Thoughts on Trump

During periods of fear and anxiety, candidates try to promise things they may not be able to deliver. The problem with demagogues is that you make promises that you can’t necessarily keep. But people want to believe it. Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin

 

The polls and pundits were wrong: Trump won the election. Clinton won the popular vote by more than two million votes and counting. Trump won the electoral college by winning Wisconsin by 0.8 percent; Michigan by 0.2 percent and Pennsylvania by 1.1 percent. Wisconsin will do a recount. Perhaps Michigan and Pennsylvania will too. With all the talk of rigged elections by Trump and rumors of Russian hacking to help Trump, I think recounts would be appropriate for the integrity of our election process. I do not expect the results to change.

I assess a presidential candidate first by character and then by talent, experience and policy positions. A person of character models goodness: caring, empathy and compassion for all of humanity. A person of character has a strong inner core: deep values and a purpose greater than himself. A visionary, he has a positive, hopeful, sustainable and forward-looking dream for the evolution of America and the planet. A president of character shows us wisdom, bravery, fairness, knowledge, emotional maturity and transcendence.

Character stands alone as the primary and essential requirement for presidential leadership. If the candidate lacks sufficient character then we have no need to even consider talent, experience and policy positions. No one has everything we’d like in a president but Trump lacks most everything. I could not imagine him as a presidential leader. And that was before I watched him on the campaign trail.

I found it painful to watch Donald Trump at debates and rallies. He projected so many things wrong with what it means to be a man today, or a decent human being in the 21st century or what should be expected of a president of the United States in a complex and interdependent world. Rejecting self-awareness, he projected his faults and dark motives onto others. He seemed to feel entitled to be petty and vindictive. Easily manipulated by praise, he therefore lacked personal freedom. He lied constantly to protect his false image. I experienced him as a hollow man—a man without a core. I felt repulsed by him and found him contemptible. I feared for democracy and for America.

Much of the media sold its journalistic soul for the money the Trump spectacle brought them. Trump lies 75% of the time. His followers didn’t care. We watched crazy in action and a serious election process became a reality TV show. Character mattered not at all or not much to those who followed him. The more despicable he was, the more they supported him. He made angry Americans feel heard and cared about. They rewarded him for making them feel good. They so wanted to believe in him. Will future historians write that America went crazy in 2016?

We must not normalize Trump despite the temptation to do so. If we think of him as “normal” we feel less anxious and afraid. Making him normal dumbs down what we expect of a man today, what we expect of a decent human being in a diverse world and what we expect of our president in a dangerous time.

We—our society and our culture—made Trump. He emerged from the understandable pain, fear and anxiety of a large segment of the rural white community many who feel their voices have been ignored and others who feel overwhelmed and left behind in a rapidly changing world. He also emerged from the fears some have of powerful women, people different from themselves and racists who saw a kindred soul in Trump. And he emerged from white people who feel, again understandable, deep anxiety about becoming a minority demographic group soon. A true demagogue, Trump falsely convinced many who want to believe that their problems will be solved by building walls, victimizing others and retreating from the world. I do not believe Trump will be the cure of the ills of America; I believe he will make them worse.

The majority of Americans see a different America. We walk into an unknown future darker and more dangerous than just weeks ago. We support those terrified of Trump World. We go forward with others guided by our life purpose, our values and a dream of a diverse and inclusive America and a planet sustainable for all people.

Just Dead Inside

True happiness involves the full use of one’s powers and talents—striving towards meaningful goals, not necessarily the attaining of those goals.

John W. Gardner in Self-Renewal

 

At my going away coffee party at the Star Tribune newspaper (1994), I said to my friends and colleagues: “I don’t know what I’ll be doing two years from now but I do know that I’ll be feeling alive.”

With that I set out on a new journey using myself as my own learning laboratory. What did I want to learn? I wanted to learn how to live. My journey took me out of the corporate world and into a Ph.D. program then a new career as a consultant, a life of writing and photography, a year on the side of a mountain in southwest Colorado, marriage to Melanie, the slow creation of a community of people I care about and the challenging journey into retirement and powerful new awareness and learning.

My odyssey continues today, 22 years after I began.

I recently read Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger.

In the postscript of his book he told the story of anthropologist Eleanor Leacock, who had spent much time with the Cree Indians of northern Canada.

Junger wrote:

“Leacock went on a hunting trip with a Cree named Thomas. Deep in the bush they encountered two men, strangers, who had run out of food and were extremely hungry. Thomas gave them all his flour and lard, despite the fact that he would have to cut his own trip short as a result. Leacock probed Thomas as to why he did this, and he finally lost patience with her. “Suppose, now, not to give them flour, lard,” he explained. “Just dead inside.’”

Feeling alive inside requires noble goals that we strive for but may never attain. And feeling alive requires that we develop empathy, caring, connection, generosity and compassion for other people. We are not just economic units. More importantly, we are human beings interconnected with all that is alive.

We live in a time in America where millions are afraid of our new president. We can feel alive by offering our support to those with the least power and greatest vulnerability. They need our presence.