Those of you who know me and/or follow this blog know that I have written a plethora of angry posts. I have especially written of Donald Trump, with rage cresting in me–a rage and hatred of this man…for being enraged and hateful himself.
Many of us, over the past month since the inauguration in fact, have been angry and terrified by Trump’s extremism, alliance with white nationalist Bannon, conspiracy theories re Russia and a seemingly volatile temperament. But I applaud the lightning rod effect of Mr. Trump’s election that has sent people out into the streets in droves in unequivocal opposition. I’ve been reminded of my 20 year old self on the barricades with SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) both in the field marching, picketing, striking, and later in Chicago, during a time called “Days of Rage” called for by the organization’s “Weatherman” faction.
American activism, the civil rights movement and campus resistance brought an end to the Viet Nam war– I am certain of this– and perhaps more than obliquely, affected the young Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham’s commitment to antiwar policies and social justice. There is much to think about in tracing the impact of grassroots movements–and it is heartening to see new fires of dissent where apathy has reigned for a generation.
Regarding the current Republican administration, calls for investigations into Trump’s possible collusion with Russia to bring down Hillary Clinton have my full support, as does the new Resistance.–a clear post hoc ergo propter hoc reaction to the repressive new government that has felt more like a coup than an election, with the most polarized assortment of of characters ever to grace the West Wing.
But as I listened to Trump’s speech last night, I had an epiphany about this man, about myself, about the many instances in my own life in which a free-floating rage that lives in me has reared its homely head and attached itself to someone or something.
What I felt and feel have to do with the impact of living most of my life in a state of anger and anxiety that is fundamentally new to most Americans.
I realized that even as we all scrutinized Trump, braced for the inevitable gaffe that never came, to the first calming and empathetic words he has uttered or sent out into the cyber-blue in a “tweet,” there has been absolutely no compassion or empathy in our discourse– in reporting his foibles, in how we have reacted.
Those of us blogging about or reporting on him have launched ourselves at every word, gesture, every private and public moment, literally dressing him in our own cynicism, catalyzed by the immense difficulty of bidding goodbye to the beloved Barack Obama, and outrage at the despicable action taken by FBI director James Comey’s rekindling of the Clinton e-mail controversey mere days before the election.
In a sense, Donald Trump has been my and our scapegoat, someone to attack and rant at–someone to blame for all our ills.
It seems in fact, that the American intelligentsia has found an uber convenient scapegoat, a foil and not a human being.
What is the utility of rage in a democracy? It efficiently creates and compels toxic momentum, pitting us against each other. When Bannon states that his goal is “the deconstruction of the administrative state,” he is appropriating a strain of literary and artistic criticism by that name for his own use, his bank shots and anti-American call for implosion of a system underpinned by our country’s belief in e pluribus unum, in a long venerated Constitution designed to prevent the installation of a regime in the White House.
We have seen Trump ginned up by rage, most recently nearly apoplectic over his powerlessness over the New York Times, the Washington Post, who have fed him a daily diet of criticism and ridicule.
And last night, at last, we saw Trump the Temperate, calling for unity before the threats of further “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” despite the advice of his National Security Advisor. Perhaps it would be less inflammatory to ISIS to hear itself designated as “Jihadis,” who are likely citizens of the Islamic state– whose faith should not named from an adversary’s mouth.
Our country has never been under threat from without and within before. We find ourselves terrified, angry, desperate, on a collision course with a new president who has made a million and one mistakes and aroused every degree of anger and shame at how he has impacted our role and our image abroad.
Yet, it seems to me that we must take a look at ourselves in order to get at the root of the profound fear of a man who seems one day like a petulant child and on the next, reveals for us the circumspection and anguish of a leader in a dangerous time.
Those of us well-acquainted with anger cannot underestimate its power. I wish I could remember my earliest rage attacks, when they began. As a child, an older child, a teenager, my mother was my enemy. She wounded me deeply, with long episodes of rejection and fault-finding. I began to attack her, often physically, for her coldness, how she would cut me to bits and then lock herself in her room. She played me like a violin and with the whip of her tongue she flayed off my emotional skin. She brought on a deep running fear of becoming like her, infected with venom, pacing the house in volatile tirades at night, and her ten-year span of repeated hospitalizations resulting in fifty shock treatments and in the end of my childhood.
In that condition, I came out into the world, desperately needing friends, needing normalcy. It never came.
I portaged my rage into adulthood, bewildered by how difficult it was for me to control myself and my emotions. I realized that however it happened, I was a true iconoclast and pariah. Something was wrong with how I handled myself, but I had no idea how to be, how not to over-react to people or to blow their short-comings into sins.
For many years I looked not at myself, but at others, filled with distrust, scaring them with my outbursts, pushing people away, until I had so many Judases I lost count. Time in AA taught me to look at myself, to step out out of me, what was eating me, and ultimately, to cultivate the habit and art of self-examination. But I didn’t fully believe that it was my behavior that triggered negative responses to me. Ultimately I left AA because I was tired of being mistreated, shamed, judged.
Part III – Light Breaks
Two things have happened that have brought me up short and engendered some empathy and compassion for Trump. The first came over a few days last week; out of the blue one day, I was going over the same old ground in my head of how I am innocent of causing others’ pain. And how therefore, I am their victim when in fact, perhaps I am the one “who set the ball rolling,” to quote Bill Wilson in AA’s “Big Book.”
I began to ask myself if perhaps others’ reaction to me were indeed, truly the product of my own behavior. And I began to admit to myself that I had been a bitch for a very long time–that I had it wrong: I was not anyone’s victim. I was receiving what I had permitted to leach out into the world– rage, pain, and more rage.
Last night, as Trump spoke, I saw in him, the same things I see in myself. I saw a broken boy who has had a terrible time figuring out how to be in the world, how to get along with people.
Isn’t it rich? Among my Facebook friends I have been the only one to blog about him, let alone to excoriate him on a daily basis. And suddenly, I see his brokenness, my own, how what we have each put out into the world has come back to each of us.
Donald Trump may not be capable of change. I deeply hope that he is, and that I am, that my need for strife and blame, will dissipate.
The press does cover him xenophobically. But are we not all both ill and remarkable? At the same time? Should we not stop seizing on every word, maligning the least sign of the very weaknesses we have, in others?
I am being blinded by the sun in the east window where I write. May we all be bathed in the light of the March sunrise, and may we each see and in the seeing, be released from the darkness to be able to forebear, to be healed of embitterment, and to love.