By Dr David Laing Dawson
I must admit that every time I experience a small surge of optimism following the Trump win, it is quickly dashed by news of how little he understands about the job he will soon have, his indifference to the suffering of others, (“They can go to another state for an abortion”), his choice of an alt-right racist, misogynist provocateur as his advisor, and the fact that by American rules he does not have to distance himself from Trump Enterprises. It is a tradition, it is a necessity of democracy, but not required by law. I had assumed he would have to keep arms length at the very least.
American democracy is even more fragile than I imagined.
Now we have news that there has been an immense and sudden increase in mental health crisis calls across the United States from people who feel threatened and vulnerable.
The other day a Jewish colleague smiled. He was more relaxed now about the Trump win, he told me. Trump’s son-in-law, he had heard through Jewish sources, would be playing an important role, perhaps even Chief of Staff, in Trump’s white house. And this man, Jared Kushner, is sane, educated, decent and a Jew. My colleague was optimistic in a conspiratorial manner.
And I wondered at the time, I must admit, if the anxiety of the Jews of Germany had been similarly assuaged in the early 1930’s.
Which leads me to three pieces of advice or caution:
All democracies are fragile. They are cultural artifacts, products of social, not biological, evolution. They can be dismantled quickly. Be vigilant. In Hitler’s Germany the Jews suffered 400 incremental restrictions of their rights between 1934 and 1939, each taking away a facet of their social and personal lives until all that was left was being. And we know what happened next.
We humans are not far from the jungle. Our instincts are not democratic. Nor are they primarily altruistic. We are easily led to act against our own real (long-term) interests. We absorb the fear and hate of the crowd. We can revert quickly to tribalism. We can be easily fooled. We are vulnerable to wishful thinking. Our religious books mislead us by suggesting that at the core of each and every man or woman there is a decent being. No. They also mislead us by telling us that there is a God looking after us, who has a plan. Don’t be ridiculous. Inclusiveness, caring beyond family and tribe, kindness to all, empathy for all, especially caring what happens to the entire planet – these are very recent value-added human traits. They are easily stripped from us by fear and loathing, both real or imagined and/or promoted by a demagogue. Each and every one of us is capable of sinking to a level of depravity that allows us to do unthinkable things. Perhaps 5 to 10 percent will resist this until death, but another 5 to 10 percent, I’m afraid, will revel in it. The rest will continue the water boarding if ordered to do so. You know in which of these groups Donald Trump resides.
Anxiety is a response to threat, or perceived threat. It is contained or dissipates when we feel we have some control. So take whatever control you can. Join groups, join protests, write, speak, vote, participate. Be vigilant. Do not allow the first of those 400 incremental steps to the unthinkable.
p.s I wrote the above before Mike Pence attended “Hamilton”. There are times in our lives when even the most self-centered and ego-threatened of us can be generous of spirit. It is easier, as we writers know, to congratulate a fellow writer on the publication of her novel if ours has been published as well. It is easier for the winner of a race to hug his opponents. If there were any time in the life of Donald J. Trump when he could afford to be generous of spirit it is now, while the triumph rings in his ears and the hard work is yet to begin. No matter how fragile his ego, this should be a time he can listen. But no. He tweets out demands for apologies and petty remarks.
Beneath that mop of blonde narcissism lies the mind of an insecure teenager.
My friends, your anxiety is justified.