You have the power I give you (Talisman)
The power Trump commands is given by us—our attention, our deference, our minds, hearts, lives. In little ways, we can retake control of how and to what purposes we deploy our minds and spirits.
What am I doing when I am reciting an aspiration that Trump know happiness and its roots? I am alternatively conditioning my mind: reminding (re-mind-ing) myself that Trump is a human being, and the root of the destruction and chaos he is causing lies in his humanity. Trump’s personality traits of ambition, narcissism and insularity—which are wreaking such havoc at the institutional and political scale—these are all direct outcomes of Trump’s particular psychological and social conditioning, grounded in historical, tangible events.
Although the situation is urgent and dangerous, it’s also sad. Compassion is not an inappropriate response, but rather is always an appropriate response to situations of struggle. What are we struggling against, after all, if not other people who would rather keep us deprived and subservient—and how sad is that? What are we struggling for, if not people’s liberties; what are we struggling against, if not people’s ambitions to control and exploit others? In all of human history, why have we not met our aspirations yet? If we did, could we be at peace with one another?
To say Trump deserves to experience peace, love and joy does not contradict the need to resist, prevent and subdue him from causing any more harm. (In fact, I’m arguing that Trump accessing an experience of genuine self-arising satisfaction would be an antidote to his hungry-ghost will to power.) After all—where do Trump’s maladjusted qualities derive from? They derive from him being materially spoiled—catered to, in spite of his poor personal, emotional, psychological and intellectual development—because of his capitalist holdings and the accorded privileges thereof. Trump has learned a life wherein he’s the center of the narrative—everything and everyone seems to hinge upon his fleeting desires. While such a life might seem fortunate to the untrained eye, it also requires that Trump remain insulated from any substantial depths of relationship. Shallow relationships based on mutual exploitation (and not common feeling or understanding) would be “the norm.” Which means: Trump has mentally entrained to, and now physically embodies, the sick and offensive qualities of the mode of capitalism which he’s been immersed in his entire life. A life made of exploiting others does not, cannot, a healthy and fulfilled human make.
Trump’s personality and his reaction to circumstances are conditioned, as are each of ours. Thus his shortcomings are not the outcome of any “evil” inherent in him. (Whether the pattern/system of capitalism, which has shaped Trump’s subjective reality, is inherently evil… that deserves its own discussion.) As comforting as it may be to demonize Trump, that pose only keeps us locked into fruitless and cyclic opposition, into the false duality of “good against bad.” Hence my assertion that Trump needs healing (to effectuate “right” conduct) more than he needs penalizing correction. (And it is not just for Trump, but for all, that I bear this view.)Given Trump’s weakness in key developmental areas of being human, let us now investigate: where does Trump’s power derive from?
Firstly, let’s discuss where his popularity comes from (which is part of the power behind the career arc of any politician). His popularity derives from a complex of factors: foremost, that he names obvious, vague demons which people yearn to righteously go after—angry-mob-with-pitchforks style. That is to say: Trump’s rhetoric plays on our baser instincts. Self-righteous violence generates compensatory feelings of pride when faced with terrified insecurity (it’s the bully’s way). This is currently manifesting outwardly in acts of racist violence, giving fresh “life” to below-the-surface attitudes that have continuously saturated the people and policies of the United States from its beginning (which I unpack in depth in a subsequent essay, Myth). Examples include the recent slayings of two anti-racists who defended Muslim women on a train, February’s hate crime murders in Kansas, St. Louis Jewish cemetery defacement, the mass and deadly assault on anti-white-supremacy protestors in Charlottesville, VA… I wish this list would not go on, but without intervention, it assuredly will.
Secondly, Trump gives equally-sweeping, feel-good promises of reform that will be utterly impossible to implement in the complex, burgeoning reality. However, in saying the appealing thing that “sells tickets” (er, votes?), Trump appears to annihilate the real complexity merely via bullying dominance of the narrative. Trump succeeds because most people would love a reduction in the complexity of our problems. Those who believe that shoving problems aside or silencing them solves problems are egregiously mistaken, however.
Further, Trump represents a brand of gross, pathetic incompetence iconic of total despair and civilizational decline. Those who feel that despair, unconsciously or consciously, may derive perverse delight in Trump’s hilariously terrible character, thus coordinating to elect him to the presidency ironically, like a mass act of trickster energy. All of these elements take hold upon the cultural and social patterns in the United States, which include: extravagant material comfort and sense of entitlement, oppressive economic disparities, and belief in individualism / social isolation.
When a civilization is in decline, when its mythos has begun to slide into meaninglessness, it is only too appropriate that the paragon representative of our hallowed (hollowed?) nation is simply what we find most extremely offensive and entertaining. That’s what makes Trump’s rhetoric popular with certain white Americans—he strikes the nerves of their presumably-“lost” ambitions and thus galvanizes them to turn their backs on facing and embracing complexity in favor of worshipping a false-idol image of their conventional supremacy, reinforced (if reprehensible).In Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm explains how a society can weary of democracy when the population feels a general lack of clear purpose or identity, leading to a tendency to lurch quickly into fascism’s arms in an attempt to reduce their social dismay, because fascism lends the security of clear social (if hierarchical and oppressive) roles. Trump offers a shallow yet captivating image of success, embodying a white-supremacist, capitalist American heritage. As ugly as this symbol is, its power to reaffirm Americans’ sense of identity—to extend the life of key American supremacist myths—is undeniable. Therefore, instead of enduring the continued growing pains of developing a more participatory and equitable society, Trump in his grandiosity and grandiloquence poses an easy, if unpalatable, “out” to those still clinging to a dream of universal white cultural and economic dominance.
Those repressed anxieties, when offered an outlet, become channeled into a talisman of collective power—in this case, the talisman of Donald Trump’s mythos. Our media environments season us into trance-like states: hypnotized by the narrative, seized by emotionally provocative messages, our attention is funneled like a pump, sucking energy into the objects of the desired myth. (The hypnosis-like state explains why Donald Trump’s supporters, as a whole, tend to be voracious in their denial of real information and facts, so mesmerized are they by their idol’s glorified image.)
So, perhaps it is clear Trump has absorbed cultural and mythic power in the eyes of a subset of Americans. But how is it that he came to power over the fate of the whole United States?
The answer lies in the very same attention-channeling, hypnotic process, only with different objects. This time, it’s our continued vestment of power in our national political institutions. Our obedience to political conventions has enabled a dangerously ignorant and unethical man to assume power—see Obama’s emphasis on “peaceful transfer of power” and the electors’ installment of Trump, despite all manner of red flags going up.
The problem is we revere institutions more than we attend sensitively to the situation. As institutions, we tend to lean on their proud appearance (“the U.S. is the greatest democracy on Earth!”) more than we thoughtfully attend to structural integrity and appropriateness of the forms. In reality, the U.S. is a sorry excuse for a so-called democracy—its people have barely made any substantive modifications to what is now a 240-year-old (and clunkily outdated) governance model. Bureaucratic complexity has layered up to obscuring and insane heights; meanwhile, gradual, insidious capitalist-corporate appropriations of the people’s political power have eaten away the core, resulting in the structures being on the brink of crumbling. However, we’ve been hypnotized by the rhythms of society into a lulled trance—go to school, go to work, watch the news, pay taxes, vote. When in a fearful, regressed state of mind, we tend to cling to familiar and comforting rituals and rhythms, and think that their very act is proof that all is well.
Our own institutions, corrupted, will be our very undoing—if we continue to hold to them out of blind “tradition” or “faith.” We don’t want to be naughty and “break the rules” of this convoluted game, even if it would in fact save our necks in this dire, unprecedented moment.
So it would seem we are entangled in a complex house of mirrors built of people’s ignorant projections that is so brimming with disastrous and fragile elements, there’s scarce hope of not getting crushed in its inevitable collapse, right?
Well… there is another way to view this situation. In the dark night of the soul glimmers a glimpse of the darkness’ opposite.
If we allow that everything that has been discussed (Trump’s nature, the nature of his popularity and influence, and the nature of his current forms of power) can be traced to conditioning—psychological, historical, narrative and material… that would make it all: empty. As in, there is nothing causing any of this to be strictly the case. All manifestation in this moment is merely the result of processes, an outcome of a system of interconnected conditions and choices. However: the present moment’s configuration, which includes Trump as president of the United States, represents diminishing value to the vast majority of us.
As a cultural icon via reality television…as a ghoulish caricature symbolizing capitalist grandeur…as the president of the United States, even, Trump has the power we give him, much like a totem or a talisman, which we imbue with meaning for particular purposes. We imbue this individual with apparent power beyond what the singular human can, in fact, possess. A major cause of this is our desire to believe convenient illusions—something I unpack further in Wanting to Believe. Our fears, our ambitions, and our longings get channelled into the one individual—leading us to believe that he is much bigger, more impressive, and scarier than one pathetic man.
The myth obscures the man. Just as in the Wizard of Oz, before the curtain is pulled back.
Acknowledging that Trump represents a manifestation and a channeling of millions of people’s dark psychic energies, I will be happily joining in the trend of the mass rituals to ask all beings (manifest and unmanifest, human, animal, spirit and otherwise) to bind Trump and his cronies so that they may cease to cause harm to so many.
You may not believe in magic, but how else do you explain these real circumstances we find ourselves, apart from the attentional direction and hypnotic manipulation inherent to a magician’s work? How do you explain: the outrageous frenzy that Trump has whipped his supporters into through aggressive, blame-game distortions that blitz Americans into bewilderment; the invisibility of corporate consolidation of political power, domestically and globally; the unspeakability of capitalism’s devastating environmental, social and psychological consequences; the ways long-held cultural myths (of multiculturalism, democracy, and freedom) are dissipating right before our eyes? What do you call our mass vulnerability to hypnosis by various means—whether occurring in religious, consumerist, political, or other contexts?
Trance is real and it is a feature of human consciousness—call it what you prefer, understand it however you like, but don’t ignore it. The ways in which our emotional, psychic, and intellectual capacities respond and attempt to cope with stress are potent-to-the-point-of-perceptible, yet also emerge in mysterious and unpredictable manners—quite beyond the scope of the rational mind to grasp. And while you may try to dismiss what you haven’t yet grasped (or what you moralistically refuse to acknowledge), that real element you brush aside will still be there—and will reemerge in ever more daunting forms.
The disruptions that Trump continues to cause have emotional consequences on a massive scale, affecting millions of people—whose resulting released energy can be harnessed for good or ill (and indeed, to pretend this isn’t happening makes one subject, and not agent, of it).
Therefore, if you’d like to tap into and wield the wide-ranging energies of millions of people (and, too, animals and plants and spirits and lands and ancestors) who do, indeed and resoundingly, want Trump stopped…why not join in the ritual? What harm could come of it? Any bending of one’s mind toward harm-reducing patterns (including through prayer or ritual) that can subsequently reshape one’s perceptions and sense-making of so-called “consensus reality” is valuable. If seeking to retrain the mind for resilience and adaptability amidst chaos, it is helpful to remember that you retain control over what you put your mind to.When the apparent reality becomes untenable, unworkable, like an abysmal nightmare…what better time to experiment with alternative ways of relating to what is happening—i.e., “lucid waking-dream” yourself some alternatives.
What is your experience of being entranced? Observe how you feel while watching news stories, watching a film, or browsing Facebook. What do you notice?
Is there any edge of awareness that allows for the breaking, or redirection, of the trance state?
If the trance state indicates that you are seeing only what the presenter, or magician, wants you to see, then—how could you take a mental step back and take a fresh look at the elements in the situation?
What are some things you want to believe about Trump? What are some things you want to believe about the United States of America?
What might be some reasonably true alternatives to your assumptions? If you’re not sure, ask people who don’t agree with your viewpoint!
Do you notice a sense of entrancement to your own set of assumptions and biases in terms of your daily conduct? How could you challenge your automatically arising, unthinking reactions to various stimuli, such as people, messages, images, etc.?
Trance states can make us vulnerable to receiving and absorbing messages and symbolic narratives deep within our psyches. Trance can be used maliciously, but also beneficially. How might you employ trance to adjust your internalized beliefs or assumptions in positive ways?