Category Archives: Politics

Wanted: A Conservative Candidate for President

John Prof 2018Not long ago, on This American Life, Bill Kristol, conservative journalist and #NeverTrumper (not to be confused with the comedian Billy Crystal), touted the benefits of having a legitimate contender in the republican primaries. He acknowledged former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld’s candidacy, but I’m guessing Mr. Kristol was hoping for someone with more firepower, and maybe someone not named Bill. Naturally, after engaging in self-reflection, I immediately concluded that Bill Kristol must be thinking of me.

But why me?

Because watching me dance around Donald “Old Man” Trump in a debate, would be a #NeverTrumper’s fantasy. I’d be floating like helium and stinging like a scorpion. Because I’m a shrink, it would take me an estimated microsecond to get under Trump’s microscopically thin orange skin to reveal his huge—never seen bigger—INSECURITIES.

I’m already practicing a coughing routine; at this point, I automatically cough whenever I hear his voice. Just ask Mick Mulvaney how much Trump likes people coughing while he’s talking. I can see Trump responding to my coughing fit like an old man with uncontrollable tremors.

Speaking of Trump being an old man, I’d casually and repeatedly make note of the fact that I’m younger, stronger, fitter, and a better golfer than he is. Me being a better golfer than Trump might be a lie, but I’d still challenge him to a televised round of golf (if only to have America watch him cheat). I’d also challenge him and his sagging body to be video recorded as we meet with his physician to undergo simultaneous physical exams.

Although it’s probably unnecessary, I’d show off how much BIGGER my IQ score is, first by pointing out that anybody who knows anything about IQs, never says IQ, they always say “IQ score.” Duh, Donald! Then I’d challenge him to a spelling bee, wherein the first word would be “conservative” and the dunce that is the Donald won’t even be able to spell it, let alone act like one. Just in case he’s lucky and gets it right, the second word would be “unprecedented.”

My conservative street cred dwarfs Donald’s. He’s a weak old man who knows more about bankruptcy than he does about balancing budgets. That’s not conservative. During the debate, just before dropping the mic, I’d drop the fact that I’ve never declared bankruptcy, that I don’t live on debt, and that I’ve proportionately made way more money than he has (and I’m way younger than he is and so I’ll just keep on making money and paying taxes for far longer than he’ll be making money and not paying taxes).

Sadly, Trump puts his mental weakness on display daily. That’s not a conservative quality. He can’t resist lashing out at anyone who doesn’t worship his beautiful bleach-blonde hair. Trump insults everyone from Gold Star families to porn stars to people who suffer from mental disabilities. Strong people don’t do that. Real conservatives don’t do that. He’s. Not. Even. Close. To. Conservative.

Growing up I learned of conservative principles of integrity and self-discipline. Conservative people have excellent self-control, and lead by example.

Lead by example? Trump is every parents’ nightmare role model. Can you imagine having an Uncle Donald Trump? You’d be hiding the kids when he came to visit. Who wants to raise a weak-minded bully who cheats on his wife and whose buddies are mostly criminals? Trump’s whole behavioral palette is the antithesis of traditional conservative values. Anybody want to argue that one? Anybody? Kristol?

How about me?

I’m an old-fashioned conservative. I believe in practical solutions to personal, national, and world problems.

I live by conservative values, including honesty, respect for others’ freedoms, and a commitment to fairness and the rule of law. I want a level playing field for everyone, recognizing that for too long the field has been tilted in favor of white, wealthy, and the politically connected. Speaking of playing fields BTW, I played college football, the sport of conservatives. What sport has Trump ever played, besides golf on the taxpayer’s dime?

I’m all about Christian, Jewish, and Eastern religious values. I attend church more often than Donald. My favorite Christian value is “Love thy neighbor as thyself” . . . which is clearly NOT Trump’s favorite Christian value; he doesn’t believe in loving thy neighbor, unless the neighbor happens to be a playboy bunny or porn star.

To the best of my knowledge, which, during our debate, I would quickly point out is better than the best of Donald’s knowledge, Jesus said something about treating children with great care and compassion. Maybe Trump didn’t get the memo about Jesus loving the poor or the story about the Good Samaritan? Maybe he never listened to the voice mail Jesus left for him about not separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. In case the debate audience didn’t get the point, I’d make it clear: cages aren’t Christian, and cages aren’t conservative.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a plan to reduce abortion rates (hint: it involves education, career opportunities, and libertarian values, not degradation of women and their personal freedoms).

Unlike Trump, I’ve got an environmental plan for an economic stimulus. Even Ronald Reagan knew you couldn’t tax cut the country to prosperity. Believe me, my economic policies would be more sophisticated than giving tax breaks to the wealthy, slapping on tariffs to raise prices for Americans, and pissing off our allies.

Unlike Trump, I’m pro-education. I wouldn’t appoint a wealthy, dull donor who hates education and has never stepped into a public school as my Secretary of Education. I’d follow the guidance of John Adams, a white, Christian, who also happened to be the second U.S. President. President Adams said that when it comes to the education of low income youth, “no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

Unlike Trump, I’m not racist, I don’t call countries “shitholes” or Tweet weird statements about “pig’s blood” or pitch my tent in white supremacist territory. I think most Americans and conservatives would appreciate a straight-up conversation about racism. We’re not a racist nation, and I’d make that point, and then make it again, and then I’d make it again.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a foreign policy that involves something other than slumming with dictators. That alone should be a relief to bona fide conservatives. Because I’ll be taking a conservative approach, photo ops in North Korea and off-the-books meetings with Putin will not be part of my presidential foreign policy agenda.

In conclusion, let me say:

“Hey Bill Kristol, if you’re reading this, give me a call. I’m ready to be Trump’s biggest nightmare (next to you, of course). I’m happy to volunteer; it’s an easy job, especially because Trump is so old, weak, feeble, and liberal.”

Continuing the Trapper Creek Job Corps Magic

The RoadLast night’s (6/19/2019) news that Trapper Creek and the other Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps will stay open is good news for everyone. Cutting Trapper Creek would have made little sense. Job Corps builds on common sense and conservative principles: Young Americans experiencing poverty need what Job Corps offers, “A hand up, not a hand-out.”

For 11 years I dodged deer and Bitterroot drivers on the 140 mile round trip from Missoula to work as a mental health consultant at Trapper Creek. From the moment I started back in 2003, I was hooked on Job Corps. I got hooked the same way most Job Corps employees get hooked. Helping young people turn their lives around is deeply fulfilling. I’m thrilled that the Trapper Creek magic will continue.

At Trapper, many students told me grim stories of their lives before Job Corps. These stories included school failure, chronic delinquency, gang and family violence, residential treatment, alcoholic black-outs, psychiatric hospitalization, foster care, parental suicides, and desperation so disturbing that teenagers regularly talked of putting the barrel of a gun into their mouths or a bottle of pills into their stomachs.

Trapper Creek magic often worked quickly. Students who came in on heavy doses of psychiatric medications were often medication-free in 3-6 months. Somehow, three meals a day, a safe place to live, being around adults who set limits and provided encouragement, opportunities for education, vocational training, and recreational pursuits accomplished the unlikely: mental disorders simply went away.

In one (of many) cases I treated a young man whose nightmares of a violent past were keeping him up at night. He showed up. We got to work. After 10 minutes, I stopped and asked him to reflect on his experience.

He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Then he grinned, “I feel like I can breathe again.”

And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

My favorite Job Corps scene was at an evening recreation event. I invited two counseling interns to stay late and attend “Trapper-Idol.” A man named “Fergie,” the recreation director, organized a talent show like you’ve never seen.

A short, stocky blonde girl stepped up to the microphone. She squeaked through a solo singing performance. She was completely vulnerable. My interns and I ached with anxiety for her. But we didn’t understand how Trapper-Idol worked. As she finished, the crowd of about 50 Job Corps students leapt to their feet, shouting and clapping in support. She bowed, walking off the stage to a series of hugs and high-fives.

On the drive home my interns and I couldn’t stop replaying the event. None of the performers had much talent, but they stepped up, performed, and were greeted with enthusiastic acceptance. We marveled at the therapeutic magic. These young people—young people who were never cool in school—got to have a health experience of social support and acceptance.

The Trapper-Idol experience is a microcosm of Trapper Creek magic. Students don’t have to be perfect—and they aren’t. What they have to do is show up, stand up, face their doubts, manage their behavior, and get to work.

I’m ecstatic that Trapper Creek didn’t die a cruel bureaucratic death. I’m happy for the community and for the Trapper employees. But mostly, I’m thrilled for the current and future students. Trapper Creek isn’t perfect, but for many students who have experienced poverty, it’s a balm of opportunity . . . and it’s one of the ways we can invest our tax dollars in America’s future.

Now I’m hoping for more Trapper Creek magic for decades to come.

Please Support Trapper Creek Job Corps and the Other Job Corps Designated as Civilian Conservation Corps

Hi All.

I’m asking for help. All of the Job Corps designated as Civilian Conservation Corps are slated to be cut.

Below, I’m pasting information about Trapper Creek Job Corps. I’m also providing a link to a form letter with talking points, as well as an Excel sheet with contact info for various Senate Offices.

Thanks in advance for your help. Job Corps was started as part of LBJ’s war on poverty. It’s a program that gives youth and young adults ages 16-24 a chance to learn a trade and become a taxpayer who contributes to our country in positive ways.

I hope you will spread this message far and wide!

Here’s the letter:

Dear Friend of Job Corps.

This is not a drill. This is 911.

The media is out there; Secretary Acosta (Department of Labor) and Secretary Purdue (USDA) have made the agreement to eliminate the USDA’s role in the Job Corps Program. This means that Trapper Creek (as well as the other 24 Forest Service Centers, or CCCs) will be transferred to DOL, and Trapper Creek will be more or less eliminated as we know it. Our students will no longer be served by this program. Our communities will no longer be served by the extensive support of our amazing students. Our 55 hard working staff at Trapper Creek (and over 1,200 Nation-wide) who have dedicated their professional lives to helping disadvantaged youth will lose their jobs. It is clear this is an assault on our youth, our communities and our people.

My understanding is as such: the decision is to eliminate operations of the CCCs by September 30, 2019. This is not an arbitrary date: it is the last day of the fiscal year. Should this movement take place successfully, the contingent will have won; Trapper and the CCCs are over and done for. We lose our jobs and the thousands of young people served by the CCCs ever year will be without services. However, Congress was just notified today of this decision and, frankly, are not happy. The Forest Service Job Corps program has always had huge support from both sides of Congress; Democrats believe in the humanitarian component while Republicans believe in the fiscal responsibility of training young adults in poverty to learn the hard skills to get a living wage job and the soft skills to stay employed.

WHAT I NEED YOU TO DO: below are two documents.  The spreadsheet attached has contact information for Congressional folks in your states. Please make as many contacts as you can to them as well as to local political folks; mayors, city council, etc. We need as many calls and emails as possible from as many folks as possible. Democrats are already putting things in writing; Republicans are on board but all together too quiet. These folks need to hear of your displeasure of this decision.

Also attached is a form letter (5.23.19 CCC Agency Letter), talking points if you will, to use when visiting with these folks.

Please forward this message to all parties you know that care about our youth, our communities, our staff and the program at large. Facebook is a great tool to move information as well.

FEDERAL EMPLOYEES: do not use government time, equipment or material to move this information. You are welcome to use Facebook if you do not identify yourself as a Federal Employee.

The Talking Points letter is here: 5.23.19 CCC Agency Form Letter with Talking Points

The Excel spreadsheet with contact info is here: Copy of CCC Contact Sheet

 

 

 

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

One Wipe Charlies

This post includes psychology and politics. If you don’t like psychology or you don’t like politics, you can stop reading. If you continue reading, you should know that I’m not focusing on political ideology; I’m focusing on the corrosive effect of lies on trust, relationships, history, and the social contract between government and the people.

*******************************

I thought I was having a very bad dream.

Donald J. Trump was speaking. He said,

“Well, it turns out I’m the most — and I think most of you would agree to this — I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country.” 

That was two days ago.

Yesterday, Trump summoned his staff, claimed (again) to be a stable genius (who even makes up bullshit like that?). Then he called on people to speak out in support of him in his temperamental tiff with Nancy Pelosi. Shortly thereafter he posted a spliced video designed to make Pelosi look bad.

Sadly, none of what I experienced had anything to do with an altered mental state. I was listening to the radio when Trump’s fictitious words floated into my brain. This is a big problem, not just for me. There are far too many fictitious words floating around, and far too many people having them drift into their brains, which brings me to my central point: Even though most of us would readily agree that saying or thinking or writing something doesn’t make it so, sometimes, over time and with help from others (e.g., Fox news and spliced videos), and this is the dangerous part, saying something can—and often does—make it so.

My non-dream left me with two powerful insights.

  1. Never before, probably in the history of this country, have I been more of a social constructionist.
  2. Now I know the EXACT strategy for beating Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election.

Some of you may wonder what being a social constructionist means. Let me quote some experts:

“There are two main branches of constructive theory . . . both perspectives hold firmly to the postmodern idea that knowledge and reality is subjective. Constructivists . . . believe knowledge and reality are constructed within individuals. In contrast, social constructionists . . . believe knowledge and reality are constructed through discourse or conversation. . . . social constructionists focus on what’s happening between people as they join together to create realities (Sommers-Flanagan & Sommers-Flanagan, 2018, pp. 283-284).

Right now, as I type and as you read, we’re in the midst of a dangerous social deconstruction and reconstruction. Every morning, we awaken to new savage attacks on conventional truth. We’re facing the most chronic and pathological liar probably in the history of this country.

George Orwell might put it this way:

. . . if all others accepted the lie which the [Trump] imposed – if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the [Trump] slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past’ (from the novel, 1984).

Lies corrode trust. Lies destroy relationships. Lies re-write history and shape the future. We all know this from our direct personal experiences.

But there’s a method to Trump’s madness; the method is all about using social constructionism to divide and conquer. Trump is a master at creating new realities through conversation. He’s a master at using dishonesty and the misrepresentation of facts to destroy trust, incite hatred, and gain power. Trump has a nearly reflexive capacity for steering conversations away from conventional reality and toward his subjective perspective.

Trump is engaging us all in a re-write of past, present, and future realities to meet his own narcissistic perceptions. He can’t do it alone, but he has many proponents who support his views. Big money can do that. Sometimes the mainstream media contributes too, albeit inadvertently. For example, when Rachel Martin on NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Kristen Gillibrand, she referred to Trump as “formidable.” Her words contribute to Trump being perceived as formidable, as if that’s a constructed reality. In fact, Trump is something far less than formidable, which leads me to the recipe for Trump’s defeat.

Trump’s Achilles’ heel is his deep fear of weakness and his compensating wishes for strength, power, and ultimate authority. What this means is that Trump’s so-called strengths are also his weaknesses. To defeat Trump, we must relentlessly target his lies, his weakness, and his inadequacy.

Everything he says should be viewed through the lens of weakness. He wants to drop the mother of all bombs, mostly to compensate for his inner terrpr over being seen as weak. He insists on complete obedience from his administration because he’s too weak to cope with hearing dissent. He’s deeply afraid of being discovered as a fraud, and so he cannot share his tax returns. He must fight to resist the Mueller probe and legal efforts to get at his personal finances, because he’s not man enough to be open, honest, and forthright about who he is and how he does business. He pays off porn stars because he wants to maintain his delusion and a false cover up of who he really is . . . a man who has to pay a porn star for sex and then has to pay for her silence.

The press consistently refers to Trump as an unconventional politician. Other than his lack of political experience, governing experience, and foreign policy experience, I can’t figure out what they mean. Trump is a political caricature. He lies with abandon, buys himself out of trouble, and takes on the persona of an attack dog who attacks people whom he sees as beneath him, principally because he’s scared shitless that his inner weakling-fraud will be exposed.

A small sampling of his lies helps capture his focus.

In the beginning he mocked people with disabilities (is that what strong people do?). He was caught on tape degrading and debasing women (more strength; so much strength). He called Hillary “Crooked,” when his most dominant trait is all about being crooked. His lies are mostly about his desperation to appear strong. Often, they’re obvious projections. Projection happens when a behavior or trait of someone else stirs an impulse in you, so you end up accusing others of something that’s really about you. For example, when Trump claims Nancy Pelosi is “mess” or “crazy” what he’s really saying is “I’m a mess” and “I’m crazy.” Projection is an old-fashioned Freudian defense mechanism that thrives on oversensitivity to criticism, combined with an inability to restrain impulses to say whatever comes to mind. A simpler way of thinking about projection is that the traits of others that really disturb you, may often be your own. And so when Trump refers to little Marco Rubio and little Bob Corker and little Adam Schiff, he’s speaking of his preoccupation with their smallness of stature, but he’s also speaking of his unrestrained preoccupation with and fear of being small and weak. In every one of the preceding scenarios, Trump’s purpose was to put down individuals or groups. Think about the people you know in your life who compulsively put everyone down. Are they the strong people?

That Trump would accuse the media of being fake is another in his legion of lies and projections. Who’s fake? Let’s see, there was the fake Trump University, the fake marriages, the fake condolences that he offered to school shooting victims, the fake losses on his tax returns, the fake claims about his wealth, his fake foundation with fake and unsubstantiated charitable giving, and his fake claims of being “completely exonerated.” There are so many fake things, including his skin color, his physical examination reports, his bone spurs, and his claims of being a stable genius that it’s hard to know what’s underneath. There’s also his fake courage, the fake 91 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, fake statements about Democrats executing babies “after birth,” fake promises about Mexico paying for a border wall, fake claims that Democrats want “open borders,” fake announcements that U.S. Steel is building six new steel mills, fake claims that opioid deaths are down, and, as you know, I could go on and on into his thousands of lies.

To defeat Trump, we must attack two things.

We must attack his compulsive and manipulative dishonesty and his fake news about himself and the world. Every word he and his staff utters should be scrutinized and laid side-by-side with the truth.

We must also attack the perception that he’s anything other than a weak, pathetic, inadequate man who has to pay porn stars to get laid. We cannot ever, for the sake of truth, exonerate him for his lies. We need to pierce his armor of narcissism with the whole truth and nothing but the truth over and over again. In this defense of truth, we must not waver.

 

The Brain-Based Truth of Donald Trump’s Social Dominance

Snowy Sunset

Although everyone is arguing with everyone else about everything—especially everything involving presidential politics, no one argues about whether Donald Trump can work a room, work up an audience, and dominate a news cycle. Love or hate him, Trump has a special talent.

But what is that talent? How can it be that despite clear evidence of Trump lying at unprecedented rates, despite the small blue wave that swept the House of Representatives this past November, and despite substantial evidence that his policies are not benefiting rural Americans, Trump’s approval ratings continue to hover at around 40%. Given his flirtation with the Russians, his legal problems with the Department of Justice and in the Southern District of New York, and his incessant outrageous and vulgar tweeting, why don’t his approval ratings dip even lower?

Perhaps even more puzzling is the apparent inability or unwillingness of previously powerful republicans to push back on Trump’s wanton disregard for family values and morality. Many of Trumps tweets are, at best, rated PG-13. The fact that Googling “bullshit” and “circle jerk” takes us to commentaries about Trump’s tweets is a testimony to his ubiquitous disrespect for whatever moral codes republicans have retreated behind.

Never mind the well-documented porn star payments, “shithole” references, and stories about bullets dipped in pig’s blood. Unless they’re still commenting on Obama, the Clintons, or other targets designed to distract from rational argument, the collective chorus of outrage among republican politicians is no louder than you’d expect from a band of Buddhists practicing mindful acceptance at a silent retreat.

Sure, Mitt Romney and a few others have occasionally (and carefully) expressed their sickened feelings. And although Bill Kristol and other #neverTrumpers have held forth—even purchasing political advertisings to counter Trump rhetoric—to date, no current republican office-holder has publicly confronted Trump and provided an alternative leadership narrative. What’s up with the formerly assertive republican leaders? Whether we’re watching blank looks from Chris Christie, John Kelly, or Rod Rosenstein, republican power brokers appear frightened, intimidated, and only a meek shadow of their former selves.

What’s the best explanation for Trump’s stable approval ratings and the continued shriveling of republican leadership? You might be inclined to consider favorable economic indicators, or the Fox News phenomenon, or some other rational explanation. But I’m leaning a different direction—toward a theory to explain the irrational.

Like all dangerous populist politicians, Trump is a master manipulator. He can bend minds like psychics bend spoons. Although many—including my father—refer to him as a run-of-the-mill con man, Trump is much more than that. Trump is no expert on the art of the deal; but he’s a wizard at the art of mass hypnosis.

Among others, two Canadian academics, Drs. Erik Woody and Henry Szechtman, have written about how mass hypnosis works. They say it involves the activation of a particular evolutionarily-important part of the brain. They’ve labeled this neural network in the brain as the “security motivation system.” Essentially, the security motivation system is an ancient part of the brain that scans for “hints, inklings, whiffs, and foreshadowings” of danger. The problem, as Woody and Szechtman put it, is that contemporary human brains are now connected to the internet, and the internet is filled with perpetual news, Facebook forwards, Russian bot activity, and political messages. Much of this instant information has hints and whiffs of danger and those hints and whiffs activate the security motivation system. The louder the call of dark, scary, danger, the more activated our collective security motivation systems become. And what do our collectively activated security motivational systems want? Action! Specifically, action leading to safety. All this can direct us to embrace politicians who offer big actions that will hypothetically protect us from danger. Woody and Szectman wrote: “. . . support for politicians promoting bold action [like building a big, impenetrable border wall] is itself an action . . . which may help” de-activate our heightened security motivation.

In contrast to Reagan’s message of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Trump’s message has been consistently about doom, gloom, and danger. His speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention was a bleak frightening portrait of America. But, in contrast to Trump’s portrait of America as under attack from Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists, and international commerce, he simultaneously promised (and continues to promise) to make America great again with big, albeit unrealistic and unfounded, actions.

For a substantial minority of Americans, Trump is a charismatic speaker. He ramps up crowds to an emotional fever-pitch. He combines extremes. On the one hand, America is under attack from Mexicans, Muslims, and Democrats. On the other hand, he—and only he—can offer a future filled with beauty, safety, and financial success. As he speaks, he sometimes riffs like a hypnotist employing a specific hypnotic induction procedure called the “confusion technique.” When he employs this strategy, Trump’s words barely make sense. He offers a rhythmic narrative absent any real content. Take this example from the 2016 campaign trail:

You are going to be so proud of your country. Because we’re gonna turn it around, and we’re gonna start winning again! We’re gonna win so much! We’re going to win at every level. We’re going to win economically. We’re going to win with the economy. We’re gonna win with military. We’re gonna win with healthcare and for our veterans. We’re gonna win every single facet.

We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, “Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.” And I’ll say, “No, it isn’t!”

We have to keep winning. We have to win more! We’re gonna win more. We’re gonna win so much.

Ashley Feinberg of Gawker, described this verbal dispatch from Trump as: “His best Howard Dean impression if Howard Dean had been given a whole lot of cocaine and also a thesaurus with just the word “winning” followed by the word “winning” again in progressively larger fonts.” Not surprisingly, Woody and Szechtman described it differently, noting nuanced differences between the oral and written word:

Through repetition, this type of communication stays “on message,” almost to the point of caricature. More importantly, it presents no line of argument or supporting material whatever that would call for higher thought. Such communication, which can be effective in person, is similarly effective when replayed on media as video [or audio]. By contrast, it becomes ineffective in print, where its paucity of intellectual content is painfully obvious. (p. 14)

Most observers agree, Trump is best when on the stump. When it comes to governing or foreign policy or role-modeling moral behavior, Trump is less effective. On the stump Trump uses other hypnotic methods, beyond the previously mentioned confusion technique. He continually pounds away messages about current dissatisfaction, combined with an orientation to the future. Under him, future life will always be better, more beautiful, a Shangri-La for the masses. He uses the words “believe me” and “trust me” like a mantra. Even though nearly every rational person in the U.S. knows they should quickly run away whenever a salesperson (or con-man) says “trust me” Trump’s hypnotic reverie has weakened the rational mind to the point where the words believe me and trust me actually work. As Roger Cohen opined in the New York Times,

Tolstoy wrote of “epidemic suggestion” to describe those moments when humanity seems to be gripped by a mass hypnosis that no force can counter. . . . We find ourselves in such a moment.

But there is a countering force. There always has been. And there always will be.

Let’s go back to Woody and Szechtman, and their ideas about the brain’s security motivation system.

When activated, the security motivation system directs humans toward actions that enhance safety. When looking for safety, nearly always, humans follow their evolutionary noses. And where do their evolutionary noses point . . . toward the person with the most social dominance.

Think about it. Who can keep us safe? Then, think about Trump’s hulking figure looming in the background as Hillary Clinton speaks in one of the televised debates. Then, think of what he has (wealth and property) and think of what he offers in his hollow narratives (winning, beauty, and safety, so much winning).

Republican politicians are cowed like never before. They can’t match Trump’s verbal skills and hypnotic persona. They can’t match his wealth and connections. And republicans have historically been motivated by fear. Trump’s presence activates their security motivation systems. On their own, most White, male republicans fear immigration. On their own, most White, male republicans are drawn to wealth and power. For them, Trump stokes their fears and activates their security motivation system in a way that goes back to primitive human thinking: “Save yourself” . . . is the irresistible unconscious motive that weakens republicans. Open conflict with Trump is too dangerous. Alone, individual republicans don’t have the verbal or financial prowess to compete with Trump. So, they slink into the background and do what frightened people have done since the beginning of time—they follow a socially dominant and powerful leader.

The answer to the problem of Trump is simple, but not easy.

There are two roads to countering a socially dominant, hypnotically adept bully. Both roads necessarily include an alternative socially dominant discourse. How to get there? Republicans, if they can find their courage, might band together to push back against Trump. This would be risky. And the outcome is dicey.

The other road is to latch our trailer to an alternative socially dominant political figure. The hazard here is we could end up jumping from the socially dominant frying pan into the socially dominant fire. Consequently, we need to be very careful when selecting the socially forceful leader who can take on Trump and win. Perhaps of greatest importance, along with powerful messaging, to ensure safety of all Americans, our new leader needs to have two characteristics that Trump lacks and that make Trump dangerous. We need a leader who can be a team player (and not just deputize family members) and we need a leader who is able to experience and express compassion.

Methods for resisting and awakening from a hypnotic trance exist. They begin as all things begin, with awareness. Now is the time to wake up. Listen closely as I count backward from five to one. When I get to the number one, you’ll awaken, you’ll stretch, look around, and realize that finding an alternative socially dominant and yet compassionate leader is urgent.

5

4

3

2

1

You can wake up now. If you stay asleep, you face a greater danger. If you stay asleep, you may act in ways that are incompatible with your deep values. If you stay asleep, you may need forgiveness, because although you will act, you . . . will . . . know . . . not . . . what . . . you . . . do.

My Closing Argument: Take a Breath, Check Your Moral Compass, and Vote for Checks and Balances in Government

California Street FootbridgeTrust me.

As the election closes in, I’ve been obsessed with perusing the literature on mass hypnosis. Trust me happens to be a rather common phrase among stage hypnotists and used car salespeople.

Then, this morning an unusual word popped into my brain.

Demagogue

Believe me, really, I thought of demagogue first thing this morning. Funny coincidence, did you know that Donald Trump used the words, “Believe me” 40 times in the 2016 presidential debates?

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Demagogue:

A demagogue (from Greek δημαγωγός, a popular leader, a leader of a mob, from δῆμος, people, populace, the commons + ἀγωγός leading, leader) or rabble-rouser is a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so.

I can’t help but wonder, maybe every century or so, a natural-born demagogue comes along. It’s possible.

You already know I’m referring to Donald Trump. He is, unarguably, a talented, master manipulator. We can all agree on that. Go ahead and match up Mr. Trump with the preceding definition of demagogue. See what you think. You’ll see a match like you’ve never seen before.

Tomorrow, the democrats will mostly vote for democrats and the republicans will mostly vote for republicans. The question, for those in the middle, is whether you believe and trust that Mr. Trump is employing his vast skills of manipulation for the good of America. I doubt it, but maybe that’s just me.

My Montana connections tell me that the Trump played “Sympathy for the Devil” to crank up the crowd at his October 18 Missoula rally. The lyrics begin, “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste.” You can find the rest of the words online. But just in case you don’t have time, I’ll share this: when Mick Jagger sings the lines, “Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints. As heads is tails . . .” it gets hard to break free of the song’s powerful grip. But at the same time, somewhere, down deep, it’s also hard to imagine that Mr. Trump is looking out for the welfare of the average American citizen.

No question, Mr. Trump is fantastic at conjuring up fear, division, and hate. He’s also a master at giving his listeners permission to think and act on their least morally upright and most unhealthy thoughts and emotions. Believe me on this too. After all, this is the guy who, at one of his rallies, said, “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

Often I’ve heard Trump supporters say, “I like him because he says what everyone is thinking.” The problem is that although Mr. Trump’s extreme and judgmental statements may resonate with his audience, embracing a philosophy where acting on or sharing all of our thoughts is encouraged is nearly always a very bad idea. In fact, I think it might be the opposite—along with shooting refugees who throw rocks—of what Jesus might recommend.

The truth is (and you should trust me on this because I’m a psychologist), some thoughts (and some emotions) are simply not ready for prime time. Convincing listeners (as Mr. Trump does) to follow their coarse, uncensored thinking toward action is a common magic trick of someone who’s goal is to produce a mass trance or hypnotic state.

He might as well be telling people, “Trust your thoughts. and trust me. You know in your heart and mind there are many things to fear, but I will keep you safe. I know your thoughts, your thoughts and my words are as one, bring them together and all will be well. Trust me, I will keep you safe. And you will keep me safe. Because you feel anger and fear and because I’ve so helpfully pointed out the enemy, we know what we need to do. Maybe some of you 2nd amendment supporters will take care of it for me. We share common fears and anger and thoughts and actions and we can move forward together and you can let me take care of the rest of what’s important. Trust me. Trust me to do that for you. I can do it better and bigger than anyone else has ever even thought of doing it.”

The big question is, how to break the demagogue’s hypnotic spell?

Unfortunately, the big answer is . . . it’s very difficult.

Step 1: Hang on tight to reason and rational analysis. A hypnotic state requires suspending rational thought, therefore, it’s essential that messages from the demagogue not be accepted without critical analysis. Seek input from alternative viewpoints. Don’t just trust me. Don’t just watch MSNBC and Fox News. Find content from the middle . . . and then fact check that too.

Step 2: Get out of the heightened and focused state of arousal. Hypnotic trances are states involving hyper-focus. If you’re feeling activated all the time, take time to meditate, reflect, walk around the block, and talk to your neighbor about life and death and health (instead of politics). The truth is that you don’t “need” the demagogue on either end of the political continuum. What you need is balance.

Step 3: Listen for the “Trust me” card. Right now, in this state of questionable news and Russian bots, it’s tough to determine who to trust. If you’re feeling that, then get out your favorite moral guidelines—it doesn’t matter whether your favorite moral guidelines include the Dalai Lama or the Sermon on the Mount or the Eightfold Path or the Ten Commandments or the Koran. Take your moral guide and then place what Trump is saying right next to it. Is Trump saying something consistent with what’s in your guide? Does your moral guide say anything about holding children in cages? Or does it say something like “Let the little children come to me.”

This brings me to my closing argument.

Now is a good time to stop and take a breath. Break free from the aroused state of hyper-focus. Consult alternative views.

If you do, you may recognize that most democrats are not members of an angry mob. You may also recognize that most republicans are not White supremacists. Democrats, republicans, independents, (and yes, even libertarians) are your neighbors. Love them.

Now is a good time to shake yourself free from someone (anyone) who tells you what you should fear, how you should think, and for whom you should vote. After shaking yourself free, embrace your moral guide.

If you need a more obvious voting tip, consider voting for a balance of power. Right now, we need the checks and the balances to do what they do—to provide checks and balances so one person cannot wield too much power. This is especially true when that one person keeps repeating the words, “Trust me,” because . . . and you know this in your heart . . . that’s never a good sign.