By Dr David Laing Dawson
I have had a lifetime of sitting in a comfortable chair, walking safe streets, and observing the struggles of our neighbour to the south. Beneath their constant boasting I witnessed their progress, through Kennedy, desegregation, Johnson, Alabama, Martin Luther King, until finally they elected a black president. Which meant, I thought, that at least half of the population of the United States had worked through their demons of oppression and slavery, of segregation, of racism. Their future looked bright. And if the future of the USA looks bright so does that of the rest of the world.
But when I listen to Donald Trump, to Steve Bannon, to Harvey Weinstein for that matter, and many other white male Americans of age, I realize how much their terrible history is still in play. For beneath all of their bluster, their provocations, their aggression, there lies a deep pool of fear and guilt. Or guilt and then fear, which would be the correct order. Guilt to fear and then to aggression.
It is embodied by Donald Trump. It is being played out by Donald Trump on the world stage. His narcissism is astounding, as is his ability to lie, but he embodies another dynamic that must be addressed if the USA is not going to implode. And that is Donald’s fixation on Barack Obama.
With much of what Trump says he leaves unspoken a final sentence that is beginning to ring loudly in my ears. And that is the removal of the “stain” of Barack Obama; the castration and lynching of Obama, expunging him from history.
The dynamic is guilt (guilt from deeds and thoughts and a denied history) which leads to a fear of retaliation, which is quickly turned into aggression.
It is risky applying individual psychology to the behaviour of groups and nations but over the past 50 years I think I have been watching Cognitive Behavioural Therapy being applied to America’s history of slavery, violence, segregation and racism. Superficially much progress has been made. “We shall overcome.” But I think they need Desmond Tutu. Some truth and reconciliation. A full catharsis if we are not to see this cycle repeated again and again.
That is (and perhaps it will be possible in the backlash choice of president after Donald Trump), they need to really face their history, the truth of slavery, the remnants of the civil war, their guilt and fear. It could start with a loud and public discussion about all those civil war monuments and what to do with them.
After that they could look at the guilt they must feel for the destruction they unleashed on Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Perhaps if that is ever faced we will no longer read that 50% of Republicans are in favour of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.