A Psychological Snapshot of America, January 1999
Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, January 15, 1999
“This is as strange a Maze, as ere men trod.” (Shakespeare, Tempest, v. i. 242)
Politicians and news commentators used the word surreal to describe the recent House impeachment proceedings. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals all used this same word. One commentator said the hearings reminded him of a bad Hollywood script. This was his way of describing surreal feelings.
The Pain from Tucson
Published in the Brattleboro Reformer, January 21, 2011.
The killings in Tucson have awakened fear and confusion and pain (and even guilt) in many people. Here I focus only on the pain. Perhaps the deepest pain has come from the story of the nine year old girl. I would guess that most people who have seen interviews with her parents and her friends feel upset that this little girl has died. People who are not particularly interested in their feelings may not know they are in pain. Others may have noticed the pain within themselves but decided not to focus on it, because "What's the point: It's just one of those situations where we suffer, and there's nothing we can do about it. This is how life is. We're grown-ups, not naïve kids or neurotics, and we go on with our lives. Even more, 'We didn't know her personally.'"
Short idea (87): If you cut off the head of a worm, the body goes on for a long time. It's pretty much the same with people. If you cut out our ability to think (maybe by some violent emotion), we can still eat and drink — and vote.
Short idea (150): Following his quadruple bypass heart surgery, former president, Bill Clinton, was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on October 28, 2004 for her program, Primetime Live. President Clinton spoke about his changed values with respect to the political "game," and he added, "I thought, you know, you've been given an unknown but substantial amount of extra time. And you should give it back. So, that's what I'm going to try to do.” On the one hand, it is nice that he has had some sort of conversion to wanting to devote his life to helping people. On the other hand, it would be nice to think of all presidents, including him, as being devoted to this during their presidencies.
Short idea (192): There are two political parties in the United States. Younger members of each party are sure they are right and members of the other party are wrong and maybe even evil. Older politicians may feel this but become more practical and are willing to compromise in order to get anything done. But there is a third position: Neither party is completely right but that each expresses a part of the truth. Compromise is not a process where good makes a deal with evil to get at least some good. Rather it is a struggle that leads, if it works, to incorporating the goodness and truths of both parties into a higher, more complete good and truth. This struggle can take centuries.
Mostly Trump: 76 political cartoons from 2016
The book, Mostly Trump: 76 political cartoons from 2016, can be purchased in the iBooks store, on Amazon as a Kindle book, on Barnes and Noble, and on Kobo. It also can be accessed here. The link allows anyone to read the book for free, but it can not be downloaded.
Psychological Observations on the 2016 Presidential Campaign
This is not a psychological analysis of the candidates though I try to use my psychological understanding to understand them. Even when a client is in front of a therapist it is difficult to understand the client. Therapists have trouble understanding even themselves. So this is a warning to the reader that the comments below represent impressions based on zero contact with the candidates except what we have all seen on TV. And it should be remembered that what we see on TV. is a political persona that are meant to cover up much of what is real and to present a face that will make us vote for them.
We forget that none of the candidates running for president, in either party, may be capable of handling the job. More, it is possible that there is no person in the world capable of doing the job, of solving our problems.
March 22, 2016
Alarms can be rated. Some people are alarms. Donald Trump can be viewed as an alarm. As an alarm, I think he should be rated as a "B" or "B+". Alarms are not first response systems. They are necessary for;signaling trouble but do not respond to trouble. For responses, we need other systems. Even if Donald Trump is good at going off as an alarm, others are necessary to figure out how to figure out responses. Babies are good alarms but can't solve problems. Their loud yelling can irritate parents. It can make them angry and make them feel superior. This is not good parenting. It is not good parenting to ignore or laugh at or minimize the pain and crying of other people or to take it personally or to ridicule them for the way they are expressing it. The difficult job of parenting involves listening to the screaming, figuring out the source, and dealing with it effectively.
March 24, 2016
From a psychological perspective, we predict that Donald Trump's followers (roughly 90% of them) will become disillusioned with him. They will come to see him as a sadist and a liar and a con man. He will wind up like Mussolini with most of his followers turning against him. The only question is when. Will it be before the convention? Will it be after it but before the election? Or, will it happen after he is elected president, if he is?
March 28, 2016
I left out that one of the feelings that many people have, whether they are aware of it or not, is that the people in the government do not care about us. They may think they do; they may pretend they do; they may even have started out caring; but they don't or don't any longer. The very rich may feel this less, but if you are not rich and have to deal with the court system, you may come away with the feeling that it is impersonal and not interested in justice or fairness and still less interested in you and your needs and your intentions and self-concept. The same with the IRS. Heartless is the word that comes to mind. Petty is another word. When I worked in the mental health system in California I saw a lot of waste and a fair amount of mistreatment. I wrote letters trying to get government officials to come and see, with their own eyes, what I was seeing. No one even wrote back. When inspectors came, they seemed to give low marks to mental health facilities for the wrong reasons and ignore the real problems. I was at a nursing home once the morning a man had hung himself in his room. Facility licensing inspectors were there. The nursing notes had in them that the patient had said he wanted to kill himself. No one had referred him to a mental health professional for help. This would have surely led to fines and possibly the closing of the facility if it had not been for one thing: The inspectors happened to be there when the body was discovered, and they saw they shock and horror and genuine concern of the staff members. If they hadn't seen it, they would have assumed it was a monstrous, uncaring facility. In this case, by luck, the government did not turn out to be stupid and clumsy and insensitive and officious and superior.
Victims of government abuse, abuse of authority can overlook it and absorb it and accept it as normal. But, under certain conditions, a person can cross over a mental line. They now feel the government is not a friend or a helper. It is not on their side or for them. A step further, and the government is felt as an enemy and a danger. Apparently there a very large number of people in the United States who have this feeling right now.
I think the government could change. In the 1990's, as I remember it, corporations began to change. It had been that if you bought a product from a big company and it was defective or just wanted to complain about it, no one would listen. At some point something changed. Now, for many companies, customer service seems like a very high priority. Representatives are very polite, even overly polite, and extremely eager to please. They tell you that you will have a chance to rate them when you hang up. You have, as a consumer, a feeling of some power. Even Microsoft, that used to charge you $20 to call them about a problem you were having with their computer, has free phone support. — All this is probably due to increased competition as well as consumer demands. I think it could happen with the government also where there would be much more importance placed on consumer satisfaction. Of course this would cost us all money, but it might be money worth spending.
Again, I see Trump and Cruz and Sanders as alarms that are going off loudly due to customer dissatisfaction with the government. The problem is that, because the they know there is a problem (or are going off in response to the problems), this does not mean they have the answers. But who cares enough to really try to come up with answers to our problems? And who has the understanding and ability to pull it off?
March 28, 2016
The country is in pain. When a baby is in pain it reaches towards its mother. For this reason alone, I think the country will turn towards the woman running for president. The question then is, "Would Hilary Clinton be a caring and competent mother or mother figure?"
April 1, 2016
To be clear about my view: The country is worried about terrorism and the economy and lack of responsiveness of the government to our needs (among other things). Trump and Cruz are, in a sense, irritating alarms going off about these worries and the underlying problems. If Clinton and Sanders attack the alarm and demolish and destroy it, it doesn't make the problems go away. We are lucky to have alarms.
April 1, 2016
I have not seen it mentioned in the press the significance of Trump being a businessman. The businessmen I know, from the old school, are tyrannical within their businesses and even within their families. They are used to being obeyed. They don't argue; they command. They don't feel they have to think things through and justify them to their employees. They are confident or give the appearance of confidence that they can handle anything that comes up. They are never submissive, unless it is part of a game to get information or make a sale. If someone talks to them in the wrong tone of voice, they get fired. This is Donald Trump. I think his style can be explained by understanding that he is never disobeyed, and if he ever is, he fires them. He is not used to debates or discussions or acting humbly. He has never gone on a job interview and does not understand the proper demeanor.
April 1, 2016
It seems to me that, in the end, Trump probably doesn't want to be president, especially as he begins more and more to realize it is a job and not a kingship. The U.S.... is not a business with an omnipotent boss. If he is president he will be at a lower and more humble position than he is now. It will be stepping down for him, at least in one respect.
April 1, 2016
I wonder if Donald Trump is in the race, not to become president, but to learn about himself. The process may make him see himself from another angle, It may force him to think about things he wouldn't naturally think about and in a way that is not his normal. He is not used to being listened to and taken seriously; he is only used to being feared as a boss who can fire. He seems to want to be liked and is very sensitive and reads any disagreement as an attack. He does not have a thick skin, though he is a good fighter. Why would he put himself in this position? One explanation, is that he is learning something about himself. Nowhere else can he find people who will not kowtow to him and agree with him and see him as The Donald. Who, before this, would call him "sniveling"? Maybe he wants to bring himself down a notch and become one of us. — This could be a deep down and unconscious goal.
April 10, 2016
When we are bad, for whatever reason, at a skill we feel we need, and we notice everyone is better at it than us, then we may try to learn the skill. How do we do it if we are not natural? It is tempting to try to find some rules we can follow. Maybe we find these rules in a book or from someone who has the skills we want to develop or maybe we come up with our own rules.
For example, if we aren't good at making speeches, we may read that it is good to open a speech with a joke. We may try this out. If it works, great, but if it doesn't, two roads are open for us: We can try something else, or we can hold on to our rule like a dog holds on to a bone and keep opening our speeches with a joke. We can adapt or become rigid.
Many of us are not naturals in social situations. We may come up with a series of rules such as "Smile when you are introduced to someone!", "Shake hands!", "Look the person in the eyes!", "Don't talk about politics or religion!", and so on. Again, these rules may work. If not, you may be open to different rules or not.
If you hold on to the rules no matter what, this can be seen as rigidity, inflexibility, and the inability to change, or it can be seen as courage and bravery and persistence in the face of adversity.
If you are a born lawyer with a natural feel for the law and its intent and function, it is one thing. But there may be lawyers who have no real feel for the law and decide to come up with a theory or a rule that they will apply in all situations, come what may, so they can go on with their profession.
A last point is that this kind of practical development of rules for getting along must be distinguished from a fanatical adherence to a set of rules that comes out of a belief, religious or political or whatever. Whether strict adherence to a set of rules is rigidity and fear of "losing it" or if it is fanaticism is not easy to tell from the outside.
A person who is horrified by abortions and believes deeply that they are wrong and never supports and never will support any law that allows abortion is one thing. This will appear fanatic to some and a courageous stand on principles to others. A person who never has or will support a law that allows abortion may be following a rule that he (or she) thinks will allow him to get along with those who have sincere beliefs about the evilness of abortion. This person can be rigid, because he thinks is not willing or able to come up with a different rule of behavior and not because he is a deep believer. If he never flinches and never gives up, even when he is more extreme than others in the group he seeks to join, he may seem a brave hero to those in the group. Or he may seem narrow and even crazy.
The question in this political campaign is about Ted Cruz? Is he a religious and moral zealot whose stubbornness we can respect even if we don't agree with his positions? Or is he a frightened, timid, rigid person who is not brave but rather lacks the ability to adapt even though he wishes he could.
The same question can be asked about the late Supreme Court justice, Antonin Scalia, a hero and major influence on Ted Cruz. They both seem to have set up a rule they can follow in all cases, no matter what: Follow the original intent of the framers of the Constitution? Whether they really do follow this rule, or even try to follow it, or whether their own feelings warp their decisions is an open questions. But the question on which we are now focusing is whether the apparent adherence to a relatively simple rule in the face of the complexity of reality is a form of timid rigidity or of deep feelings.
November 8, 2016
Until today, I thought the most efficient commentary I could make on the 2016 elections would be through images — political cartoons — and I published an online book of 76 political cartoons called Mostly Trump (that can be purchased on Amazon or in the iTunes bookstore).
However, I have just now found myself thinking along lines that are different for me about the meaning of this election and thought it might be useful to write them out.
The overall idea is that there is a shift of perspective going on in individuals in the United States and probably in Europe. It is a shift from the personal, local, and even national points of view to a global point of view.
This newer view sees us as all together: peoples, animals, plants, oceans, land masses, atmosphere, and so on.
The older perspective is of me over here and you and the rest of the world over there. Or there is a perspective of me, as an American, over here, along with other Americans, with the rest of the world over the oceans.
There are also, in the older ways of looking at things, the perspectives of a religion (the view of a Christian or a Jew or a Moslem) or of a race or of a man or of a woman or of a type of person (an intellectual, a manual worker, an athlete, a gay person, and so on).
The newer perspective does not abandon the older ways of looking but adds point of view. It sees things from the point of view of the planet or the solar system. It sees all of us humans on the same level and as "planet mates" with the animals and plants. An elephant in Africa is not "out there," alien to us, but living alongside us on this planet, sharing it with us, and vice versa.
This newer perspective, it seems to me, pops up in different fields of intellectual study, even in the sciences.
For example, in the abstract field of Physics, we have Chaos Theory that theorizes that the smallest event in one part of the world can effect the whole planet (if I understand the theory correctly). This seems to me an expression of a "larger" perspective and is consistent with the larger perspective we are discussing.
All of this dovetails with (or is caused by) what some are calling the Third Industrial Revolution. Technological innovations have made it that any person on earth can communicate with any other person almost instantaneously and at very little cost.
In addition, It is possible for each of us to create things by ourselves and on our own that could have only been produced in the past by a massive joint effort. For example, each of us can make and produce and publish and distribute books and music and film. It is possible that it is a matter of time before each person on earth, with very little knowledge or ability or wealth, will have it within his or her ability to produce weapons of mass destruction.
Among other things, this massive increase in the power of the individual means that any human on earth can have a massive effect, and quickly. It also means that the single thought or emotion of a single person who, to the old point of view, is of the very least significance, can have the greatest significance for everyone. There are no more insignificant people. And no thought or feeling of anyone can be dismissed as meaningless or insignificant.
It is also more and more possible for individual and groups of individuals to influence significantly the plant and animal kingdoms as a whole and the atmosphere of the planet itself and its oceans and even its mountains. This power used to be thought of as god-like, but now it must be considered human-like.
Another consequence of this Third Industrial Revolution is that one person (or robot) can do the job of ten or even a hundred and maybe a thousand people. This means that, at the very same time the individual with his or her thoughts and feelings and fantasies assumes monumental importance and power, this same individual is becoming, from a financial point of view, more and more useless. Feelings of powerlessness stemming from the loss of ability to support oneself and ones family, and the feelings of humiliation this brings combine with the ability to communicate about it all and the ability to do something about it. It is easy to blame individuals or groups for these problems, and it is easier than ever to express your views and feelings to thousands and even millions.
Because of these and other factors, we seem to be witnessing a massive power shift. As Jung predicted, women seem to be moving more and more into positions of power which corresponds with an increased awareness of the value of the feminine. In America, Latinos and African Americans communities are growing, and they are accumulating more and more wealth and more and more political power.
For those who have, for hundreds of years, dominated and controlled and set standards and moral codes and tastes and written and enforced laws, this is terrifying. It is not new on the face of the earth for a people in power to be afraid of the people they control. What seems new is the development of what we might call a Global Perspective. It is still possible and necessary and even desirable to see from within your own power group. But it seems that, for a variety of reasons, more and more people are also seeing from the Global Perspective. They see themselves as parts of massive group interactions and see how it would look from someone above, outside any of the groups.
At the same time, and because of the above mentioned increased technological abilities of the individual, it is less and less likely that any one group will be able to control everything and everybody.
So it seems there is a direction of history that we can detect. No matter what a person thinks of Astrology, it is useful, with the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, to divide history into two thousand year periods (that is, Platonic Years). Astrologers tell us that around the year 2000, we entered a new Platonic Year that they call the Age of Aquarius. It seems to be an age where the female element is to move into an equal position with the male, and so on. Put this way, the movement we are seeing, including the shift to a Global Perspective, seems inevitable.
And yet people who have always been in the ascendance will, just as inevitably, try to plug up what they feel is a dam breaking. They fear a flood that will inevitably destroy them, and they can not help but launch a counter-attack in which they will see themselves as heroes: They are heading off the flood of darkness. This heroic movement will, inevitably, have racial and religious overtones.
Trump seems to be part of this counter-movement, or, at least, he seems to have allied himself with it. This movement exists in the U.S. and also in Europe. It has developed in atmosphere of despair and terror and hopelessness.
As mentioned, it has racial overtones, and the goals of some in the movement are almost identical with the traditional goals of the Ku Klux Klan.
It can be seen as anti-women (anti-female), anti-gay, anti-global, anti-Islam, anti-ecology, and so on.
It is an attempt to stop change. Even if change is inevitable, even if the New Age has begun and can not be stopped, this does not mean that there won't be war and destruction before peace and harmony establishes itself (if it ever will). As Hegel pointed out, history can be seen as a series of clashes of opposite forces out of which syntheses of the forces emerges. Each synthesis is a force that clashes with its opposite creating a new synthesis. So there is a progress, but it is fitful and often painful. From within the political arena, we can see that each election brings to power a party that is expressing power and one aspect of the truth. After a time it loses its truth and another party emerges that fights it. If Hegel is right, out of these clashes, progress occurs.
We may not know what the "goal" is, but there is a development. So the disruption caused by one side winning and displacing the other seems to be natural and as something that should be expected. We have two sides of our personalities and both are real. They may clash (for example, between our passivity and our aggression), but there seems to be the possibility of an integration that grows from these clashes.
There is always the chance that the conservative force will win and win forever. But, because of the technological revolution mentioned above, It is hard to picture any one force winning completely and dominating forever. It is, I think, more probable that there could come a point where both sides are so powerful that they will destroy each other and the whole planet if they don't make peace.
If Clinton should win, she will have a big job on her hands. It may be an impossible job. She and her supporters can not just relax and go to sleep and return to the good and happy life and assume the other side has disappeared or has been destroyed.
There is a book series called Left Behind. It is about how more and more religious Christians will be taken away, to another, higher world, leaving behind those who aren't willing to sign up for and live the Christian life. It is possible to use the left behind concept in a different context and in an opposite way: The Global Age is leaving many behind. There are many who have already "popped" into this New Age, whereas people such as Trump may not be willing to come along or are too afraid. They are the ones who are being left behind. It is the very people who read the Left Behind series and think of themselves leaving the rest of the world behind, it is these people who are getting left behind.
The Hopi Indians say that we are now in the Fourth World but that it is coming to an end. There will be painful signs that will mark the beginning of the Fifth World, the last world (perhaps the pain of the 2016 election campaign is such a sign). The Fifth World will be, according to Hopi prophecy, be a world of peace and harmony.
It is possible, it seems to me, that the Fifth World has already begun and that many have already "popped" into it. Trump, and many who see him as their Saviour, are still in the Fourth World and don't want to come along into the Fifth.
This way of looking at the current election seems to me more constructive and, perhaps, more accurate than just seeing the two sides as mortal enemies with one being evil and one being good. And it can give Hillary Clinton — a woman, mother, and grandmother — if she wins, a model for handling the country’s birth into a new age and a new world.
I think Hillary Clinton's ads revealed her true and deep concerns. All the ones I saw impressed upon the viewer possible effects on children of Trump's words and antics. These ads were aimed mostly at women (or at the "mother" point of view) as were the ads that praised Hillary as a life-long advocate for children and women.
There was one other group of ads that asked us the question whether we want an "unstable" man deciding life and death issues for us.
I think ads from both of these groups must have had the intended effects on many voters.
What Clinton's ads did not show were people out of work, closed factories, workers displaced by job outsourcing, out-of work people displaced by robots, the pain for many people caused by Obamacare, small businesses that can no longer function under the weight of government regulations, and the threat of attacks by radical Islam.
It seemed to many that either she didn't know these problems existed, didn't know that people are worried about them, or that she didn't see these problems as of primary importance.
Clinton made her biggest pleas to women and, for the last week or so, to people of color (through rally-concerts).
She chose the Javits Center with its glass ceiling to receive election news. This choice symbolized, I think, her main goal throughout the campaign and throughout her professional career — becoming the first woman president. She hoped to break through the glass ceiling.
It seems to me that all this was not just Hillary's group making a campaign miscalculation but rather helps us paint an accurate portrait of who Hillary is. To me she has always seemed like a 1960's liberal, intellectual, woman's libber — with all the positives and all the limitations of this life stance.
The part of me that is anti-establishment and sees arrogance and aloofness and naiveté and lack of self-knowledge in the Democratic politicians I have met, is happy to see Hillary (with all her email and campaign tactic scandals) swept away. It feels as if a new beginning in Washington might be possible. Maybe the Republican majority with the new president can clean things up and bring into the fore parts of our personalities that have been undervalued and repressed.
There is hope, though I do not appreciate the gloating of the victors (seen on TV). And I think the victor's apparent profound happiness and confidence in themselves is naive, even foolhardy, though, probably, natural. Republican virtues will probably be promoted, and, we predict, excesses will soon start occurring.
However, even if Clinton's view of reality (along with the value system embedded in it) was limited, it does not mean it was incorrect. Her view is a valid piece of the whole picture, one piece of the picture of the future.
What will Trump do with his new and expanding power? As with many other things about his behavior, I think there is no way to predict. For me, one important sign for our future (and for the future of the country and maybe even for the future the world) is how he will react when people disagree with him and stand up to him. As a businessman, he is not used to being crossed. When he is, he fires people. Temperamentally he seems to react with anger when he is criticized. How will he handle Congress and the American people when his is crossed? Will he shoot first and ask questions later, if ever? Will he feel he is bigger than the government, bigger than democracy, bigger than America? Will he move out of Washington, sweep away constitutional restrictions to his power?
Trump has used the word revolution many times. I wonder if, deep down, he does or doesn't respect the concept of democracy. I also wonder which, in a showdown, we Americans would choose: Security (including financial security) or Liberty. Is democracy, a failed experiment?
It seems to me Abraham Lincoln must have been very brave and singularly focused when he spoke about the "unfinished work ... so nobly advanced” by those who fought at Gettysburg and pledged us to be “dedicated to the great task remaining before us.”
I wonder if I and my friends and neighbors and fellow countrymen will stand with Lincoln with his same high resolve “… that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
In the meantime, from a psychological angle, we have no choice but to monitor our own selves and the good and bad forces in us, including the heavenly and the demonic. If we are honest with ourselves, we have the right to hope that we, at least as individuals, will find a new and more complete understanding of who we all are and where we are going and that this awareness will lead to “a new birth of freedom” within ourselves.