Millions of people were in shock on November 9, but I wasn’t one of them. The Trump victory confirmed what I’d been feeling in my bones for months, following an intuitive thunderbolt that hit me back in May: “Trump will win this election.”
I am not a political junkie or a pundit. But as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, a psychotherapist for forty years, and an empath who can sense the emotional zeitgeist, I could smell the stink of proto-fascism in the air. I am not alone. Many survivors and their children have had a sense of déjà vu with the rise of Trump.
When the thunderbolt struck, Trump was a political joke—the butt of pundits and talk show hosts, a rude, crude orangutan of a man without a clue. What struck me was that this is what Germans in the 1920’s thought of Hitler: a little clown, a silly joke with a mustache, a passing idiocy.
It also struck me that some of the conditions of the rise of German fascism and those of American proto-fascism today are similar: a defeated sense of economic and social decline, rampant unemployment, a country divided and demoralized by a profound national loss of confidence in the government.
Hitler had a very distinct way of speaking and a spellbinding way of using his arms and hands, hypnotizing large crowds into a kind of ecstatic reverence. Trump has a similar charisma, a mesmerizing use of hand motions, and an uncanny ability to mobilize his crowds to do his bidding (“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”) People believed in Hitler the way they believe in Trump: as an antidote to their sense of failure, an answer to their economic woes, a savior who would resurrect a lost, glorious past and make the Aryan nation great again.
In October of 1988, my family emigrated from apartheid South Africa to the U.S. It had taken my parents four years to secure sponsors and visas for us. At the time, P.W. Botha was President of South Africa; the man was an inveterate racist and leader of the National Party, which constructed the apartheid system. Botha was not budging in response to either sanctions or the anti-apartheid movement, and it looked like the country was headed for a bloody civil war. We considered ourselves fortunate to get out. I remember entering junior high school in the San Fernando Valley, stunned and delighted by the diversity that filled the hallways, by the fact that there were black teachers, counselors, and even politicians. In comparison to the society I grew up in, this country appeared a bastion of freedom and justice.
Photo by Michael Vadon: Creative Commons
Twenty-eight years later, I am profoundly grateful for the life and opportunities this country has afforded me. So, on the Tuesday night of the election, I watched with shock as a man who is undeniably racist – not to mention misogynist and xenophobic – was democratically elected to the highest office in the country. No, he didn’t win the popular vote; and yes, the Electoral College is an obsolete system. Nonetheless, half the country voted for this man. Indeed, we are more divided than we knew.
And so like many of us, I am struggling to integrate what feels like dystopian fiction. For now, I am grieving and letting myself be stunned. I am caring for myself and those I love the best I can. And, I am reminding myself what I know in my bones to be true: that in order for genuine healing to come, the darkness must emerge. It must be seen, recognized, and understood before it can transform and deliver its gifts.
I know this from personal experience, and I know this also because I come from a country where the darkness was not hidden. The racism was overt, and grotesque. My eleven-year-old peers in Cape Town actually believed black people were less intelligent than white people. They thought it entirely appropriate that a black adult should address a white child as “little madam” or “little master.” In a sense, for the African National Congress and its allies, there was a clear enemy, and an obvious goal: apartheid was wrong, and it needed to end. And when it did in 1994, there was a collective process to hold perpetrators accountable and to work through the grief, anger, and guilt. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wasn’t perfect, but it allowed the country to come together, to begin to forgive and move on. Things are far from rosy right now in the land of my birth – “Ha, you have your own Zuma now!” a South African commented on Facebook in the wake of Trump’s victory – but it is a thriving democracy, with a free press and a black government, which is worlds better than what it was.
Things haven’t been quite so clear here as they were in apartheid South Africa. For many, many years the darkness has been hidden, brushed aside, or denied altogether. After coming to the U.S., it took a few months for me to even see there was racism in this society; it took a few years to begin to understand that it was equally corrosive, perhaps actually more so for being hidden or denied.
While campaigning in Iowa during the primary season, Donald Trump told a cheering crowd that he would establish a national database upon which all Muslim-Americans would be legally obligated to register. The guiding principles underlying such a registry were clear to everyone: Muslim citizens are suspect, and should be tracked and monitored both transparently and with frightening ease.
Those who might have otherwise dismissed Trump’s proposal as a vote-whipping device were forced to confront that his words should be taken literally this week, for as surrogates renewed talk of such a registry, Trump named Michael Flynn as his national security advisor, a man who once wrote that “fear of Muslims is rational.”
This prompted Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to tell a crowd gathered on the topic of anti-Semitism that, should such a registry be created, he would sign up as Muslim:
“If one day Muslim Americans will be forced to register their identities, then that is the day that this proud Jew will register as a Muslim.”
Like anyone who is profoundly disturbed about the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, reflecting, and talking with other people. I wrote an immediate response to the elections the day after. Now, having digested the results for longer, I have more clarity about what I wish to see happen as we grapple with this new reality.
I want to start by saying that the results are not affecting everyone in the same way. That eight transgender youth killed themselves on the day of the elections is a clear indication of the fear and despair that this extremely vulnerable group is experiencing. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks all manner of hate crimes, harassment and other ways of targeting certain populations have documented over 400 new incidents since the election. While anti-Semitic incidents are also very much on the rise, including swastikas and spray painting “Heil Trump” on a wall, and I am also female and an immigrant to this country, I am not at present targeted, and darker skinned and visibly queer people are. Whatever else happens, whatever else any of us say or do in the coming years, I want us to keep this in mind: some people are suffering immediate consequences, and they need immediate and ongoing protection.
437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center Nov 9-14, by type
There is so much bad journalism running helter-skelter through the land that when the world loses one of its premier journalists, it is a moment to pause and to grieve.
Gwen Ifill, co-anchor of the “PBS Newshour” and host of “Washington Week”, died November 14th from cancer. She was 61-years-old. Many journalists who were her colleagues and friends have spoken and written about her as a person. They have commented on her excellence as a journalist, about her no nonsense approach to the work of giving the public solid information with which to understand the world around us. They have shared their memories of her faith, of her smile, laughter, singing, and hospitality.
I did not know Gwen Ifill personally, so I can only write about her from the perspective of someone who invited her into my home nearly every week-day evening for seventeen years. I quit network news decades ago, deciding that bad journalism is a waste of my precious time. I watched the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in the late 1970s and continued watching when it became “The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour” in 1983. My children were reared on this program because I wanted them to be aware of the world around them beyond our street and city.
When Gwen Ifill joined the program, I welcomed the presence of a more than competent journalist. Over the years, I have found little to complain about in her work. She was always respectful and friendly with the guests on the program. She moderated difficult discussion with aplomb, with an even-handed fairness that, in the end, left me with a better understanding of both sides of an issue.
I especially appreciated the respect she gave to ordinary people when conducting focus group discussions or town hall meetings. She never made anyone feel small, uninformed or illogical when she could have. For example, in a town hall meeting in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, one young man complained that he had voted for President Obama twice, but that he was still facing police harassment in his community. She did not ask the young man whether or not he had voted in local elections. She resisted the urge to tell him that President Obama does not appoint the police officials in his town.
I often ask myself how seriously we Americans take our freedoms. It’s a good question, because for each person who risks standing for the full freedoms promised in the Constitution, there are many who allow them to atrophy from disuse. If that tendency takes over, it would be quite easy for extreme-right Supreme Court judges to deliver the death of a thousand cuts that could render freedom a nostalgic memory.
There’s a tremendous ferment of discussion and activity among progressives right now, some still hoping to head off a Trump administration, others to ameliorate its likely excesses, others to support anti-Trump demonstrators and protect them from persecution, others to explore the possibilities that remain for negotiation with an administration without clear or congruent positions on many policy issues.
I blogged right after the election about the meaning of the shock I felt. Many people responded that they were feeling something similar. But just as many posted their own criticisms of the naivete of the left, saying that outcome was predictable: the racism of white voters had virtually guaranteed Trump’s election. Sometimes these points are generalized: voters of color, I’ve been told this week, knew Trump would be elected. This would definitely be news to friends of mine who are deeply involved in the electoral system and were certain right up to the election that Clinton would win. In short, I’m never interested in engaging an argument that turns on who predicted the future more accurately: especially when the argument takes place after the election.
No, the conversation banging on a door in my head right now, begging to be let out, is in the title of this blog: what will we do for freedom?
Here in Santa Fe last night, I moderated a panel with members of Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band/performance art/human rights group. (There’s a ton of information online about them, but two documentary films will give a picture of some of their origins and actions: Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer; and Pussy Riot: The Movement. Just google them for videos, press conferences, and statements galore.)
What impresses me most about the group is the over-the-top courage its members have displayed in defying Russian authorities, at enormous personal cost, to stand for the right to dress in multicolored balaklavas, shift dresses, and tights, thrashing guitars and punching the air as they burn an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or crash Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to call on the Virgin Mary to embrace feminism. Masha Alyokhina was on last night’s panel. She and Nadia Tolokonnikova spent over a year incarcerated under conditions worse even than U.S. prisons following her conviction for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” in the Cathedral protest. Amnesty International, Madonna, and countless other artists and human rights groups came to their support, training the eyes of the world on Pussy Riot and thus helping to ensure members’ survival.
Her incarceration inspired Masha to protest prison human rights violations, winning an unheard-of three lawsuits against the system. Although Pussy Riot the activist art group cultivates a punk aesthetic of chaotic outrage, members’ response to the repressions that smother Russian civil society have also been highly organized, including the creation of MediaZona, an astoundingly popular independent news agency that focuses particularly on the court and prison system, represented last night by a passionate young journalist and editor, Sasha Bogino.
To moderate the panel, I read as much as I could about the situation in Russia, and found myself engaged in the pre-election question of similarities and connections between Trump and Putin. The Russian-American writer Masha Gessen (who is interviewed in Pussy Riot: The Movement) wrote back in July about the two personalities and what they may mean post-election, well worth reading for its indictment of the failure of imagination:
“I just can’t imagine Trump becoming the nominee,” many said at the time. But a lack of imagination is not an argument: it’s a limitation. It is essential to recognize this limitation and try to overcome it. That is a difficult and often painful thing to do.
But it is Gessen’s post-election rules for surviving autocracy that stick in my mind now, holding the line against the inane good sportsmanship that offers the autocrat an invitation to prove he is not one, allowing precious time to pass while his true colors flood the nation. Especially this rule:
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century’s accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy.
I am not in the futile business of making predictions. To me, it seems just as likely that Masha Gessen’s cautions must be urgently heeded as that Alex Young’s “The Pendulum Swings Both Ways,” reminding us that this too shall pass—and more quickly than we imagine—if only we open our eyes and use the power we have, describes what is to come.
And then there’s this question for each of us, individually and together: what will we do for freedom?
Here in the U.S., we still have access to the means of democratic dialogue, protest, and action that enable a truly mass movement, as we have been reminded most recently with Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the Bernie campaign, and more. In the case of Pussy Riot, protest in Russia is necessarily sustained by brave individuals, many of them artists, standing up in the secure knowledge they will be punished for their courage in the service of liberty. The risks have outweighed the possibilities of mass mobilization thus far. But here we still have a degree of freedom that—if we fight to preserve it—can turn the tide.
I can’t begin to aspire to the fearlessness and determination of Masha Alyokhina. But I can be inspired by her example to avoid tumbling into the ocean of fear and despair that awaits those who abandon hope in the face of a Trump presidency. This is a spiritual challenge as much as a political one, a cultural challenge even more than a political one. And so I am adding a fourth question to my litany:
Who are we as a people?
What do we stand for?
How do we want to be remembered?
What will we do for freedom?
Some drank. Some called in to work, sickened. Some wore black. Some sobbed. Some stayed up all night, unable to escape the pain and dread in their stomachs. Two therapists I know were flooded with crisis appointments. One of my students was on suicide watch. Those who were lucky had a community.
San Jose Public Library rally
The first community I turned to was my Facebook friends who provided these comforting words: “We must now be better. In France, after Hitler’s ascendancy, there was the Resistance. That must be us. Stand up. Protect the vulnerable. Volunteer locally. Donate globally. Say something when you see something. Be courageous. If we are the privileged, for goodness’ sake, for God’s sake, for our country’s sake, for our friends’ and families’ sake, for the least of these, use that privilege. If there is someone you don’t know, or understand, get to know them. Make friends, like kids do. The Muslim man, the trans woman, the Black little girl, the frightened little boy…”
Another friend reminded me, “I never thought I’d make it through the Reagan years but dancing and community and protest were certainly at the center.”
The following refrain has been heard repeatedly since the course of American history forever shifted on Tuesday night: Maybe President Trump will be different than candidate Trump.
It’s a refrain which has been uttered by pundits, politicians, NBA commentators and everyday Americans hoping that Trump’s fascist rhetoric was nothing more than a vote-whipping device. It’s a refrain which has been repeated by those who believe the dignity of the office of the presidency, indeed the Oval Office itself, somehow has the power to humble and shape those who hold it. It’s also a refrain which has been spoken by those who never believed Trump could win the presidency in the first place.
Many of those who were living in a fantasy world before Trump’s victory are now doing so after it, assuming that things will be okay. That everything will work out. That those authoritarian words spoken during a campaign cannot possibly reflect the man’s true intentions.
This is a grave mistake, and is precisely how fascism takes root.
We must come to understand that things are not necessarily going to be okay. And I’m not talking about domestic policy, which will see a disastrous unraveling as healthcare, environmental regulations, LGBTQ rights, immigration policies and more crumble. Nor am I talking about foreign policy, which will see alliances strained, diplomatic agreements gutted and global anti-democratic institutions emboldened. Nor am I talking about the Supreme Court, which will soon be lurching wildly to the right.
I’m talking about constitutional democracy itself, both those institutions established and those rights enshrined.
This is serious. Our country isn’t just facing an existential crisis, it’s facing a constitutional crisis as well. “Campaign” Trump expressed a desire to weaken our democratic institutions and then target the vulnerable. Do not assume he was being insincere, that he was just seeking votes.
Believe him. Believe every word he’s uttered.
Believe that president-elect Trump wants to institute a national stop-and-frisk targeting minority populations, giving police the ability to interrogate and search black and brown people at will.
Believe that president-elect Trump wants a deportation force to round up millions as immigration legislation is gutted, leaving children and families vulnerable.
Believe that president-elect Trump wants to ban Muslims from this country and seal off our borders completely.
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – truly two representatives of a derailed world. Both hold up a mirror to our current society. One spoke for the establishment; the other for people’s rage against the establishment. Rage prevailed, yet both represent the exact same system, just from two different angles. The fact that Trump won, taking into account all the outrageous things he said, shows what kind of turbulent revolt arises among large parts of the American population. It is the revolt of people who feel betrayed by an unfathomable system and who call for, as so often already, a strong leader. Thus the unrestrained demagogue gets on stage, calling for restoring the nation, for security and unity, and the common fight against all those who could disturb this unity.Sorry to say, what comes together here is something we have already once seen in the collective insanity under Hitler. But things will not go so far this time because there is neither a concept nor a political vision behind all these “tremendous” words. Through the grotesque victory of this megalomaniac player, a movement for freedom could arise in the United States, one which strives for new objectives beyond the existing parties. In addition, positive counter-powers rise up across the globe – these are the ones that will set the course of things on a new track.
Both ways, the one of Trump and Clinton alike, aim toward a deeply inhumane world; both generate unspeakably many victims. The emotional substratum Donald Trump activates is directed against all those of another race, religion or sexual identity. This is self-protection by way of exterminating others. Hillary Clinton pursues the policies of the political class, of calculated globalization, in collaboration with the international dictatorship of financial power, generating victims in all parts of the planet that are subdued by this globalization. This is the self-protection of the dominating system through market strategies and military force.
Donald Trump has alleviated the souls of his audience by granting them permission to think the thoughts they anyway do. It has been a fundamental feature throughout human history that people come to power who are able to mobilize the subliminal “mass psychology of fascism” as Wilhelm Reich called it – this hunger for unity under a powerful ruler. This story has been repeating for millennia and will continue repeating until we put an end to it.
Humanityneeds a new life order with a new vision of leadership and unity. What is meant is not external leadership,but leadership coming from within. It is not the unity proclaimed through banners and election slogans, but the inner unity of people who coexist in trust to assist fellow beings and serve the Earth. We refer to the unity in the natural connectedness with the great family of life – in the self-evident empathy, love and solidarity that immediately come into being when we reach the basis of trust, mutual acceptance and truth. This is the foundation for a life in love, power and health. Another kind of society will arise from this fundament, no longer based on power and capital, but on the truth within human relations. And if our estimate is right, this society will be compatible with the higher order of life, which we call the “Sacred Matrix.” This movement will give rise to many new centers, birthplaces of a new planetary community.
We need to get there, otherwise we will content ourselves with substitutive solutions that regularly lead to catastrophes. As humanity we have long worked with these substitutions. We have set up ideological, political, religious and moral systems intending to secure a fulfilled existence for ourselves. Yet now we are collectively facing the edge of abyss. The era of these substitutions has come to an end. Fascism was a substitution; capitalism was a substitution; the ideas of power and obedience, of autocracy and democracy were a substitution; the Catholic Church was a substitution; the mystic paths all the way to Nirvana were a substitution. The Chosen People, all the smaller and bigger empires, all gods were a substitution; and renouncing all gods and teaching materialistic nihilism was a substitution too. Today, we need another solution on a different social, interpersonal, ethical and spiritual foundation. We need a solution based on truth among real people, above all between the genders, man and woman, because this is the realm that has been most terribly destroyed by the violence of patriarchal history.
In other words, if we want to end the worldwide injustice and the unspeakable suffering of humanity and the animal kingdom, we need to base the entire civilization of this planet on another foundation. Neither Trump nor Clinton will assist us here; what is required is a fundamental correction of our civilization and a new vision for inhabiting our planet. I know this sounds out of touch with reality, but it is inevitable and can clearly be done. If there is the vision of a humane existence on Earth it can also be realized. All people are made of the same matter. It is not just fantasy when we see the ONE, which is the same in everyone, within ourselves and all fellow citizens of this planet. We all come from the same universe, are reached by the same sun and have all come to this world from between the enormous legs of our Great Mother. We all share the same longing for love and peace. We all are happy about the friendliness of our alleged opponents – and we all would be able to make this friendliness our guiding orientation, could we let go of old, negative forces. For example in Colombia -it is clear that there are the same souls, the same young people, the same hopes and goals in both conflicting parties. It is clear that there is a potential friendship behind this cruel hostility. Isn’t it also clear that there is an original love even behind the fiercest relationship crises, that which has once brought the two together? Likewise, there is another possibility of existence behind the entire massacre of this world, which we recognize when we are not entangled in conflicts. We can understand what love is, how to follow its rules and what a global community of love could look like. We can also see the social, ecological and ethical preconditions needed to make it happen. These preconditions give rise to a new concept of coexistence among people, as well as between people and animals, people and nature. This is what we call the “Global Healing Biotopes Project.” Slowly spreading, the project works to create a new global field stronger than all violence. We do not tolerate any cruelty on this planet.
[This article also appeared on Films For Action]
Dieter Duhm, born 1942 in Berlin, is a psychoanalyst, sociologist, author of many books, visionary of the Healing Biotopes Plan, and co-founder of the Tamera Peace Research Center in Portugal. Further reading: Duhm, Dieter: Terra Nova: Global Revolution and the Healing of Love, Verlag Meiga, 2015
I am one of the few people who predicted (not in writing) that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the US since early in 2016, at a time when everyone else said it was just plain impossible, providing a long list of facts and figures that proved, for them, that there was no way under the sun that he would be elected.
Back in April, I wrote a piece called “What Will We Do if Trump Is the Next President?” In that piece, I talked about things from the distance of not knowing. I wanted to be prepared. I still stand behind everything I said then, and yet now it’s the morning after, and I am directly in the reality I was only imagining back in April. So I am shocked, truly shocked, even as I am not surprised.
I am shocked, because I consider Donald Trump’s election as perilous for humanity through actions and policies that are distinctly unpredictable, as everything is about him. In this context, I experience a need to reorient myself in a profound way, and that’s what the shock is about: as much as I have been critical of the status quo, and as much as I believed that we were already marching towards more and more destruction, it was familiar. A Hillary Clinton presidency, from my perspective, would have been more of the same. It would have allowed me to continue to live my life and do my work with some lull, some small and subtle denial of the global situation we are facing. With Donald Trump being elected, that luxury is no longer possible.