The Real Cause--And Cure--Of Trump Anguish

Donald Trump is causing unprecedented anguish and turmoil at this moment, on a scale not experienced since 9/11. Those who keenly feel this anguish are wracked by the prospect of a President-elect who succeeded through a con job that began years ago with the lie of birtherism. Trump continued along the same course, honing the untruths that fired up the shadow side of human nature, inciting resentment, hostility, and prejudice. According to assiduous fact-checkers at the Washington Post, Hillary Clinton deserved four Pinocchios seven times for telling an outright falsehood, while Trump deserved 59 Pinocchios.

Let's accept that the worst things about Trumpism are true. The outrageous smear campaign that he ran committed a terrible wrong against Hillary Clinton. To expand his base, Trump went beyond the seamy collection of Southern racists, religious fundamentalists, ill-informed and uneducated whites, gun fanatics, and reactionaries who are the base of the right wing, to embrace the deeply committed haters in the alt-right. It's fully justifiable to be repelled by all of it. In fact, unless we gaze directly at the truth of the situation, we would beguile ourselves with denial, which is self-defeating.

Trump is forcing a new story down America's throat, and since everyone believes their own story, the appearance of a strong man who promises that only he can fix society's ills causes great inner distress. I'd venture that this is the real cause for Trump's victory and our anguish. He smashed the liberal progressive story of Obama and the Democrats but simultaneously smashed the conservative story of establishment Republican conservatives. He did this with a bludgeon, using stark declarations that captured everyone's attention, either pro or con:

I am a winner. I cannot lose.

My rivals are puny and incapable of standing up to me.

Through my greatness I can make America great again.

We are all in danger from outsiders and criminals who hate this country.

Only I tell the truth, or when I chose to say anything else, it becomes the new truth.


By constantly changing his positions, by ignoring any norm of fact-based reality, and demolishing the rational arguments mounted against him, Trump relied on pure personal will. The fact that this was enough for victory depended on one simple thing: the stories he demolished were too weak to survive. With millions of families losing their homes in the Great Recession and job opportunities either vanishing or being reduced to part-time work at low pay, the progressive "America is already great" message of Obama-Hillary Clinton rang hollow. The malefactors who recklessly created the downturn and ruined so many lives were not punished; in fact, they continue to be rewarded with power, influence, and money.

At the same time, the establishment conservative message had led to total obstructionism, and for people desperate to be heard and helped, politicians harping on smaller government and worn-out social issues also rang hollow. The time was right for "a plague on both your houses" outsider.

Into this confused and divided situation, Trump brought a wrecking ball, and what convinced millions of people to vote for him wasn't a belief that he was ready to be President or had the right temperament for the job--exit polls found that even among his supporters, only around 35-38% believed either thing. He succeeded by transcending the old stories, embracing risk and uncertainty, and preaching the very old story that problems are solved by putting a strong man in charge. It's a narrative that worked for Julius Caesar and the Emperor Charlemagne as well as Hitler, Stalin, military juntas, and banana republic dictators.

If watching the social fabric unravel led voters to gamble on a raging outsider, how do we cure the anguish that envelops us now? We begin, I think, by noticing how quickly media pundits and professional politicians moved to accept what has happened. The reason is that pundits and politicians make their living telling stories and playacting. They both are in the business of selling their words and sticking to the persona that words construct. Words have power solely in our minds. The very people who were totally wrong about Trump or totally opposed to him will survive and thrive by adopting the necessary mindset.


I am not being cynical, only pointing out that the roots of our anguish, as of our social divisions, exist in consciousness. On either side of the social divide, both sides think they are right. They deeply believe in the stories created in consciousness. Without a story to latch onto, they'd feel adrift, lost, confused, helpless, and vulnerable.  At this moment, with their story smashed to bits, anyone who believes that bad people have suddenly prevailed, that right and righteousness must hold fast and fight back, will only prolong their own anguish.

Activism based on anger and self-righteousness doesn't lead to anything but deeper divisions and discord. This is hard to face because it sounds like the counsel of despair. It isn't. Nor is it appeasement, since we accepted at the top of this post that all the ugliness of Trumpism is real. The deeper truth, however, is that divided societies reflect inner divisions. When Freud spoke of civilization and its discontents, he was making the same point: on one side is the civilized mind with its rationality and higher values, on the other the lower mind, or unconscious, with its anger, fear, and aggression.

Freud believed that the unconscious could be brought to the surface, exposed to the light of reason, and therefore cured. But the world's wisdom traditions disagree. They argue that only by transcending the divided mind, by finding and holding on to the pure, unified consciousness that lies beyond all divisions, including right and wrong, us versus them, light against darkness, can human nature finally realize a state of peace, love, and truth.

At this radical moment, when anguish is being felt for all the "right" reasons, we need to accept that "they" who won are celebrating in the name of righteousness, too. It's inevitable on any battlefield that "God is on our side" is the belief of either enemy. No matter how deeply you feel the darkness of the world right now, the attitude we must adopt is sobriety, which I define as a clear-eyed vision about reality. Sobriety is devoid of self-pity, resentment, and blame. It takes responsibility and refuses to give away self-power to anyone else. Sobriety means you don't buy into second-hand opinions--we've just learned the bitter lesson of accepting what experts tell us just because it accords with our wish-fulfillment.

In all sobriety, each person can choose to end his or her own anguish, by realizing that inner division has caused every misery in history as iron-clad belief systems clashed for no reason except to defend a story. No matter which story wins or loses, they all are a mixture of truth and untruth, reality and fiction, selfishness and altruism, faith and superstition, wish-fulfillment and rational thought. So why not give up the whole business of living by stories? Only when a person wakes up to this choice does wisdom begin to take hold. Wisdom isn't hidden or secret. The ability of the mind to transcend its own conflict and confusion lies at the heart of spiritual teachings East and West. For myself, there is no other route beyond Trumpism and the anguish it is causing. By waking up, we won't become aloof, indifferent, passive, or fatalistic--quite the opposite. The forces of light are nothing but the forces of wakefulness, and their power comes, not from fighting the darkness, but from the inner strength, intelligence, truth, creativity, and purpose that exist in pure consciousness, our source.

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, Clinical Professor at UCSD Medical School, researcher, Neurology and Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), 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 85 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.