Recently, we explored some of the common reasons given for the rise in popularity of Donald Trump as well as looked at some potential “evolutionary” reasons that may have led to his political success. Is Trump the solution to what ails our country as his followers believe? Or, is the rise of Trump a symptom of a greater problem that we are not addressing? I believe it is the latter and that is the subject of this article.
Last time, we noted that when humans feel threatened, their fear tends to cause them to “devolve” back to earlier states of consciousness. In such situations, they frequently seek solutions that are driven by such fear. One of those potential solutions is to let go of some of our personal freedoms and “circle the wagons” with others they see as part of their “group”. This protective mechanism then opens oneself to a type of tight authoritarian control in order to gain protection from the perceived threat caused by “others” out there in this scary world.
If this fear based mechanism is to any degree what is going on with individuals who are favoring Trump….then to really get at the root cause of this symptom our society faces, one must try to see what is really causing the fear in people and then work to eliminate those underlying causes.
Is Our Fear Really About Isis, Muslims or Mexicans?
No, not really. Some may believe that it is, but whether we are open to seeing it or not, we have simply accepted a story that these “others” are a threat to our survival. They are different from us— different faiths, cultures, appearances—and differences can scare us until we learn there is nothing to be frightened of. They are “taking our jobs”, some say. Really? Most of the jobs immigrants take are ones that the vast majority of Americans don’t what to do. These are just convenient stories to justify our fears.
Yes, Isis and terrorism is a problem which we must face and work to eliminate. This fact is certainly highlighted by the horrific events in Brussels this past week. Like all of us, I was very saddened by this tragedy and my heart goes out to those who were touched by it. Yes, we must find and bring to justice anyone who perpetrates such crimes against humanity.
Yet, President Obama was correct when he stated during a press conference from Argentina this week that such terrorists “do not pose an existential threat” to our country. Note that he did not say they are not a threat….yes, terrorism is a modern world threat which we must handle. But they are not an “existential” threat….they do not threaten our very existence as a people and a country. This distinction was overlooked by most right wing pundits and Republican Presidential candidates in their usual rush to condemn anything the President says or does.
Some point out that Islam has essential tenets that foster violence and control. Yes, that is true. But it is also true that fundamentalist readings of old religious texts by most religious groups can lead to unacceptable and outmoded beliefs and behaviors for our modern times. And, it is also true that there are many in Islam (as well as other faiths) that learn to ignore the harsh passages of their sacred texts as they evolve in their thinking.
In my opinion, if you think that terrorists (or Muslims or any outside group) do threaten our very existence, then you have bought into the generalized state of fear about the world that some want you to feel. It is this generalized level of fear that leads to demonizing the “other” (whoever that may be) and leading you to believe that we must grow our military (even though it is far and away the most powerful one in the world already), stop allowing Muslims in our country (even though the vast majority of them pose no threat), build a wall between us and Mexico (even though experts indicate it would cost more money than projected and not really do anything to stop illegal immigration) or take any other steps to isolate the United States from the rest of the world (which would really be a step backwards).
Is Our Fear Rooted in Growing Class Differences?
Here I believe we are getting closer to the root cause of much of our fear. Most of us bought into the “American dream” of freedom from want and the opportunity to excel in whatever we were called to do or be. Yet, this dream is in stark contrast to the reality that more and more people are experiencing as they live paycheck to paycheck.
Writer and social commentator John Michael Greer recently wrote that there are four classes of people competing within the United States: “an investment class, a salary class, a wage class, and a welfare class.” Which group you are in can easily be determined by answering one question – how do you get most of your income?
Similarly, Greer suggests that “the political dynamite that’s driving” our current Presidential candidates’ support can be determined by way of another simple question: over the last half century or so, how have the four classes fared? He makes the case that three of the four have remained economically roughly where they were before. Only one, the wage class, has seen significant erosion of their economic security. Yet, it is this group that is “mad as hell and isn’t going to take it anymore!” In Maslow’s terms, their safely and security is threatened and that need is driving their political actions and fears.
In a more recent article, Greer writes that “the reason that a large and growing number of ordinary working Americans are refusing to accept another rehash of the status quo this time around is that their backs are to the wall. ” Citing Oswald Spengler’s early 20th century book The Decline of the West, he points out how Spengler predicted our current circumstances — “that democracy suffers from a lethal vulnerability, which is that it has no meaningful defenses against the influence of money. Since most citizens are more interested in their own personal, short-term advantage than they are in the long-term destiny of their nation, democracy turns into a polite fiction for plutocracy just as soon as the rich figure out how to buy votes.”
Greer adds that “the result is what Spengler calls Caesarism: the rise of charismatic leaders who discover that they can seize power by challenging the plutocrats, addressing the excluded majority, and offering the latter some hope that their lot will be improved.” No doubt, Trump has learned this and is playing to this fear. I strongly agree with Greer that income inequality and especially the rise in the numbers of people who are feeling income insecurity is a root cause of the fear driving people to support Trump.
Messages that Feed Our Fear
Yet, I also believe that there is another root cause for our fears…..and that is our media. I have written on this previously. Our mainstream news bombards us continuously with fear based “breaking news”. Our entertainment programs are filled with violence. We are inundated with conflict and war and battle and crime and all things scary and frightening.
Yet the question comes up as to “why?” Why do they keep feeding us more and more fear inducing news and entertainment? Is it the natural outcome of a system that requires higher ratings to have higher advertising income (and profits) and they are only giving us what they believe we want? Or is it the strategy of some grand conspiracy to keep us ever living in fear? I hope it is the former, I don’t want to believe it is the latter in spite of the plenty of evidence to support that possible fact. Either way, one of the root causes of our fear is my humble opinion is the messages directed at us by the mainstream media day in and day out to fear the world out there. We must turn away from it.
Who Benefits from Our Fear?
Yes, terrorists want to strike fear in our hearts and cause us to change our way of life so that we “live in fear”. If we give into their fear-inducing actions, then they have accomplished their outcome. As sad as each terrorists attack is, taken individually, they do not really threaten our existence as President Obama pointed out. They do not have the ability to end our way of life. The only thing the terrorists can hope for is for us, as stated, to “live in fear”. So to a degree, they do benefit from our fear.
But to a greater degree, there are others who benefit far more from our fear. The further one contemplates this question, the better one sees that the beneficiaries of our dread are the corporations, the 1%, the “investment class”, those who make a financial profit on our fear based political decisions. Those who control the way things are now want to keep that status quo.
Our “military-industrial complex” wants to keep us buying military weapons. The roots of their production can be found in almost every state in the country. We are reminded how thousands of jobs around this country — jobs in most congressional districts— are dependent upon this industry. Never mind that corporations can retool and make things that uplift people’s standard of living and support thriving lives. We are told we will suffer if we attempt to change this industry.
What Can We Do?
The answer is simple, but it is not easy.
The answer is for each and every one of us to:
- Support political and economic actions that ensure that everyone has access to a basic standard of living. All groups of people must feel that their basic needs are met.
- Open our eyes and ears and recognize when we are being sold a message of fear that is simply not justified.
- Refuse to be controlled by those who want us to be afraid. Question the standard answers and message.
- Turn away from the fear mongers that want us to divide us, that want us to hate one another, that want to bring more destruction to the planet, that seek to hold us back at lower evolutionary levels living in fear.
- Turn towards positive solutions — ones that unite us, that bring us to higher levels of care and concern, that reflect good stewardship of our planet, that free us each to evolve to our greatest potential of self actualization and become all that we can become.
The gift of our time on this planet is too great to squander it in fear and conflict. It’s time to evolve to love and cooperation. It starts within the hearts and minds of every person on the planet. If we can truly do this, then we can transcend fear and we will no longer need nor desire any authoritarian leader — such as Donald Trump.