Hillary vs. Donald

Hillary Clinton blamed Donald Trump's rhetoric and inflammatory statements as the kind of speech that can "trigger someone who is less than stable." While she made these remarks after the Charleston shootings, they were before two Boston rednecks beat senseless an apparently homeless illegal immigrant. They, in fact, cited Donald in the beatings, saying he was their inspiration. Hillary's remarks suddenly moved from retroactive blame -- easily deflected by Donald -- to predictive assigning of responsibility.

What Hillary said goes contrary to how most people usually think of accusatory language. As children we'd chant "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This helped fend off the scary verbal bullies, reassuring the child that she was really safe. That phrase, while aiming to immunize the child, simultaneously reinforces the power of magical thinking: wishing makes it so, and being called names has no effect. That is just not true. Verbal abuse can cause immense internal damage, even if no physical blow is struck.

Words evoke images, often powerful ones. So while they are not strictly speaking actions, name-calling acts on the recipient's psyche. President Obama always held the opinion that words could change people's minds by asking them to be more introspective. His speeches on race -- too few and far between -- are just such invitations for self-reflection. He appreciates the positive value of words, that they can indeed elevate levels of thought and increase self-awareness. He continues to appreciate that power by replacing Alaska's 'Mt. McKinley' with its original name 'Denali.'

But what Hillary addressed was the danger posed by words, the danger posed by hateful accusations. She said that inflammatory language could affect a vulnerable person. We need to examine how this happens. National leaders function unconsciously in loco parentis -- rule-givers, inspiring identification figures, and protectors. The giving of rules to live by begins in childhood, especially in religious childhood, with learning the Ten Commandments. Among those is "Thou shalt not kill." These rules help children socialize, to learn to rein in their aggression, to respect others, and to not give in to greedy impulses.

Emotionally unstable people are often agitated because such instructions are not strong enough to oppose their own inner drives and needs to lash out. Children who have fewer language skills can't use words as containers, as ideas in which they can wrap their urges and then transform them into new thoughts. In these instances, psychological instability results from ongoing internal conflict between destructive impulses and the ability to restrain them - whether by moral teachings or by having developed mature language.

Donald triggers (a compelling pun used by Hillary when she referred to the shootings in Charleston) murderous attacks because he gives further parent-like permission to override one's conscience, one's internal ability to set limits, to practice self-restraint. Donald's hate -- his poisonous remarks about Mexicans, for example -- functions as a permission-giver to people struggling not to kill, rob, or commit mayhem.

Just as telling was Donald's scoffing at Hillary, taking umbrage and then mocking her message. This represents to me Donald's deep hatred of reality, his refusal to think or to face facts about himself and his effect on others. If his words have no effect on people, why use them at all? If his words don't inspire people to act - at least to support and vote for him - then why speak? He refuses to think that words of hatred can invite acts of hate. Donald's anger at Hillary's remarks helps us see his attitude to his own words - an inconsistent attitude at best. Should we take what he says seriously or as metaphor or even as bombast? He won't say which. He can't urge voters to act on his opinions about government and governing, or even about Jeb Bush, if he doesn't also take responsibility for his inflammatory rhetoric - something he refuses to do.

Hillary here is about facing facts, recognizing the power language has for good AND for ill. Donald uses language simply to stir people up, to whip them into a frenzy of resentment. One can tap into people's resentment at feeling impotent without handing them words that unconsciously function to destabilize those already struggling to manage their own impulses and hates. Hillary is right. Donald in a deep way exhorts the unstable among us literally to assault immigrants, or whatever group he thinks deserves it.