The machinery of politics is geared up to defeat Donald Trump on the Democratic side, and there's hope, after Trump revealed his propensity for self-destruction, that the Republicans will either abandon him or keep a safe distance. Enough condemnation has been directed at him to sink a dozen candidates, and his extended Teflon period may quickly draw to a close.
But the larger issue isn't Trump's viability as a candidate, troubling as that is, but the rise of the movement he represents. Every term of condemnation applied to him--bigoted, racist, sexist, xenophobic, authoritarian, mentally unbalanced--fuels the approval of his supporters. A hopelessly divided, hostile electorate has become a diseased electorate. That's the thing that should disturb us the most, because disease conditions need a cure or else they continue to fester.
To clarify the point, I think back to my early days in Boston as an underpaid medical resident with a young family to support. Like many in my situation, I moonlighted to make ends meet, working at a famous private clinic in the Boston area. My status was on the bottom rung, so I found myself doing workups on the entering patients. One day I did the physical for the leader of a huge labor union, a nationally known figure. To my alarm, he was overweight, a heavy drinker and smoker, and suffering from various symptoms, the most serious being his high blood pressure and bad heart.
I finished the exam and immediately rushed to my supervisor with the bad news. He blanched, saying, "You didn't tell him any of these things, did you?" I said no, and the supervising physician looked relieved. "We don't want to let him know that anything is wrong," he said. "He's doing okay the way he is, and if he really knew what was wrong, it would probably kill him." Those were the days, in the early Seventies, when medical ethics still considered it discretionary to tell a patient any grim news, but the net effect was that denial by the doctor led to ignorance by the patient.
The same, and worse, applies to a diseased electorate. On both sides the racism, bigotry, greedy elitism, reactionary attitudes, and sheer malice that has been a feature of the far right for decades somehow became normalized. A very sick patient was being coddled as if he was healthy. In the case of the union leader, keeping him in the dark was done supposedly in his best interest. The far right has been treated with denial out of fear and repugnance. After "nice" Presidents like Reagan and George H. W. Bush deliberately fueled the festering malignancy of the far right, Southern racists, and religious fundamentalists, moral lines became hopelessly blurred for the vast majority of politicians running for office.
The fact that the most respectable Republicans in leadership positions endorsed Trump in the blink of an eye, despite his outrageous public statements, indicates how deeply dependent a dysfunctional party has become. Without their worst members, the party would sink, and the leadership knows it. If Trump performs in November so dismally that he takes down senators, congressmen, and governors, the fever may die down for a bit. But the underlying disease will continue to spread in all likelihood. The dark side of Reaganism and the two Bushes roared to the surface in reaction to our first Afro-American President, and Trump took the bit in his teeth in acts of fraud, trumpeting a birther cause there is almost no chance he believed in.
So we must keep our eyes on one goal, curing the American electorate. This involves a series of steps that need to enter into political activity no matter how discouraging the situation looks.
- Stop normalizing extremism. Continue to speak truth to power and also to the public. In this regard, Bernie Sanders has shown the way.
- Find better candidates. At the local level all the way up to the Senate, the bad has driven out the good. Faced with the malice and scorched-earth tactics of the far right, good centrist and left-leaning candidates have abandoned the field, refusing to subject themselves to such extreme attacks. More good people need to follow the lead of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, holding their noses if they must but entering the fray anyway.
- Reeducate the voting public, especially among young people, about what civic virtue and rational political thinking actually are.
- Honestly confront the failings on the Democratic side, which Bernie Sanders has effectively exposed.
- Reach across the aisle in Congress. It looks impossible, but there is no other way.
- Appoint Supreme Court justices who will repudiate and reverse the judicial extremism of Justices Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Thomas. This can be done with centrist or even slightly right-leaning nominees.
- Clear out the Justice Department of right-wing Bush appointees, many with fundamentalist religious leanings above the rule of law. They have no place in the civil service.
- Vigorously litigate voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.
As we all know, Trumpism is an acute condition that can create panic and alarm, but it's the underlying chronic condition that must be treated, even though curing it may take decades. One isn't aiming for a perfect, altruistic, virtuous electorate. American politics has always been heated and divisive. A diverse society is successful when no voices are suppressed, even the loud and angry voices. The repugnancy of Trumpism may have opened the way for change, but the responsibility for making sure it is positive change lies with us.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation, and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Endocrinology and Metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. The World Post and The Huffington Post global internet survey ranked Chopra #17 influential thinker in the world and #1 in Medicine. Chopra is the author of more than 80 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His latest books are Super Genes co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD and Quantum Healing (Revised and Updated): Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. www.deepakchopra.com