I believe Donald Trump has successfully brought out into the open the causes of why this country, despite its accomplishments and power, has not progressed into what we are capable of becoming – a vibrant, flourishing, responsible, compassionate world leader of the 21st century, based on peace, prosperity and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness FOR ALL. In order to examine this dilemma, we must see beyond Democrat and Republican, black and white, rural and urban. Donald Trump has fulfilled a courageous function that takes us through the gridlock of self-righteousness, lying, greed and confusion, and has allowed us to see a real crisis AND opportunity for our nation.
As I contemplate how best to clarify my point, I am reminded of sitting in the audience at a movie theatre in the early 1980s, watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. On adventure in some exotic land, Indiana Jones runs through difficult terrain, fighting off the local bad guys. Suddenly, the master warrior confronts him, swinging his sword in a very ceremonious display of his warrior tradition.
We all think Indiana Jones has finally met his match, but with coolness and arrogance, our white American swashbuckler hero pulls out his pistol and effortlessly shoots the warrior dead with one bullet.
The audience cheers and roars with laughter and excitement.
The scene has stayed with me for decades because I sat in that dark theater in horror, a pain in my stomach, thinking, “This is the end of honor, decorum and respect for tradition.” Why go through the painstaking time and effort necessary to overcome obstacles and solve problems with respect and honor when you can eliminate any opponent without consideration for the consequences?
Raiders came out in 1981, the beginning of the reign of Ronald Reagan, ushering in a change in America that glorified the bully, winning at all costs, using the misfortune of others to succeed, and a lack of respect for those who are different. Reagan introduced “trickle-down” economic policies, gave more power to corporations and the wealthy, planted the seeds for the financial crash in 1987 and created the initial circumstances that caused the Depression of 2008.
In this environment, with the boom of the Stock Market and the ruthless games played with insider trading, people like Donald Trump flourished, and the modest worker was systematically screwed by the very leaders who promised to advocate for them. The chasm between rich and poor has increased ever since.
I believe we have two American Dreams. American Dream #1 celebrates the humble, underdog worker, responsibly taking advantage of the opportunities in this country. It advocates for integrity and hard work to establish a happy, peaceful life for us and our families. The immigrant, the farmer, the teacher and the factory worker illustrate this dream beautifully. In it, those communities take pride in their work, strive for model citizenship, contribute to the community, and respect laws and traditions.
American Dream #2 originates in white American aristocracy, with the sons of the plantation owners and wealthy businessmen. It celebrates a winner, born into wealth and granted privilege to live his life as he pleases, above the law, taking advantage of others and resources for his own benefit.
You could say we fought the Civil War over these two different dreams for America. While the dream for the humble underdog prevailed, it did not squelch the dream of an America ruled by the white privileged few. It simply morphed.
At this time, another mythic American hero emerged: the cowboy. A loner who derived his power from his gun, the cowboy lived outside the law, mistreated women and native people, and shot his way through life to get what he wanted.
The cowboy perpetuates that second American Dream, a rebel living outside the community rather than contributing to it. So did the 19th century’s Industrialists, like Getty and Rockefeller. Earning so much money, they could buy politicians and treat workers harshly. They lived outside the law. Their power was limitless.
In the 20th century, it took two white American aristocrats to reshape the balance of power and move our country towards American Dream #1. Theodore Roosevelt made it a mission to regulate big business and protect the worker. Franklin Roosevelt turned the nation around with his New Deal policies, which provided opportunities and security for the humble worker.
After World War II, the US elevated to the status of world leader. The profit and
impact of war allowed this nation to play a dominating role in the world and also provided the opportunity for all Americans to flourish. White Americans seemed able to enjoy both American Dreams. Entrepeneurs earned a lot of money and paid their fair share of taxes, and mass production made it possible for the humble underdog to own a house, a car, and provide nicely for their family.
With the nation flourishing financially, we felt prepared to tackle deeper issues. The Civil Rights Movement endeavored to win the same freedoms and opportunities for ALL Americans, including people of color and women. By addressing this dark shadow of American history, our nation had the opportunity to rise to its highest potential: a nation based on peace, prosperity and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness FOR ALL.
At the same time, the media and advertising industry went to work hypnotizing American people into believing their worth and happiness depended on how many products they owned. We started to identify with our possessions instead of our values. The right to PURSUE happiness shifted to an expectation of happiness. Burger King’s 1970s “Have it your way” advertisements exemplified this new value system in the American psyche. The buyer became a king. We went from being a nation of citizens to a nation of consumers. And this has framed our cultural, economic, and political system ever since.
In this warped sense of worth and status, Americans didn’t need to be born into aristocracy to feel they deserved to have wealth, power, or privilege. This created anxiety for working-class white Americans, especially when asked to share that privilege, those resources, and that sense of power with people of color, women, and LBGTQ people. John Steinbeck said it well: “…the poor see themselves not as exploited proletariat, but temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Suddenly, for a certain percentage of our population, American Dream #1 of the humble worker became an embarrassment.
Enter President Ronald Reagan. Like Indiana Jones, this swaggering cowboy promised us that we would get back to the “tough” American way. He came in shooting his gun, rendering the Democrats and traditional Republicans powerless.
He gave the working poor false hope that he was looking out for their interests and that even they could entertain aristocratic dreams. “Trust me, and I promise you, we will all become millionaires.” He seduced us with his facial mask of sincerity (If you aren’t sure what I mean by this, check out the facial masks of Ted Cruz and Mike Pence) and a “good ole’ boy” attitude, as he gutted our public education system, meddled in other countries, resulting in civil wars, allowed people with HIV to die instead of providing them with health care and accelerated the mass incarceration of African Americans for minor offenses.
Many people did become millionaires, in ways that abused the system and harmed others. Reagan’s “trickle-down economics” policies and the cutting of regulations exposed unprecedented greed and immorality among the rich and power elite in this country.
In October 2008, Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Board, shook the international financial market when he admitted, at a United States Senate hearing, the flaws in his theories on regulation and acknowledged that he had put too much faith in the self-correcting power of free markets.
While a whole new class of people were living the American Dream #1, it didn’t benefit the average worker. In fact, it gutted the integrity of the middle-class, while the average worker remained loyal to the hope of affluence that Ronald Reagan promised them. Thirty years of blind devotion to the hope of American Dream #2 has allowed the rich to get richer and extremist politicians to infiltrate the Republican Party and hold it hostage.And this has created a part of our population that feels judged and ignored by Democrats, and betrayed and manipulated by Republicans.
Enter cowboy Trump! “Trump will do it right! Trump will get the job done! No honor! No respect! No time for empowering those who are different! Let’s get back to what is rightfully ours!”
But how ironic that the average Trump working-poor supporter, many who come from rural parts of the country, who works hard, and tries to live a decent life in a country ravaged by trickle-down policies, stands behind a privileged man from Queens, New York. He is nothing like them! Yet, Trump supporters derive comfort from the idea that Trump is just like them. Perhaps they believe the reverse: that THEY, temporarily embarrassed millionaires, are just like HIM – the reckless cowboy, the lawless hero of American Dream #2.
I have compassion for these supporters because they can’t see how Trump uses them to make himself and his cronies more powerful. When Trump secured the nomination after the primary in Florida, he didn’t deliver his victory speech at an open rally with his supporters—the voters who actually ensured his nomination. Instead, he arranged a black-tie event for invited guests at his mansion in Florida. We didn’t see who was in the crowd, but one reporter on site said, “The room was dripping with diamonds.”
If we want to know why America hasn’t evolved toward American Dream #1 FOR ALL, where underdog workers can pursue happiness, maybe we should listen to the part of our population who simply doesn’t want it to go in that direction, understand their grievances, let them know they are being heard, and find ways to empower them toward a vision for America that provides opportunity for all its citizens.
Having the respect, courage, and compassion to sit down with those who hold different views, hear their truth, and share your truth without blame or a need to “be right” is the key to peace, collaboration, and healing. That is Respectful Confrontation. You can’t solve a problem until you can locate and identify what the problem is. The first step in healing and reconciliation is noticing.
“Indiana Jones” Trump has jumped onstage, swashbuckler style, with no regard for tradition or decorum, wielding his very terrifying weapon: a mirror.
From the start of his campaign, he kept throwing back at the American people everything we say and do behind closed doors, in “safe” circles. He grabbed politicians’ and oligarchs’ secretive and subtle manipulations and strategies that have created gridlock and chaos. Then he put it all on steroids so we had to pay attention. We can no longer hide from it and pretend that it doesn’t exist. He broke the gridlock of Washington, and our nation, and made this a much deeper issue.
Why did he defeat 17 other Republicans in the primaries? Because he took the party’s tactics and deception, held up a mirror to it, leaving them limp and squandering. Not just any mirror, but the one that magnifies and shows every little hair and pore. Like the fool in medieval comedy, he used himself as the mirror to show us the parts of ourselves we don’t want to see. And he risked his own reputation and brand to take on this task of exposing us to the darkest shadows of America. Even the puppets of the Koch brothers – the most powerful oligarchs in American politics – couldn’t find the right strategies in the primaries to defeat Trump and his all-powerful mirror!
Will an audience cheer for a cowboy, even if he shoots an indigenous master warrior? They sure will. That’s why Trump’s supporters cheered when he called Mexicans rapists, when he insulted John McCain and a Gold Star family, and when he launched an attack on women. That’s why he has had the media down on their knees, lapping up every scrap he throws them. There is no longer any doubt about his die-hard supporters. It’s not a myth or a liberal conspiracy. Trump would have fizzled out after a few weeks of the primaries if he didn’t get the support of the deeply disenfranchised millions.
Let’s be clear. Trump will not win. The population and demographics have already shifted. But his supporters are real, and their rage, fear, disregard for facts and science, and desire to tear it all down is real. His sacrificial lamb role helps us see what we were choosing not to look at. And no need to worry about him. He’ll survive. He is built to turn any misfortune into a profitable opportunity for himself. His “sacrifice” won’t be a lasting one.
And now it’s up to all of us to approach the next steps with respect, honor and compassion. As he continues to sacrifice his brand, people are crossing party lines and disparate groups are working together, to unify around a message that is inspired by the American Dream of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness FOR ALL.
Resistance signals change and healing. It’s an opportunity to grow, and we’ll miss it if we choose to fight against what is different, seek distractions or run away from the challenge. You can’t respectfully confront something until you know the face of the very thing you need to confront. Donald Trump has clarified that for us by holding up this mirror.
This election illustrates the moment of resistance that is most tense and contracted before the breakthrough. We will remember this moment as a critical turning point in our nation’s history.
In childbirth, there always comes a moment of the most intense contraction before the release that allows new life to be born. We are at that moment, and it is critical for those of us who do believe in the American Dream that makes us all heroes regardless of our color, gender, race, and who we choose to love, that we vote to support a UNITED message; that we use diligence to hold the new administration accountable for its commitment to address issues of criminal injustice, climate change, income inequality, equal rights for all, and respect for our military and veterans. We must then subsequently find peaceful ways to sit down with our Trump-supporter brothers and sisters and seek out new solutions to old problems that honor all of us.
Let’s see ourselves as midwives for the Trump supporter who is fearful of losing all sense of power, and show them that this new life and new vision for America will include them as well. That Indiana Jones warrior-shooting moment signaled a shift in our psyche. This is a time for a new warrior-like steadfastness as well as tender care, not for putting to death, with one cheap shot, an American Dream based on tradition and equality for all.