Actually I’m both a Democrat and a psychotherapist who was initially afraid to write this piece. I had wanted to talk about vulnerabilities faced by both Republicans and Democrats, as I looked around for those wiser than me on these subjects. I had started thinking that many of us are so out of touch with our own vulnerabilities that we wind up being manipulated by people who are savvy enough to provoke our vulnerability to attack, rejection and public shaming.
I had been angry with Democrats who seem to fall into the bullying of many in the Republican Party who in turn seem to know how to play on racist themes that are smoldering just beneath the surface. Why, I was asking myself, don’t Democrats learn to band together and gain the knowledge of the psychology that Trump and his cronies are using against us?
But wait, I told myself just this morning. Why was I waiting for experts in fields of psychology and mental health to figure this out when I deal with dynamics like these all the time in my work as a therapist? And then I said wait, again. Am I not acting just like the Democrats I am seeing as weak and oblivious to power dynamics that should be more apparent. And then I realized the answer was yes, that I was afraid to lose or offend potential readers who want to pretend that we are not afraid of being hated for our opinions or our questions on political levels as well as personal ones.
As one example of fear about interrupting political correctness, there was my own apprehension about criticizing the Presidency of Barack Obama, who to me seemed not to face directly dynamics of hatred and polarization with enough honesty. The panic of many Democrats in dealing with our own racism head on was not necessarily helped by President Obama when he told us after fits of violence or the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “This is not who we are”. That did not really serve us well because in many ways this has been who we are, with lots of propaganda fed to all of us that there was an American dream to be had, and not so very hard to attain. This was a fairy tale promise and part of the anger of the Trump base has been the sense that other people have received undeserved handouts while they have lost ground.
We all have histories of vulnerability that are being lived out in the present. Most Trump supporters, it seems to me, would feel rebuffed by friends and families should they question his leadership or his behavior. Many of his supporters have tacitly or overtly agreed that to question any of his accusations or behaviors would risk to be rejected by the whole base as unpatriotic. They risk being humiliated by leadership and being called names publicly. Republican leaders as well, risk personal and political retaliation as well.
Trump is a person who “warns”: he speaks with a glare and a finger pointed, a finger and an expression that say, “You have to make me feel good. You have to agree with me that the only truth in the world is the one I say. You have to laugh off any of the questions raised against me, or anything that you yourselves might find questionable about me. You have to assume, with the rest of our group that there are plots against me in the press, in the Democratic Party, in the people who only criticize me because I love America and they hate America.”
As for Democrats, we tend to be scared to death of being seen as less than pure. We don’t realize, many of us that is, that the history of racism in America, belongs to all of us, those who have committed crimes against others of a different race and those who have turned our backs and lived comfortably in neighborhoods of one color only—that being white.
Let’s face it: Republicans are the slick ones and Democrats the naïve ones who often shoot themselves in the foot. Democrats have a vulnerability that is very easy to take advantage of, as long as we don’t know we have it. We hate being hated, and we hate being or even seeming hateful. When it happens that one of us mentions something that can be used as unpatriotic or anti-Semitic, we have to have a summit about it with apologies abounding. This is so even if the politicians who rabidly support Israel—as one example– are supporting the religious importance of the state of Israel to them, and not Jews per se, not in the least. And yet it becomes another victory for Republicans who can tell the rest of us we hate our country and are disloyal.
The truth is that love of country—real love—is like loving a child. This is a love that doesn’t stay unconditional and prolifically filled with anthems and flags. It is about dedication, and interrupting malfunctions, depressions, aggressions; it is about interrupting and addressing issues when things go wrong or need attention. To want to interrupt economic inequalities (also experienced intensely by many Republicans) is not unpatriotic.
If we could realize that egotism, panic, aggression and cruelty are part of the human condition we could stop playing (and being played) with the idea of inequality between us. We have more in common with each other than we are led to think. And as scary as that might feel, it’s a hell of a lot more scary to feel there is nothing left but the “us” and the “them”. It is adrenalin fueling to hate and it takes getting used to, to face the hate becoming less attractive and less addictive.
As a therapist, I feel a tad less afraid than at the beginning of this writing, because honesty about what’s really going on inside can often be freeing. I think if we could start focusing on our fears not only of disagreeing but also of agreeing with each other, we might just have a chance of interrupting the horrific hatred that has become so epidemic
#Vulnerability and politics
#Democrats and Republicans