The Way We Look to Us All | Weekly | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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The Way We Look to Us All 

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I could not wait for Donald Trump to place his hand on that bible. That was the actual beginning.

Everything we'd seen till that point—the congressional hearings for cabinet nominees, the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires, the scathing press conference, the striding through factories and "saving" jobs, the pep rallies, the gloating about how we underestimated the gun nuts, the parade of alleged VIPs through Trump Tower, the 4 am tweets cancelling orders for Air Force One—were one long game of make-believe.

Perhaps it's true, as Frank Zappa once said, that politics is the entertainment division of the military-industrial complex. But even in entertainment, there are contractual obligations, there are laws about things like fire safety and taxes, and there are customs. The audience has expectations; and performers, as Zappa knew, must have a commitment to their art.

And then there's the bit about the nuclear "biscuit," the one with the codes, and someone having five minutes to determine whether something is incoming missiles or a flock of geese: That's not exactly entertainment.

This is where the Trump phenomenon is going to get interesting. This is when the reality check begins: when politics becomes governing. When real decisions have to be made, decisions that influence the fate of the Earth and the many of us who live here, that's not a show.

I've been trying to keep the perverse, sadistic side of my nature in check these days. During the campaign, I would console myself with the notion that being president would be the ultimate punishment for a guy like The Donald. I want this experience to be painful for him, and for the people who believed his lies. I want to see these illusions explode.

That is not, however, in the spirit of what's necessary now. It would be playing right into the reality-show aspect of what's happening to watch with glee as the new pseudopresident becomes more deeply ensnared in the webs of lies and cruelty that he's woven around himself, and as it occurs to people who once supported him that he's a con artist. Trump built his political career on the idea that President Obama was born in Kenya, and nearly everything else he said has been approximately equally racist or in some way hateful.

Those who discover the con game will be taken deeper into their rage and cynicism, which already exist in abundance. It will be an ongoing excuse to abandon any notion or desire for progress. It's also clear that the failings of Donald Trump will quickly be blamed on his predecessor, on the "liberal" media, or liberals, or activist judges, or on something or someone. Hey, we didn't elect him—the Electoral College did!

The psychological phenomenon holding up this whole circus is denial. Therapists in the audience are all watching and shaking their heads at the dynamics, mentally scanning through the potential diagnoses. The dynamics resemble those of an abusive, alcoholic environment where the neighbors feel bad about calling the police.

Many are wondering: Is he borderline, bipolar, a clinical narcissist, or DSM 1.001—cuckoo?

We're all supposed to pretend that this one person doesn't really have the ability to blow up the world with one instruction. It's worked well so far, I guess.

Pundits are writing little essays with themes such as, "When we catch him lying, shall we call it a lie, or shall we politely critique it as possibly true but having a few veracity issues, and then tentatively conclude that it may have been intentional?" Then there's the fake-news issue, which is not about phony articles designed to fool people. Rather, the problem is about anyone calling anything they don't like fake news.

This is all painful to watch. It was appropriate this week that the New York Times published a report showing that global temperatures have risen steadily since the late 19th century and have surged since 1980. There are credible analyses that say this problem cannot be reversed and is not going away. All we can do is adapt.

Let the Akashic record reflect that in these days when the complex problems we face are becoming manifest, a bunch of self-serving, self-aggrandizing simpletons are taking control of the world's most powerful nation, its largest economy, and the potentially most significant force for good. Let the record reflect that the new bosses intend to squander even more precious time creating more problems rather than solving anything. Let the record reflect that many people just love this.

When I was an investigative reporter, I was a mediator between the lies of corporations and governments, and the people who believe them. My primary coverage area was fraud related to health and the environment. I had two phases of shocking revelations doing this work. The first was wrapping my mind around just how trusted institutions can blatantly deceive people; by which I mean harm them, threaten their lives, and even succeed at killing them.

After I got through amassing and analyzing a document collection that proved companies lied to federal regulators, and to insurance companies, and lied in court, and fabricated fraudulent safety studies for their deadly chemicals, I had to confront the idea that people are so easy to deceive. It became clear after a while that this could only be possible if people want to be deceived; if that's their agenda.

Fraud is a special kind of crime, because it's self-concealing. The intention is to deceive, and painstaking efforts are taken to cloak the truth in something that seems plausible. Then I would read the testimony of a GE manager who said he went to 100 funerals for his employees who died of "head cancer and lung cancer" and figured out something was wrong. One hundred funerals? That's what it took?

Once someone knows that fraud is being committed, their legal status changes and the clock starts tolling on the statute of limitations. At that point any additional fraud that occurs is more like codependency.

Gradually I figured out that people seem to want and need to be lied to. I was compelled, as someone deeply interested in the human condition, to confront the fact that there are two halves to any deception: one provided by the teller, and one by the believer. I am not here to absolve corporations or political leaders of their obvious responsibility for deceiving people. Rather, I am here to say that there's something in people that seems to thrive on being deceived, and that this was by far the more difficult part of the equation for me to work through.

It's one thing to look at a public official and know that he or she is lying; there are obvious motives: protecting one's job, avoiding prosecution, avoiding lawsuits, making money, and so on.

It's another thing to look at someone who already knows they may be exposing themselves to danger and pretends it does not exist. There's a much more complex set of motives involved. It's true some of them involve a form of profit (someone's spouse beats them, but a car is included in the deal). Yet the inner psychology is much more sinister.

The problem of cognitive dissonance—simultaneously believing two contradictory sets of facts—is very difficult to address. One plays a game of hide-and-don't-seek with oneself. And this is something that humans seem to excel at. Cognitive dissonance, or what I'm calling hide-and-don't-seek, has deep roots, and most of them are associated with getting clobbered as a child.

All of the dynamics involved in being subject to corporate and state power are extensions of what happened in our childhood households. These dynamics are replayed in our current home environments, if left unresolved, and then collectively it becomes what we call society.

Getting underneath the appearance level—the one where someone pretends there's no problem, or identifies the wrong thing as the problem—takes courage. That's nothing other than the willingness to face oneself and one's problems. Our whole society is based on avoiding doing this. There's always some seeming external solution, or diversion.

One important role the president of the United States plays is as an example. Examples serve as models, which means as permission to be someone or something. Part of the example function involves certain behavior being associated with a certain reward. There is an obvious problem with someone who displays such blatant disrespect for people being given this much power. It's proof that you really can get somewhere being that particular way. Anyone who has taken care of children, animals, or adults has figured out that example spreads virulently. It's the most effective and efficient form of teaching.

Now many people are looking at an example of what they don't want to be, and don't want their children to be. Even many supporters of the incoming president recognized there's a problem here. Plenty are making excuses, and are silently appalled. Many have been listening to his hateful speech and deciding consciously that they need to be better people.

Through social media, I've been asking what the appropriate response to the Trump phenomenon is. I get a few "dig a bunker" kind of responses, but many people get that love is the only answer. There is an idea going around that the only sane way to address this problem is by being kind, helpful, and supportive.

Adiaha Ruane: While I foresee a new world where chaos and confusion reign because of the "deals" that will be made, I think it is important to remain positive. A tone which inquires about the probabilities of outcomes may be appropriate for your publication. You'll want to leave room for things to turn out differently.

Ann Elizabeth Byrne: I am trying to fight the urge to wish the next four years away. Each of us should not lose an hour of this precious life to fear. Instead, double down on leading with love to all and especially to ourselves.

Cheryl Wade: This is a perfect time to step into our individual sovereignty and accept that there is no "savior" to rescue us. We must each decide what kind of world we choose to live in and then maintain that reality every day and in every moment in the conscious choices that we make for ourselves and for humanity. We must stand up and defend those that are defenseless, stand for compassion and empathy for all beings, otherwise we will be victims of the potential hell on Earth that seems to be rising up from the darkest depths of the collective consciousness.

Marian McQuinn: This is intriguing. Looking back on the late `60s we see lots of protests but now we are so much more savvy and hopefully wiser. It is also so surreal. My feelings are that something dramatic may happen as we reach a tipping point of some kind. I am very aware that everyone on the planet can make a change in thought and deed where we are. Anything could happen!

Bardet Wardell: I call on US, you and me, to become more active in communicating with each other, with local, state, and national reps and figuring out what we personally get up each morning to do and feel in a day. I would say that the time we spend doing this "conversation" would take some time away from TV and other screen addictions. Thus the unconscious would be less accepting of violence, isolation, and judgment of the other. It is all in the conversation that we find meaning, connection, and some comfort. I went uptown in tears the other day. I met friends who cared and gave me conversation and eased my angst and completely turned my day around.

Len Wallick: Everybody wants to be understood. Not everybody seeks to understand. It's a common desire to hold others accountable. It is less common to be accountable. Nearly all of us could afford to be more understanding and accountable. I know I could.

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