When the United States proudly elected and reelected Barack Obama, we took a positive giant-step in our evolution as a nation. Bolstered by the promise inherent in our progress, I believed, along with many others, in our ability to continue moving forward.
But, apparently, we are instead degenerating. We are dragging our knuckles and stooping to the shameful level of potentially electing Donald Trump: a serial liar, racist, narcissist, buffoon -- with no experience whatsoever in public office.
Think about this: Since election season began, our standards for leadership have been so debased that basic mental stability has become a criterion. Suddenly "soundness of mind" has to be included as a serious consideration when we vote. That's a bad sign.
My late father, one of the most loyal Republicans I've ever known, would be vomiting all over his TV listening to Donald Trump and watching his juvenile antics. He would be appalled and ashamed of what's happened to the GOP. My father would never have converted to the left, but if Trump was elected president, I believe he would pack his bags and move back to Europe. He would even consider moving back to his native Greece where the current economic turmoil would seem like a pesky toothache compared to having an unstable, nut job in the White House.
Like many others, I believed at first that the people who were supporting Donald Trump were small, irrelevant factions of disgruntled Americans -- insignificant numbers of angry, anti-establishment objectors. But with Trump's popularity surging recently, it is sinking in that I was wrong -- really wrong.
My recent blog on Huffington Post a few months ago entitled, The New Plague in America: The Denial of Reason, was even more accurate than I believed at the time of writing it. The "dumbing down of America" continues. And it just keeps getting worse.
Interestingly, all of Trump's inexcusable behavior -- his brazen lack of decorum, bigotry, misogyny, harsh treatment of protestors at his events, initial refusal to disavow the KKK's support of his campaign and plenty of other examples -- only seems to fan the flames of his momentum. He's like a dirty snowball gathering strength and size. Except that dirt is actually a fungus and it's infecting our country at an accelerated pace.
Even the countless articles written about his unhinged temperament, malignant self-absorption, and poor judgment doesn't seem to deter his followers. He's truly the new Teflon Don. Nothing sticks to him.
But, why? Here's one hypothesis:
Trump's fans seem to be supporting him as an act of rebellion -- like one colossal, anti-institution temper-tantrum. Their rebellion seems less a statement of active support than one of open resistance to the current political establishment. Trump's supporters are dismayed and feel let down for the last eight years, especially on the Republican and Conservative side. A vote for Donald trump is a gut-vote.
In a way, I get it. I am also disenchanted with our political establishment. The whole system stinks. The two party paradigm feels rigged. I feel the agony.
However, what we are seeing is a "blind rebellion" spawned by unexamined anger and fear. I say "blind" because Trump's voters are being duped by his outrageous and impossible promises. He assures he will stimulate instant economic prosperity and lots of "winning." In fact, he claims that "We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning." Makes me wonder: Did he get an endorsement from Charlie Sheen?
Trump's empty presidential aspirations also include building massive border walls, rounding up and throwing millions of illegals out of the country, ridding the world of terrorism in one fell swoop, etc. These are titillating promises to those who are so afraid and full of resentment.
This kind of blind rebellion also inspires dangerously irrational thinking. Trump's shallow assurances are lulling his supporters into a pathological form of denial. For example, some of his fear-mongering rhetoric (Mexicans are sending over rapists and drugs; all Muslims are subversives, etc.) is exacerbating this blindness and obscuring their ability to see what's really going on here.
In psychotherapy we use the term, "cognitive distortions" to describe how excessive worry and long-term exposure to stress skews our thinking. These are negative thinking styles that patients identify within themselves and then work to replace with more realistic assessments. One of those is called "Emotional Reasoning."
Emotional Reasoning is when we think something is true just because we feel it. Emotional Reasoning confuses feelings with facts. It impairs our intellect and literally distorts reality. It's what separates us from the animal kingdom. We as humans can stop and think things through with our intellect. Animals operate on instinct and impulse.
As a nation, I thought we had risen above that. It appears we haven't.
Emotional Reasoning speaks from the primitive brain, or the fight/flight/freeze response system. When we feel threatened and sense imminent danger, the amygdala (the tiny but powerful fear center in our brains that alerts the organism to potential dangers) takes charge. Once in defense mode, we are unable to employ prudent thinking. Our hairy ancestor--the caveman -- needed it a long time ago to preserve the species and keep us alive. Our scary contemporary -- The Donald -- is using it to keep us in fear.
It is his supporter's primitive brain function that is being stirred up by Trump's animosity and fear-inducing dialogue. His words activate the primitive brain function by suggesting that the U.S. will collapse under another Democratic victory; or that we will soon be invaded and attacked by Muslims, the Chinese, Mexicans and God knows who else. The only thing his supporters want to hear is that a quick fix to their anxiety is on the way. But Donald Trump is not a panacea for our problems. At best, he is an expired vial of generic Xanax.
There is also another psychological process occurring here. Consider how he reacts whenever he is criticized or challenged. He emotionally retaliates with rancorous intent like an elementary school kid ready for a playground brawl. Subsequently, his followers react to the doomsday fears he purports in exactly the same way he reacts to his critics. No intellect involved here. Monkey see, monkey do.
It's called Projection Identification, which occurs when someone projects their own negative qualities, or negative fears onto another. That recipient then internalizes the projection and comes to believe that he or she is characterized by it. Donald Trump's own feelings of hate, xenophobia and paranoia settles further into his follower's psyche every time he opens his reckless mouth.
Emotional Reasoning and Projective Identification are not what we need in Washington. If Donald Trump wins the White House, all this mislead, prejudiced claptrap--as Mitt Romney warned in his press conference on March 3rd--would be disastrous. Romney said that Donald Trump's "domestic policies would lead to recession and his foreign policies would make America and the world less safe."
If it could get any scarier, consider the ominous scene that unfolded during a University of Central Florida rally in Orlando last Saturday. Trump asked his followers to raise their right hands and take a pledge affirming their commitment to voting for him. The gesture was clearly reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Let's get a grip here before it's too late.