastrophic attunement. A little less than a century ago, another self-hating individual found the frequency of enough depressed and fearful psyches in Germany’s Weimar Republic to enlist them in creating the Third Reich. So it’s crucially important to recognize what’s really driving Donald Trump and drawing his followers — some of whom are openly flaunting their neo-Nazi beliefs with his tacit approval.
It’s equally important to realize that, no matter how much one may dislike Trump, neither he nor his fans constitute an “other” who must be destroyed, persecuted, or walled-off (as he repeatedly threatens to do to his own perceived enemies). That can never work because they are part of us, and for better or worse, we share one mind.
I don’t mean this in a metaphysical way. I mean that any society or culture collectively represents all the beliefs and attitudes of the individuals who comprise it. Just like any individual constantly experiences a huge range of thoughts, from bitter and demonic to loving and selfless, so does a society. Donald Trump currently embodies an especially unhealthy aspect of our society's thinking — and that aspect clearly threatens our overall well-being.
Each of us has a role to play in reinforcing the healthy energies of our individual and collective mind, and stopping the unhealthy energies from getting out of control. Some of this work can be done in therapy or spiritual discipline, but some of it is necessarily done in politics. We can deliberately attune ourselves to a different kind of consciousness than a demagogue like Trump unthinkingly promotes.
But we need the baseline of a different kind of consciousness so that our politics is based on more than hating those who hate.
“Struck with horror”
A powerful clue as to what ails Donald Trump, and has infected a large part of our culture, can be found in the contemporary spiritual teaching known as A Course in Miracles (ACIM):
"You think you are the home of evil, darkness and sin. You think if anyone could see the truth about you he would be repelled, recoiling from you as if from a poisonous snake. You think if what is true about you were revealed to you, you would be struck with horror so intense that you would rush to death by your own hand, living on after seeing this being impossible.
"These are beliefs so firmly fixed that it is difficult to help you see that they are based on nothing. That you have made mistakes is obvious. That you have sought salvation in strange ways; have been deceived, deceiving and afraid of foolish fantasies and savage dreams; and have bowed down to idols made of dust — all this is true by what you now believe." — from ACIM Workbook Lesson 93, “Light and joy and peace abide in me.”
Needless to say, this revulsion against our own inner reality is not something that most of us are consciously aware of every day. But if you have ever touched the depths of suicidal despair, or experienced chronic depression in yourself or witnessed it in someone close, you know what this passage is talking about.
ACIM’s radical diagnosis of the human condition is that a murderous self-loathing is the baseline of our individual consciousness. It’s not the aberration of a few strange people, or a sign of clinically defined mental illness. It's who we are whenever we are trapped entirely in the sense of separated self called "ego," and cannot see beyond the need to defend and amplify ourselves. Elsewhere the Course notes:
"The death penalty is the ego's ultimate goal, for it fully believes that you are a criminal…. The death penalty never leaves the ego's mind, for that is what it always reserves for you in the end. Wanting to kill you as the final expression of its feeling for you, it lets you live but to await death. It will torment you while you live, but its hatred is not satisfied until you die. For your destruction is the one end toward which it works, and the only end with which it will be satisfied."
Lest one think this existential diagnosis is too harsh, it’s worth contemplating some big questions: Where do all the wars, genocidal holocausts, and terrorist attacks of human history actually come from? What really is the root cause of suicide, homicide, rape, and domestic violence? Why are we so often dissatisfied with our bodies, sometimes intensely so, and why do we get in the habit of guilt and self-punishing thoughts about them? Why does Western religious culture have a powerful attraction to the notion of “original sin” at the same time it ascribes demonic evil to other cultures? And why have human cultures throughout history killed other cultures to claim their territory, only later to fear the advance of violent and rapacious immigrants?
On a daily basis, we are tempted to forget that the world’s superpowers remain armed with enough nuclear firepower to wipe each other out in a matter of minutes. Such an Armageddon could still be set off by an unlucky series of computer malfunctions — or by the recurrent rage of an unhinged demagogue who can’t get enough satisfaction through his enraged tweets.
In America, countless suburbanites not remotely close to urban violence feel the need to arm themselves with small firearms while powerful semi-automatic weapons, normally the rapid-fire dogs of war, are allowed to flow freely into the hands of urban street criminals, suspected terrorists, and the emotionally disturbed.
All this because, at a level so deep that it’s usually blocked from daily awareness, we hate ourselves. If we are brave, we can recognize this hatred whenever a terrorist attack sickens and dismays us. We are struck with horror not just because someone else has acted out their own cruelty and viciousness. We are struck with horror because we are seeing our own minds at work.
A cover for despair
In a remarkable section entitled “Grandeur vs. Grandiosity,” the Course compares what it calls “the grandeur of God” with the grandiosity of the untrammeled ego. One paragraph in particular reads like a concise summary of the Trumpian political strategy:
"Grandiosity is always a cover for despair. It is without hope because it is not real. It is an attempt to counteract your littleness, based on the belief that the littleness is real. Without this belief grandiosity is meaningless, and you could not possibly want it. The essence of grandiosity is competitiveness, because it always involves attack. It is a delusional attempt to outdo, but not to undo. We said before that the ego vacillates between suspiciousness and viciousness. It remains suspicious as long as you despair of yourself. It shifts to viciousness when you decide not to tolerate self-abasement and seek relief. Then it offers you the illusion of attack as a 'solution.'"
Even before he chose to run for President, Donald Trump the real estate mogul pursued a career characterized by grandiosity, with his name in huge letters on sky-scraping properties that he built or owned or bankrupted. And his dedication to competitiveness has never abated. It has been reliably reported that the self-proclaimed genius of “the art of the deal” has been involved in over 3500 lawsuits, which cannot remotely be regarded as a business laurel regardless of his win/loss record.
The secret of Trump’s perverse appeal is that his grandiosity appeals to those who, like himself, are inwardly persecuted by their own unrecognized self-hatred. They seek to relieve the pressure-cooker enmity inside themselves by projecting it onto others. One of many paradoxes of such projection is that it involves a gross inflation of one’s sense of power in order to combat the intense powerlessness felt within.
When diehard Trump supporters are faced with all his thunderous negatives, their response often reveals that none of these issues matter to them — or at least, not enough to dissuade them from continuing support. They just like him no matter what. That means they are seeing themselves in him, and feeling a vicarious sense of relief when he vents his self-hatred with relentless attacks in all directions, on a huge public stage. At an unconscious level, it feels like Trump is venting for them.
Why sanity requires vigilance
On a daily basis, we are all a mixture of love and fear, healing insight and blinding insanity, the sublime and the ridiculous. The first key to an authentic spiritual discipline is to recognize the constant variability of our thoughts and feelings. The second key is to develop the inner agility to choose, and keep choosing, the healthiest among them. When we lapse into feeling sad or self-destructive, however, it can be difficult to remember that we even have a choice. The negative hypnosis of our own egos can be exceptionally powerful. Whenever we are captivated by it, the emotional hell of self-hatred is not far off.
In a chapter entitled "The Illusions of the Ego," A Course in Miracles makes the case for a positive vigilance in managing our own inner health:
"When you are sad, know this need not be. Depression comes from a sense of being deprived of something you want and do not have. Remember that you are deprived of nothing except by your own decisions, and then decide otherwise.
"When you are anxious, realize that anxiety comes from the capriciousness of the ego, and know this need not be. You can be as vigilant against the ego's dictates as for them....
"Watch your mind for the temptations of the ego, and do not be deceived by it. It offers you nothing. When you have given up this voluntary dis-spiriting, you will see how your mind can focus and rise above fatigue and heal. Yet you are not sufficiently vigilant against the demands of the ego to disengage yourself. This need not be."
As powerful as the currents of fear and hatred may be in our minds, we can always choose to swim against them. We can rise above our own fatigue and find ways to heal. That means choosing love over fear at every opportunity, within our own minds and within our political discourse.
For my part, when I find myself tempted to respond to anyone's self-hatred with more of my own, I try to return to my spiritual discipline. That means remembering that whatever inner madness I may entertain from time to time, it is also true that light and joy and peace abide in me.
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