by Orissa Arend
Before the presidential election I assumed the cult of Trumpism could be explained by people being racist or stupid or both. After so many of us voted I realized, no, my explanation is too simplistic. There are too many of “them,” and they don’t all fit into neat categories. What holds together such meanness, such distortion, such obvious lies? I had a vague feeling that the answer is more complex, less rational, and maybe involves even me, a progressive, or to use an outdated word, a liberal.
I don’t buy that theory about two separate realities, depending on where you get your news. This is what’s real: Biden won the election. And the United States, richest and most powerful country in the world, is doing the worst in the world with covid – by every metric.
What sustains the cult of Trumpism
I heard a nurse in a rural area interviewed on National Public Radio. She recovered from covid and is working again, mourning the loss of her patients. At the end of the interview she slipped in the fact that her husband, a welder, claims that the virus is no big deal. As a psychotherapist, I have two comments: #1: His level of denial amounts to a disease. Our profession has a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that would give it a numerical diagnosis. #2: Their marriage is in trouble.
I am one of the many Americans who considers herself a Christian, which means that I aspire to think and act like Christ. He was the archetype of a revolutionary, caring for the least of us. Of course, I fall very, very short. As I read the Bible, the part about all of us being one body strikes me not as a literary metaphor but an ecological truth. We are connected with each other and with all of creation. No one is saved alone.
We are one
Allow me to apply the body metaphor to the body politic. We Americans came up with our brilliant, idealistic idea of an enlightened democracy. We put it into inspirational words. That was quite an accomplishment. Yet we went right on enslaving people, murdering Native Americans, denying women even the vote. When we got to the point where we couldn’t stomach these policies and practices anymore, we tried various work-arounds like lynching, mass incarceration, voter suppression, and the destruction of the earth and each other by unfettered power and greed glossed over as capitalism.
But what if, instead of blame, guilt-induced hypocrisy, and hopelessness, we looked at this huge gap between our ideals and our reality as evidence of disease? A disease can be diagnosed, treated, and sometimes cured. A disease calls out for healing, not punishment. The cult of Trumpism to me looks like a symptom of a disease. To a Trump supporter, my own ideas may look like the symptom of a disease. That’s okay. The metaphor works both ways.
How Can We Fix This
We wouldn’t blame the lung for growing a tumor if its body had smoked cigarettes for years. We wouldn’t even blame the body for enshrining a poison in a silver holder and sucking it in because it made the body feel sophisticated, sexy, and relaxed. For a long time, the body and its mind didn’t know any better. Finally, oddly, in spite of corporate money and addiction, we’ve come to trust the science. Isn’t that amazing!?
I am as tempted as anyone to attack the adherents to the cult of Trumpism. As I admitted up front, I can dismiss them as stupid and/or racist. But if we are truly all one body – a sobering thought – I have to figure out a way to compassionately acknowledge this symptom and effectively treat this lethal disease. How am I complicit in its cause? What do I need to do or stop doing? A symptom sends the body an important warning or message. We ignore it at our own peril. What can I learn in order to bring the body politic back into a healthy balance?
#Reflections on the cult of Trumpism