American democracy is in grave trouble. Not only because fascism is becoming fashionable again as it was in Europe in the 1930s, but because the very cause of Hitler's rise and success was the decline of democracy in Germany.
Hitler was first elected in an election with very low turnout. The American election just completed also had very low turnout. Only 56.8 % of eligible voters voted in 2016 (vs 57.5 in 2012; 62.3 in 2008; 60.4 in 2004). That is 90 million eligible voters who did not vote: i.e., Clinton lost because Democrats did not show up to vote.
Clearly many were turned off not only by the choices but also by the tone of the election, much of it fueled by a profit-driven media that whipped up flames of entertainment rather than democratic discourse. As Thomas Berry put it years ago, our "cultural process has entered into a destructive pathology." The destruction encompasses the fate of the earth and our future as a species, as well as our democracy and our institutions.
Without going into specifics about the personalities running in the last election...or the focus of both campaigns on personality rather than policy...or the failure of both political parties to present us with more viable options...or the obvious media malpractice or the intervention of the FBI at the last minute...or the entrance of Putin by way of hacking...or the sexual misconduct bragged about by the winner...or the Supreme Court's complicity with Citizens United and the dismantling of Voting Rights laws...or the sexism dumped onto one candidate - without addressing any of these hijackings of the electoral process - I want to focus on the following prescient statement from a psychological and spiritual genius of the mid 20th century, Otto Rank. He warned that it is contradictory to attempt "strengthening a weakening democracy by more democracy."(1)
What Can Strengthen Our Democracy?
Spirit is our capacity to live beyond just the reptilian brain. The true winner of this election was the reptilian brain. The media provided a continual reptilian circus, not only on Fox News, but surely on CNN as well where supposed representatives of various candidates were shouting at each other hour after hour, day after day. A nonstop political "Jerry Springer Show" as the Warrior coach Steve Kerr put it. A demagogic paradise.
In contrast to the chaos, fear, and anger of the reptilian brain, Spirit is about our capacity for stillness and silence; contemplation and peace; forgiveness, generosity, and creativity; and the application of our creativity toward justice and compassion. Spirit includes the mammalian brain (compassion) allied to our intellectual/creative brain, while it also incorporates the reptilian brain.
Spirit is about "launching out into the deep" as sixteenth-century mystic and activist John of the Cross put it. We live in a time when Wall Street dictates our lives and its poo-bahs are "too rich to jail" and its institutions that rape Main Street with impunity are "too big to fail." (If Obama's Department of Justice had sought justice against these banksters, I doubt that the resentment that Trump tapped into among white men in America's Rust Belt and struggling farms and small towns would have won the day.)
Our institutions--religion included--are too timid to sail "into the deep" and away from the safe shores of the modern era which is, after all, behind us. Religion, education, politics, economics, media--all have failed us and are continuing to fail us, and are failing democracy clearly.
Spirit offers an alternative to fear and challenges fear (Lakota teacher Buck Ghosthorse used to say: "fear is the door in the heart that lets evil spirits in").
Spirit addresses resentment and scapegoating because it insists we look inside and not just settle for projecting onto others whether they be aligned with the political right or left. Spirit does not settle for self-pity and projection onto others - behaviors which are so typical of the wounded and shame-ridden male psyche. (2)
Spirit births new forms of economics and politics and religion and ritual and education when they are needed. And they are all needed today. Spirit is the power of creativity. As Aquinas put it in the thirteenth century, "The same spirit that hovered over creation at the beginning of the world hovers over the mind of the artist at work."
Spirit is the breath of the Sacred, the breath of life, the breath of a gentle breeze and also a raging fire. It is water; it is fire; it is yin and it is yang. It is quiet and it is forceful.
A Spiritual Revolution?
I sat down with a wise elder in his 80s the day after the election and he told me that what is good about the outcome is that "the revolution will come faster; I thought it would come in a few years but now it will be hastened." What kind of revolution? "A spiritual revolution, a revolution in values and non-violent protest."
He went on: "Look at the homeless everywhere; the bloated cost of education; the utter failure of our political parties offering up a fascist candidate (who won); and another candidate who did not arouse interest enough for people to come out to vote."
I say Yes! to a revolution of spirit and values, one that would drive a complete overhaul of our approach to economics, the environment, employment, and education.
A spiritually-driven revolution in economics is needed because what we have is serving only the 1% and owns one political party and much of the other, and now may be redesigning this already unjust system to 1) greatly reduce health care for the poor , 21 million to be exact; and 2) create still more tax cuts for the wealthiest, etc. We need an economic model that serves all of the people - and the planet - not just the über-rich in power.
A spiritually-driven revolution regarding the environment is needed. Consider the complete silence on climate change: not one question was asked about it by our media in three presidential debates. Consider the mainstream media's near-blackout on the present threat to the water of America's heartland, now being pushed through at Standing Rock! Is this not species narcissism at its fullest? Denial run rampant? This one-time civilization, this empire is dying, and its one-time democracy is already dead. Consider Citizens United and ALL the money that flooded into the system this past election, much of it from dark and unnamed sources. And what it means that the Supreme Court will be buttressed by still more rigid rightists.
It is the same Wall Street structures (and most of Congress kowtows to those structures) that have sent the disaffected of our nation, white and black, turning to Trump for relief: laborers in the Rust Belt who are without good, paying jobs... farmers struggling to make ends meet between rising equipment and feed prices and falling crop profits... and middle-class Americans who lost their homes and are suffering from too expensive and too out-of-touch education and low-paying jobs. Poor blacks and poor whites are allies, not enemies! But a "divide and conquer" strategy pits race against race, class against class, gender against gender. Trump tapped into this malaise among white voters.
Dealing With Our, As Well As Others', Shadows
Regarding president-elect Trump: while being vigilant and critical of his policies and appointments and all the rest, we must be careful of projecting too much power or too much of our own shadow onto him. We must return to our own power; fight that inner jihad with our own shadows. And we must also recognize that Trump did one thing very right: he read the souls of a number of citizens who were disgruntled and disaffected due to our failed economic system.
Yet Sanders spoke to the same people and the same issues, and unlike Trump offered real solutions. There is no question that putting Trump in charge - surrounded as he is by zealots of the right carrying the ugly mantles of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, and more - is playing with fire. Resistance is required. We must shun all naiveté.
Yet we can still ask: Can an old leopard like Trump change his spots? Is redemption possible? Spirit teaches us to keep an open mind on that. One can work and organize and pray and hope. I was affected by Trump's visit to the White House on Thursday; for the first time I sensed some humility in his body language and even the words he exchanged with Barack Obama, this president against whom he led a racist vendetta for years, arousing crowds with the charge that he was not born in America.
Might Trump surprise us like the apartheid South African leader Kirk surprised us when another black leader, Nelson Mandala, was finally released from jail? Redemption and metanoia are possible. One can hope; and work; and watch and fight and pray. We cannot be naïve on the one hand; but neither can we be reptilian-brain driven people either.
This is the genius of non-violence, the great gift of spiritual giants of the 20th century from Gandhi to Howard Thurman to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to Nelson Mandala and Archbishop Romero and Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. These people, like Jesus and other prophets before him, reached beyond action/reaction to a deeper place, a place of Spirit, that we all need to reach now. They did not operate out of hate or projection. They did their inner work!
This would constitute a true revolution. We need inner work and outer work, contemplation and action, mysticism and prophecy, Yes and No.
This is also the work going on right now at Standing Rock. Buck Ghosthorse once taught me: "Do you want to know how sacred water is? Go without it for three days." Water is sacred. This is the entire mantra of the sacred action going on at Standing Rock today! This battle against narcissistic capitalism which could spoil water for generations of people on and off the reservation is the kind of non-violent protest Spirit asks for in our time. This is Spirit standing up to Evil.
Psychologist Carl Jung provided the following warning:
We need more understanding of human nature, because the only real danger that exists is man himself. He is the great danger, and we are pitifully aware of it. We know nothing of man, far too little. His psyche should be studied, because we are the origin of all coming evil. (3)
In his forward to my recently released book on Evil, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, Deepak Chopra has this to say about the same topic:
In addressing sin and evil, Fox's book faces the single greatest obstacle of spirituality in the twenty-first century. The human race escaped the mass horrors of the previous century by the skin of its teeth, only to find that Satan couldn't be put back in his bottle. Across the entire spectrum of religion, the pall of terror and atrocities is undeniable. The modern loss of
faith can't be wished away, and as millions walk away from organized religion, wondering where God was during the Holocaust or 9/11 or Abu Ghraib, the satanic side of human nature seems more intractable than ever.(4)
The struggle for Justice, the struggle for authentic community, the struggle against evil--these are the work of Spirit.
What can light the fire to get us out of our couches to live again, love again, make justice, peace and community again? Gratitude! Rabbi Heschel said, "Humanity will not be saved by more information but by more appreciation." (5) And Meister Eckhart wrote, "If the only prayer you say in your whole life is Thank You, that would suffice." (6) Where are our thank you's? Where is our sense of appreciation for the gift of existence in this amazing world of two trillion galaxies (a scientific fact discovered a couple weeks before this fateful election and no doubt left unreported in most of the media)? Rabbi Heschel tells us that "the world is not just here. It shocks us into amazement." (7)
Apathy and Acedia lost this election: sins against the first chakra. How do we cure acedia? Aquinas tells us how: "Zeal comes from an intense experience of the beauty of things," i.e. Love of the Earth; of life; of being itself; of our home, the cosmos. So sacred. A return to the Sacred. To Spirit.
"Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up" teaches David Orr the eco-philosopher (8). Our work is cut out for us--but it must be an inner work that invites and responds to Spirit, as well as an outer work that challenges structures that are ill serving. Structures that perpetuate not a government "of the people, by the people and for the people," but "of the elites, by the elites and for the elites."
So what is the answer? In short, a wholly new approach to understanding and embodying our relationship to the wider world. As Thomas Berry put it:
... The new cultural coding that we need must emerge from the source of all such codings, from revelatory vision that comes to us in those special psychic moments, or conditions, that we describe as 'dream.' We are, of course, using this term not only as regards the psychic processes that take place when we are physically asleep, but also as a way of indicating an intuitive, nonrational process that occurs when we awaken to the numinous powers ever present in the phenomenal world about us, powers that possess us in our high creative moments. Poets and artists continually invoke these spirit powers, which function less through words than through symbolic forms. (9)
1 Otto Rank, Beyond Psychology (New York: Dover, 1941), 289.
2 I have written about this condition and cures for it in my book The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine (Navato, Ca: New World Library, 2008).
3 Carl Jung, C. G. Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters (Princeton University Press: Bollingen Series XCVII, 1977), 436.
4 Deepak Chopra, "Forward," in Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2016), xiii.
5 Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism (NY: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1955), 46
6 Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & CO., 1983), 34.
7 Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man? (Stanford, Ca: Stanford University Press, 1965) 87.
8 David Orr, "Hope in a Hotter Time," in Hope is an Imperative: The Essential David Orr (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2011), 324.
9 Berry, Thomas, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), p. 211.