Seeking Inner Peace in the Land of Trump

I have been tormented by Donald Trump’s presidency.  He represents almost everything I despise: greed, selfishness, pretension, ostentation, and ignorance about important matters that affect the lives of real people.  There is nothing abstract about my feelings and I struggle to distance myself from them.  It’s as though I am responsible, that I could have done something to avoid this catastrophe.  Am I alone in this?  Do you also feel strangely, shamefully responsible for his offenses, for allowing America to come to this?

In an effort to free myself from the torment, I have been casting about in my past to understand why it is so personal, and I’d like to share some of what I have found, hoping that you will also explore and also find ways to free yourselves.

The obvious place to go is my parents and their attitude towards politics.  After all, research has shown that most of us don’t wander very far from our parental trees.  My parents took politics very personally.  Political discussion virtually crowded food from our dinner table.  Whenever their friends came for an evening, politics were front and center.  Everybody had an opinion, everybody was passionate.  Being cool, having perspective had no currency in our home.  Politicians, good and bad, friends and enemies, were the protagonists of almost every story.   From earliest childhood, it was vital that my parents’ three children understand political issues and take stands on them.  It was a measure of your citizenship and your value as a person.  It has always been personal.

The intensity of my emotional and intellectual engagement and the sense of responsibility for political outcomes has held firmly over so many years despite the fact that I’ve rarely been involved in electoral politics.  I read the newspaper avidly and give some money to campaigns.  I speak passionately about issues when asked and often, much to some people’s consternation, when I’m not.  But I don’t join grassroots organizing efforts.  My districts vote the ‘right’ way without my help.  Until recently, I haven’t written about politics.  Why? Paradoxically, it may be that my powerful sense of responsibility has kept me at a distance for fear that I could never make enough of a difference.

The next stop in this exploration takes me to 1945, the year that my father was drafted and sent off to basic training in South Carolina.  Alone and pregnant with my brother, my mother began to call me “my little man.”  That wasn’t the normal tone she would set as a mother.  Throughout the years, she seemed determined to balance my father’s ambitions for me with enough criticism to keep my ego in check.  But, drawing on that long ago time, I have always thought that I should be able to take care of every problem.  This, I imagine, was my first training as a psychotherapist.

Next stop, 1960.  I am preparing to leave home for college.  I have a premonition that the family will fall apart when I leave.  There was no evidence, no concrete events, nothing whispered in my ears to support the feeling.  Even now, I can’t figure out why I was so upset that I got sick.  The doctor came to our house—yes, they still did in 1960—and gave me some medicine.  It would be thirty years before my mother told me that he had given me a placebo, a sugar pill.  It worked well enough for me to recover and to leave.  But, in fact, my family did deteriorate badly when I went off, and my sense of importance was confirmed.  No doubt, my feeling represented a child’s grandiosity, but it is through events like this that our relationship to the world is built.

A year later, as I approached Eliot House, my Harvard dorm, there was my father waiting for me.  He was unannounced and unexpected.  Without preamble, my father, normally a sober, contained, and soft-spoken man, his face distorted by pain, cried out that I needed to help him.  I needed to come home and to convince my mother, who had accused him of wrecking their marriage, that she was wrong.  He would never do such a thing.  She was being crazy, he said.  He seemed crazy to me.  I was upset but not as upset as you might imagine a nineteen year old to be.  For reasons I have never fully fathomed, it seemed natural that he—and my mother—would call on me to rescue their marriage. I left school that day and, for a week, scheduled talks with my mother, my father, their friends, my mother’s therapist—anyone who might help me understand the  family crisis.

I failed to help, though eventually the conflict was shunted to the side and their marriage continued.  But my failure did not persuade me that I shouldn’t have tried.  Nor did it even dent my sense of responsibility for things near and far.  In fact, the experience simply reinforced my need to take care of those I loved and, I think, to feel responsible for almost everybody.

Yet it has been the guidepost for much of my life.  I spent my entire career trying to help individuals, couples, families, organizations, and communities.  I still mentor many young people, thrilling to their development and worrying about their challenges.  There’s no denying: I have positioned myself in this world to be of help.  Success and failure in these endeavors has only been one measure of my participation.  I have tried very hard to actually and concretely help.  Looking back, I’d have to acknowledge that the pull to this responsibility has been stronger than any rational assessment of situations.

I know that I can’t do much, if anything, to save us from Donald Trump.  If he harms the environment, diminishes our health care, trashes the dignity of the American presidency, brings us to war, he’ll do so and I am helpless to stop him.  I despise that the end of my life may be filled with discouragement and alarm because of him.

In the spirit of knowledge, particularly self-knowledge, paving the way to freedom, I will bend every effort now to distance myself from his evil pull and from my own tendency to overreach.  I will pay less attention, read the newspapers and internet sites less, and initiate fewer political conversations.  I will try to turn away when faced with situations where I know that my efforts will be futile.  Maybe I’ll be able ignore that almost primordial impulse without feeling that I have betrayed my parents’ dream of a better world and for a son who will make that happen—maybe I can let go just enough to find some peace in my days.

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10 thoughts on “Seeking Inner Peace in the Land of Trump”

  1. What has bothered me a long time about all this is not Trump himself, as there are always a few rotten apples in the barrel. But instead it’s when you look in the barrel and see that almost half are rotten as well. I feel we are doomed not by Trump alone, but by this other half…..so many who are racists, anti science, anti environment, far right religious nuts, short sighted, greedy, selfish, incapable of realizing we are in a global society now and we are all connected like it or not and just plain full of hate. And it’s not just in the US, although we are really out there. Look at headline news from other countries.

    It must be some natural path of evolution that curves downward to self destruction.

    I can find peace and joy in my daily life, but I’m aware of this bigger picture that looms large.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re right, Mary. Trump does not stand alone. The army of people who feel so deprived and angry have been growing for decades. I think that the sense of victimization has become thematic in America, for right and left. We need to be proactive.

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  2. There is no peace to be found in the land of Trump. Attacks on all the values that we hold dear occur on a daily basis. Appalled by the threat of nuclear war one day, we are left to watch the rise of Neo-nazis the next day. Sometimes I think of how I would explain this election to my friends in Europe. One candidate wins the popular vote by over 2.5 million votes, but the other candidate is elected. How can we lurch from W to Obama to Trump? What happened to the dream of the ever growing middle class and the better life for our children? It makes me sad to think that the country that allowed me to realize the dreams of my parents for a better life for their children no longer exists. And I do hate to think that I will exit this life during a period where the beacon of America has been reduced to a smoldering lump of Koch brothers coal.

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    1. Eloquently put, Brother Tress. It is stunning that people are trying to sustain that lump of coal and that gallon of gas when it doesn’t even make business sense anymore. It seems that people cling to what once worked no matter how the world changes.

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  3. I find peace of mind by 1. refraining from agitating t.v. news, except on exceptional circumstances 2. taking part in the anti-Trump resistance, which in my community includes our U-U church and Safe Medford, a group trying to make Medford a welcoming community for immigrants, as well as our local NAACP, a nice group of African-Americans and whites, mainly older, trying to address discrimination in our schools etc. Also, the occasional inspiring demonstration- like, of course, the huge Women’s March on the Boston Common (which gave us all a shot in the arm) and tonight, a smaller vigil (I presume) in support of the anti-hate people of Charlottesville. With age, one becomes of necessity less active (I no longer can run around knocking on doors or doing major organizing), but I feel that doing something positive, however small, with kind and mindful people, helps keep me grounded. There are great groups out there: Indivisible (who organized the health care events in Congressional districts), the ACLU (who is fighting for the rights of immigrants, GBLT people and many others), MIRA (the Mass. Refugee and Immigration group)) and countless others. If everyone does something- we can overcome. And if we can’t overcome, at lest we will have tried. And I guarantee, you will feel better.

    Susan Jhirad

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    1. Susan, it looks to me like you’ve achieved a kind of wisdom about the political scene. It sounds a little like Camus, whose Sisyphus keeps rolling the rock up the hill even though he knows it will roll down. What else can he do.

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  4. I am really ashamed of this country, feeling very powerless to do much about growing hatred and willful ignorance. How does one contend with a world where facts are irrelevant? It is very difficult to advocate when truth doesn’t count. We have lost this country’s democratic ideals. We often failed to live up to them but they gave us goals to work towards. How can a country that elected Obama turn so quickly to fascism? Were we all deluded in believing that we had some principles to strive for?

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    1. I’m with you, Phyllis but I don’t see the turn around being so quick. The Tea Party has been building for decades. So, too, the introduction of “dark money” and the Koch brothers… etc etc. I’m afraid that we have a large, alienated class that only built steam during the Obama presidency.

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  5. I wrote about the Trump effect several times after the election, becoming more incensed and upset with every article. Lately, I’ve put it aside, although I still keep up with the news on TV, and read social media outbursts trashing him. It doesn’t have the same power over me now. I don’t really understand why. It’s possible that I’m hopeful things will change for the better, but maybe I’m just exhausted!

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