The first month of Trump in office unleashed chaos and turmoil in the nation, creating what some called a constitutional crisis. With a series of executive orders threatening women’s reproductive rights, immigrants and sacred water guarded by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, public outrage galvanized in protests across the country.
This new resistance against Trump’s repressive nationalist agenda is very encouraging. Yet, in order for this spark to become a truly transformative force, we need to take a hard look at how we got here. Trump’s outrageous move barring people from seven majority Muslim nations from entering into the United States sent shockwaves nationwide. The truth is that this didn’t emerge out of nowhere. This controversial list of Muslim countries that Trump is now using in his executive order was created by Obama, who was the commander in chief that had bombed 7 countries and expanded the Bush era ‘War on Terror’.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is now receiving a flood of funding after Trump’s unconstitutional immigrant order, had for a long time been fighting the same battle. This nonpartisan civil rights defender had little support when they fought fiercely against the deportation of over 2 million people under Obama. Also, the ubiquitous illegal drone attacks that are now gaining more scrutiny was Obama’s signature policy. The 8-year-old girl that was just killed under Trump was the sister of a 16-year-old American in Yemen, who was a collateral drone strike victim from Obama’s kill list.
Recently, Iran’s supreme leader sarcastically noted how he is grateful to President Trump for showing “the true face of the US”. The curtain over this oligarchic puppet show has now been lifted. Trump in the White House was a transition from a regime of secrecy to that of naked imperial power. The pretense of democracy that has been tightly managed is now over. This legacy of Obama’s covert oppression is being carried out by an emperor with no clothes, who lacks the level of intelligence and sophistication that his predecessor had in hiding the bloody claws and teeth of the U.S. Empire.
Catharsis for Healing
With Trump’s assertion of power, a new fount of civic force has erupted in America. People who were silent during the Obama presidency mobilized in the Women’s March, creating the largest political upheaval since the Vietnam War. Where have these aroused citizens been in the last 8 years?
What is now being exposed is the pathology of this culture – a kind of systemic psychopathy that has been locking people into a tunnel vision of American exceptionalism. Politics has become a form of legal deception where elected officials engage in slick manipulation to manufacture and garnish people’s allegiance to an oligarchic government of the hedge funds, by the lobbyists and for the transnational corporations. We have lost the sense of how ill this society has become. It is as if our humanity is being genetically modified to deny our intrinsically altruistic attributes, making callous and self-serving actions toward one another become the norm.
Philosopher J. Krishnamuriti once said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Trump in office has now brought a kind of catharsis. Many of us are beginning to awaken to our unconscious adjustment to what has become a terrifying norm.
The injuries inflicted on the American psyche manifested in a hollowed out civic arena have been here since the beginning of this nation. Unrecognized oppression creates trauma and holds us down in a sense of helplessness. During his presidential run, consumer advocate Ralph Nader related how labor organizer and socialist leader Eugene Debs was asked the question, “What’s your biggest regret?” to which Deb answered, “Under our Constitution, the American people can have almost everything they want… My biggest regret is they don’t seem to want very much…”
Trump’s entry into politics ripped off the bandage that hid a scathing wound. The scab that had been sealed to stop the bleeding is now reopened. It is like an invisible wound that many of us forgot was there, yet had been gripping our actions and paralyzing us.
A Nation of Insanity
American people have been broken with repeated abuse by an entitled minority who lie, cheat and advance selfish agendas without remorse. The transgression by corporate elites violating constitutional boundaries and their managing down of people’s expectations has turned America from a nation of laws and democratic values into a nation of insanity with increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Insanity, as Albert Einstein defined it is, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
Like addicts who engage in self-destructive and irrational behavior to soothe their pain, we have been held hostage by our own trauma. For so long we have been entangled in this political charade, trying to find a way out through a concocted ‘lesser evil’ strategic voting. Even after the elections are over, we struggle to break this addictive pattern of identity politics –a game that divides and conquers us. With a knee-jerk reaction of ‘Anti-Trump’, we are being further ensnared into a reactionary loop of projected anger and hatred, absorbing a toxicity induced by this machinated system of control.
For anyone who recognizes an ill environment or relationship, one of the sane things to do is to remove oneself from it. Before we do anything, we need to first recognize that by adjusting to an unhealthy situation, we are becoming as sick as that environment. Healing starts with the courage to truly look at our own collective shadow; the repressed memories of genocide of Natives and Black slavery haunt the American psyche, becoming an infectious disease of empire. Racism, classism and sexism, covered up by empty rhetoric and a false sense of progress has now spread throughout the globe like a virus.
Only through recognizing the deep-seated wound of the American soul can we begin to heal this society. Restoring our wellbeing requires self-care. This is a kind of introspection -to know one’s self-worth and truth. Who are we? What is the role of citizens in a democracy and what are the obstacles within that prevent us from claiming and fully exercising our power? A truth that was held to be self-evident in the founding document of this country reads that, “All men are created equal”. Black lives matter and lives of indigenous people matter in the same way as white people or those who are privileged. Those words of the Founders remind us that whenever we act against this truth, all of society degrades and becomes ill.
Building on the Truth
Distress, rage and despair spread around the country as the face of the new administration becomes clearer day by day. The pain induced can now be seen as giving a real opportunity for us to get closer to the original wound and finally end the assaults perpetuated throughout history in this nation.
Upon the foundation of this universal truth upheld by each person, we can examine our deeply held beliefs and find solutions to the problems that are difficult to tackle because of our own fragmentation. Here are some of the assumptions that need to be examined.
Our relationship to authority
In the wake of Trump’s executive orders, we need to ask ourselves how much authority should any President have. Even John Yoo, the Berkeley law professor that authored the torture memo, is concerned and thinks Trump has gone too far.
Can the Constitution withstand a potential dictatorship that may be enacted by Trump? The fact is, gestation of totalitarianism is already here. By signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Obama set the stage for any president to temporarily suspend the Constitution at any time with little oversight. The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden also alerted us to the spying agency’s surveillance activity, depicting it as a turnkey tyranny. When traditional checks and balances are weakened, is it possible to find solutions by directly working together and bypassing these bureaucratic organizations that are serving the interests of those in power?
Resistance means protest
The belief that change can only come through fighting needs to be carefully examined. Resistance in the form of traditional protest pushes the state to act more authoritarian. We have seen this in the Occupy movement with brutal police crackdowns that squashed dissent. We can expect an escalated response with the government under Trump, considering he just signed another executive order under the ruse of ‘public safety’, which grants police even greater authority.
So, the question to explore is whether there is another way to organize that is not just protesting against something, but directing energy in a manner that actually creates alternatives to this deeply corrupted system. France, for instance has become the first country in the world to make a law to enforce grocery stores to give away unsold foods to food banks and charities. This leads us to a third point.
Bottom up resistance
We tend to focus on the large scale efforts at a national level. Our energy has been channeled and exhausted in focus on the presidential election. But real changes can often happen at a local grass roots level where people directly connect and tend to the needs of one another.
While national policy change is more difficult and takes time, citizen-led initiatives, as seen in the legalization of marijuana and a Colorado State initiative for universal health care (though it was defeated) can offer methods to tackle real issues at a more local level. There is a promising trend happening in the Bay Area. San Francisco has now become the first city to offer free college by using taxes from rich people who sold their houses for over 5 million dollars. Also, in the wake of Trump pressuring to cut funds in sanctuary cities, these cities expressed defiance by reaffirming their immigration policies. Recently, people defending immigrants won the first battle, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit refused to reinstate Trump’s ban.
Most of all, it is important to begin engaging in dialogue with neighbors, reminding one another of our creativity and resources that we share collectively. What does healthy citizenship really look like? How can people work together to build a stronger immune system, to build communities that are resilient to viruses of hatred, xenophobia and homophobia? From the ground up, a new enthusiasm is brewing and can grow as thousands joined an annual ‘Moral March’ in the North Carolina capital, demanding voting and civil rights for all.
The Obama presidency was marked with secrecy and deception. This constitutional scholar and Nobel Peace Prize recipient blatantly violated human rights and engaged in the destruction of whole countries, while neutralizing opposition with his charm and captivating smiles. As George Orwell said, “in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Indeed, during Obama’s reign, truthtellers – whistleblowers and publishers who took tremendous risk to inform the public about the government’s betrayal of its own ideals were branded as enemies of the State. They have been subject to unprecedented prosecution by the president who had promised to be the most transparent of all administrations.
Now, we live in an era of executive orders. With an urge for unlimited power, an ignorant tyrant tries to trump the judicial branch. As despotism looms with deportation and a burgeoning police state on the horizon, activism requires new strength, going beyond speaking truth to power. In a time of authoritarian law and order, truth that cut through the veil of deception must now transpire into our will to build a movement rooted in the uncompromising power of We the People.