As we seek ways to mitigate the damage caused by the multiple crises currently being exacerbated by the Trump administration, it is important not to lose sight of larger perspectives, which will be discussed in the latter part of this essay. First, we turn to Donald Trump.
This article shares some of the insights of Philip Slater and others who argue that we are in the midst of a massive positive metamorphosis of global culture toward greater maturity in which old cultural premises are challenged; meanwhile upholders of tradition see this process as a social ill - a critical moral infection worthy of being attacked and destroyed.
Trump and Authoritarianism
Donald Trump is prime example of a childhood gone terribly wrong, his own resulting twisted and arrested development, and his current, deeply personal attachment to authoritarianism.
Mary Trump, who is the President's niece, a clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, shares the following:
Adorno and his colleagues, in their groundbreaking 1950 study, offered a specific formulation regarding a likely origin point for "the authoritarian personality". Their theory suggests that rigid, punitive parents, by definition, cannot tolerate any expression of a child's powerful, spontaneous, and natural sexual and aggressive impulses. Such parents respond to the child with an exaggerated punitiveness, and this parental reaction leaves the child no alternative but to repress those impulses - that is, to ban them from consciousness.
However, our knowledge of the psyche tells us that emotions banished into the mind's basement remain disturbing and tumultuous, whether or not "the owner of the house" is aware of their existence. As a defense against feelings, repression alone is rarely completely successful. To guard against the anxiety that these emotions might break through into conscious awareness, additional defenses must be erected, much as one might pile larger and heavier pieces of furniture against a door to keep out an insistent intruder.
It is understandable that a child will respond to his parents' excessively punitive reactions with feelings of rage. But this very emotion is one the child dares not allow himself to acknowledge - or at least must not connect with his parents' behavior. If forced to submit to abuse, it is common for a child, who is completely dependent on his or her parents, to deny parental abusiveness and continue to idealize them.
Adorno theorized that the beginnings of the formation of the adult authoritarian character style are forged in these humble and poignant origins. Unresolved feelings do not simply "go away" with the passage of time and physical maturation. The original aggressive emotions (and especially those feelings that arose following parents' suppression of those emotions), far from becoming extinct, grow into a major determining force of the adult's outlooks and beliefs.
Aspects of themselves that the individual disowned long ago are transformed into a more "acceptable" form - they are projected onto (unconsciously attributed to) others who are often members of a despised out-group. Hitler viewed Jews as evil and worthy of death. Trump's attitudes can be seen in his comments and actions concerning Mexicans and blacks.
Experimental psychologist Bob Altemeyer has spent his entire career studying authoritarians, both leaders and followers. Altemeyer's research shows that many right-wing authoritarian leaders also score high on measures of "Social Dominance Orientation". Empirical data demonstrates that they are "relatively power-hungry, domineering, mean, Machiavellian and amoral, and hold 'conservative' political outlooks". Many of them can accurately be referred to as "sociopaths" who see human beings exclusively as objects to be used toward self-serving ends; any means can be justified for achieving their ends.
"Double Highs" do not possess a functioning conscience -- they will do or say anything to accomplish a goal, regardless of the consequences to others. Not surprisingly, their parents have often modeled a lifestyle lacking ethics and morality. While numerous Americans continue to overlook and make excuses for Donald Trump's abnormal behavior, many other citizens are appalled by his actions as "leader of the free world".
A growing number of us have become aware of his long history of bankruptcies, his fraudulent activities such as Trump University, his behavior vis-à-vis his alleged university education, his not paying workers at his Trump properties - hiring many Hispanics, knowing they could not afford to take him to court. Those of us who are willing to see the truth are reflecting on his history of sexual, verbal and mental abuse toward those around him.
Clearly, Trump is invested in our being preoccupied by his theatrical distractions, which are aimed at preventing others from connecting the dots to perceive patterns that would provide a genuinely illuminating picture. We are finally waking up to his compulsive conning: his continual lying, cheating and manipulating to get what he wants - not caring whom he hurts. His focus is "winning" at all costs.
It is apparent that he has a hypomanic temperament, that he generates whirlwinds of activity, that he needs constant stimulation, and that he is narcissistically focused on constantly keeping attention on himself. We are seeing his vindictive anger, his lack of accountability and disregard for truth, as well as his need to blame others, amplifying divisions and bigotry.
It is clear that he paints caricatures of evil that he can attack without remorse, regarding himself as a victim rather than aggressor or victimizer. He vastly oversimplifies his world into black or white, friend or foe, reducing reality to an epic contest between righteous and evil, winners and losers.
He unashamedly insists on being surrounded by sycophants so that his fantasies of infallibility can flourish unchallenged by reality. It is now obvious to an increasing number of citizens that his undivided commitment is bestowed only on himself (and possibly family members) - and that he will throw anyone under the bus if their actions challenge his agenda of keeping his fragile ego intact.
Lance Dodes, contributor to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 37 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, shares these observations:
Trump relentlessly locates his own incompetence, dishonesty and weakness in others at home and abroad. Casting immigrants as criminals and rapists, he has used this assertion to justify aggressive deportation policies. We have witnessed the extraordinarily inhumane policy of separating traumatized-for-life children from parents at the Mexican border and putting them in holding camps and cages; we can also recall his shockingly inadequate response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
The reality is that Trump's pathological levels of narcissism can easily spiral into psychosis, imperiling the safety of others through paranoia, impaired judgment, volatile decision-making, fact-free self-justification, and a compulsion to go to war with the world.
He has courted grave geopolitical danger by withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the U.S. with Russia in 1987, the Paris climate accords and the Iran nuclear agreement; Trump's 2021 budget calls for $28.9 billion for the Pentagon to modernize nuclear-delivery systems.
Domestically, his destructiveness already knows no bounds. He has intentionally destroyed the protections that have attempted to shield Americans from the predations of the worst corporations. As a role model who refuses to wear a mask during a pandemic, discounts testing and has suggested injecting bleach, he has irresponsibly influenced countless people to follow his lead. According to the CDC, as of 9/11/20, the death toll in the U.S. attributed to COVID-19 has surpassed 192,000.
The following is an excerpt from a brief submitted to Congress by a coalition of psychiatrists and mental-health professionals:
None of us has clinically examined the President and therefore we refrain from making any diagnosis. However, our examination of his public record leads us to believe that he has the pattern of fragile sense of self and is prone to blame and attack others when threatened.
The President has also shown himself willing to encourage violence against his perceived enemies. We also should not ignore the President's ability to initiate a conflict with other countries in order to distract from his political troubles, perhaps with the hope of rallying the country around him, as often happens at the beginning of armed conflict. The fact that the President holds in his hands alone the ability to initiate nuclear war cannot be ignored.
Rob Kall has written:
People who engage in such behaviors, people with strong narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies and characteristics should be identified, just as sexual predators are. This is not bigotry, not separating out any particular religion, race, or culture. This is what is done with sexual predators and carriers of highly contagious diseases.
We need to deal with the reality that these people are dangerous, malignant, destructive people. At one level, they are predators These are the people who set examples of the worse kind, so we see massive increases in hate, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination. We need to identify them and protect [everyone else].
This should be a conversation that is on the table. It will not be easy. There are billionaire narcissists and psychopaths who will fight it and they will fight dirty, attacking the messengers, attacking the idea. But we've gone far too long without doing this necessary work.
Pathological narcissism is derived from a sense of entitlement, a willingness to exploit others, and an impaired sense of empathy - which is what we often say about psychopaths. Psychologist John Gartner notes that in the classic analytic formulation, the narcissistic/psychopathic syndrome includes: antisocial behavior, paranoid traits, grandiosity, and sadism (i.e., aggressively domineering behavior punctuated by joyful cruelty, or "bullying") and at times a "delusional disorder".
From the evidence to date, Trump's precarious mind is a threat to our nation, and quite possibly, to all of humanity.
Ex-Secretary of Defense William Cohen has recently said: "What I see taking place is the White House engaging in very menacing activity and leading us down the trail toward a dictatorship."
It is an understatement to assert that Donald Trump cannot be trusted to make wise, informed, and measured decisions. We, the people, must find a way to mitigate the damage he can, and will predictably continue, to impose.
After what has been said so far, it would seem peculiar indeed to regard Trump as possibly inevitable and a sign of cultural health in the body politic! Yet, as suggested in the introduction, it is important to put the present in a larger, workable perspective. Jared Diamond, author of the book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, has written that when values are becoming outmoded and detrimental due to deteriorating environmental conditions and changing circumstances, it is the willingness to reconsider core values and assumptions that can safeguard cultural survival.
Diamond's conclusions come from his study of civilizations during the long course of human history; he emphasizes the importance of long-term thinking to ensure prosperity and survival. History is full of species and societies that failed to adapt to change.
It has been said that cultural assumptions and beliefs are like glasses; if you don't change the prescription once in a while, you're probably not seeing world very clearly. Philip Slater has argued that we are on the threshold of two mutually exclusive global value systems. which he has named Control culture and Integrative culture. The first is in the process of dying, exhausting itself in an attempt to stay alive and dominant; the second, Integrative culture, is still in the process of being born. Naturally, this is a disorienting and disconcerting time.
Slater offers the image that we are currently walking a flimsy rope bridge over a great chasm, having come too far to turn back, while the end is barely in sight. He also suggests that the excesses of consumerism are contributing to produce climate disruption, the depletion of cheap oil, growing income disparities, and resource wars. Integrative culture is more appropriate to a species living in a shrinking world, which requires global cooperation and communication.
Unlike the current Control culture that has evolved and dominated over the past 8,000 years, Integral culture will incorporate more right-brain feminine qualities, such as holistic thinking, feeling, empathy and connection, complexity, collaboration, and creativity.
Spirituality in Integrative culture is based on the awareness that we're part of something beyond ourselves. This something doesn't stand apart from us, or over us. We participate in it - we belong to it. Integrative spirituality is an appreciation of our oneness with all life, with all spirit. This integral vision provides us with a new, more expansive, and more hopeful perspective of the future, aids us in understanding ourselves and all of existence as an intricate and interwoven system of dynamic process.
Here is a brief, general list of contrasting tendencies framed simply to clarify distinctions.
Control culture: 1) sees the universe as split into polarized, often warring opposites; 2) the world is seen as static matter, fragmented matter capable of being manipulated -- and to be studied as such; 3) leading and governing are accomplished through an authoritarian and hierarchical style; 4) a competitive, macho, warlike milieu prevails; 5) women are devalued and constrained; 6) any significant change needs to be ordered from above.
Integrative culture: 1) the universe is regarded as undivided and whole; and 2) is regarded as energy in process; 3) a more democratic, egalitarian ethos is striven for and actualized; 4) likewise, communication and cooperation are valued, as are balance, recognition of patterns and circular feedback loops; phenomena are seen as wholes and the concept of hierarchy is superseded with that of "holarchy"; 5) the process of evolution on both micro- and macro- scales is seen as spontaneous -- as self-creating coherence.
Similarly, Riane Eisler has described these two processes as the Dominator (power-over) vs. Partnership (power-with) way of organizing society; she depicts signs of movement in highly progressive directions. One of these is the emergence in psychology of new models of the human psyche. These models are succeeding previous paradigms, which focused on the need for survival, defense, and mastery of the environment. The newer models are notable for including higher needs - for human forms of "growth and actualization" - needs that distinguish us from other animals.
In business, too, one can notice trends toward partnership models of management, now existing side by side with more traditional military-based models of rigid top-down chains of command.
This is occurring due to a growing perception that authoritarian structures are simply inefficient in an era of rapid technological and economic change. A similar contrast occurred during the time of Galileo and Copernicus. For many, shifting to a radically different conception of the cosmos was no doubt distressing. Does the sun revolve around the Earth or vice-versa?
Just so, today there is a confusion of values, a loss of ethical certainty, and a bewildering lack of consensus about just about everything. Incivility and chaos seem to be everywhere. The recent speed of social change has put an almost untenable strain on our adaptive capacities. In reaction, a rise in fundamentalism and violence (secular and religious) has arisen in an effort to keep things the same or have them go backwards to the "good old days".
As the cultural pace of change continues to increase, we should expect more of the same - based on a desire to hold on to the old ways.
Why is this happening now?
During the last fifty years the pace of change and communication has accelerated, creating the most rapid social upheaval in the history of our species, taking us to the brink of endurance. Expressions of integrative culture that have arisen in a very few recent decades include changes in the status of women and minorities, the sexual revolution, the decline of the nuclear family, the global economy, the ecological movement, and the strange revolutionary concepts of modern physics.
Slater uses an analogy of the way a butterfly is born. Something within a caterpillar tells it to spin a chrysalis and, once inside - what are known as imaginal cells appear - the cells that contain the image of the new level of being. Initially, the caterpillar's immune system works to destroy the imaginal cells as they appear. But over time, more and more emerge, until they overwhelm the immune system and become the directing intelligence of the process of transformation, creating a new organism.
Slater states the obvious: for a butterfly and a culture: this as a spontaneous, natural process. However, the newly emerging butterfly needs to exert apparent self-effort in drying off and strengthening its wings prior its first flight. Likewise, building a culture with fresh values involves our individual and collective efforts to grow into it.
In our current phase of development, given the pervasiveness of computers and satellite systems, people around the world are finding themselves joined via a "communications revolution". This is occurring just in time to enter into dialogue about how to cope with the intertwined, entangled system of problems that now threaten our future. It is possible that with communication possibilities so widespread we can discover a shared vision of a sustainable future.
It is also essential to gain perspective on the forces that are obstacles to undergoing and successfully coming through this process already convulsing the entire world. The truth remains that old cultural systems usually are not abandoned without fierce resistance. As they sense that the old system is dying around them, those who are wedded to it will tend to assert its values more harshly, stridently and desperately. Diversity and holism are seen and assumed to be the "enemy".
Trump is a prime representative of Control culture writ large. He is the caterpillar (happily?) chewing its way through the leaves that surround it, consuming hundreds of times its own weight daily, utterly unaware that he will soon be encased in the form of a shapeless, liquefied mass.
In Slater's analogy the caterpillar stands for the existing culture, with an emphasis on authority and domination over people and environment, growth as the most important aspect of economy, and most of all the belief in separation and conflict. The butterfly stands for an emerging, more mature culture that values cooperation, democracy, a sustainable economy, and most importantly a belief that everything is connected.
From this point of view the culture has selected Trump as a chief representative of its immune system. It continues to remain uncertain that, even if defeated in the next election, he will relinquish power willingly. Since it seems highly likely that he answers to others "above" him, we can wonder where the military-industrial- intelligence-services, and the judicial and legislative branches, stand on the matter. Even though Trump's absence could, in many circles, evoke a huge sigh of relief, we are dealing with the habits of an entire culture, and his electoral loss would in no way be a panacea.
Donald Trump is the grotesque exemplar of our country's sociopathy: our history of genocide (of native Americans); racism (the country being built on the backs of black slaves); long-term inequality; climate disruption and climate-change denial; current rates of mass extinction, exploitation of third-world countries, our historic use of false flag attacks to initiate wars, the massive transfer of wealth to the already obscenely wealthy, and now, a pandemic whose origins and political elements remain questionable.
Have we have taken the belief in "individuality" to such an extreme that many people have become profoundly hostile to the idea that there is such a thing as a society and world we must care for?
Given the insistence on the right to carry a gun to Starbucks, kids have to do traumatic "active-shooter drills", pretending to die. All too many people would deny everyone else decent healthcare, access to medicine, a visit to the doctor. Powerful forces seek to demolish retirement, safety nets, and other supports.
A sense of urgency is appropriate. As noted, today we are already faced with dwindling resources - including supplies of nonrenewable energy - a dramatically destabilized global climate, mounting environmental pollution, expanding population growth, growing authoritarianism, and rampant corruption. Humanity appears to be divided against itself and pitted against nature. This is a formula for ecological collapse and social anarchy. It seems evident that, given his utter egocentrism, destructiveness and lack of empathy, a second term for Trump would only serve to speed up this dissolution.
A painful reality seems to be at the heart of the evolutionary process. We seem to grow only through the push of dire necessity. If we are very fortunate, the political, economic, ecological and moral crises in which we will continue to find ourselves entangled will mutually act as an evolutionary catalyst: motivating the human species to move to a higher level of awareness by "forcing the issue". This process can be termed "emergence through emergency"; it has a long and honored place in history and can be a potent stimulant, capable of inducing labor and a new birth.