A Prediction on Trump and the American Spirit

I am going to make a prediction: I do not think we are going to see violence in the streets after Trump’s loss, and I’ll tell you why. Trump was not a political position; he was a sickness that attached itself to a political position, like the coronavirus attaching itself to a good cell.

I watched the Trump flag-waving folks with their pickups and bumper stickers bringing food to the fire refugees and going out to find those who were unaccounted for. I saw them helping their neighbors no matter what their political persuasion. They were good, caring people, who would give someone in need the shirts off their backs, just as those of us who secretly or not so secretly wanted to see Trump dead would reach out to help anyone in a situation of need. We were all good cells, but he infected us all, no matter what our political persuasion.

Be honest: Those of us on the left found ourselves having feelings and entertaining thoughts that were sick and angry. We did not feel good about ourselves for doing so. I know from my friends on the right that they were doing the same from their position. Somewhere inside all of us was a voice saying, “How can I be feeling this? I can’t believe I am thinking the thoughts I am thinking.” Whatever diabololical force Trump possessed — and, yes, he could have shot someone on Fifth Avenue and not have been convicted — put him inside all of our psyches for four years. We hardly had a moment when we were not thinking about him — one dysfunctional, cruel, horrible false man — who by his obsession with himself somehow drew the rest of us into that obsession.

We will need to do some hard cultural introspection in the future to figure out what this was, and how to keep it from happening again. But the truth is that he drew us all, right, left, and center, into the locus of his sickness. I truly believe that few of us wanted to be there.

If you consider how you are feeling right now, I’ll bet it is more a sense of relief than hope (if you are on the left) or fear (if you are on the right). We have somehow shed the political virus that was killing our body politic and we are all able to breathe again. We have chased Donald Trump from our minds and exorcised him from our spirits.

My guess is that this palpable feeling of relief and release is bigger than Trump; that we all want this sickness to be gone so we can go back to being human. We will go back to arguing, and the intractable issues of abortion/right to life, gun control, and others will cause our anger to rise and our hearts to harden. But the removal of Trump from the emotional calculus has allowed light to shine inside all of us again.

None of us wants to be the person we have been for the last four years. We have been that person because of Donald Trump, and we are weary — all of us. I truly believe that we will all move on from this man faster than anyone can imagine, and he will be left raging alone on a stage in an empty political arena with a few well-worn MAGA hats strewn around the floor.

We want to be good. We want to be healthy. We want to be happy. As my Native friends say, we want to bring the world back into balance. Trump represented something dark inside of all of us. May he disappear from our individual and cultural memory as quickly as possible, and remain only as a distant reminder and a cautionary note. I truly think this can happen.




Posted on: November 8, 2020knerburn

19 thoughts on “A Prediction on Trump and the American Spirit

  1. It’s a very compassionate way of looking at how many of us have been feeling. Thank you for sharing it. I do have some hope (I always do) but relief is washing over me. I want my kids to grow up in a world where a leader acts from a place of humility.

  2. Thanks Kent. I appreciate your always thoughtful take on a tough situation.

    “Whatever diabolical force Trump possessed” is really about someone who has only fed or given over to the bad wolf within him. I’m sure you’re familiar with the story:
    https://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Legends/TwoWolves-Cherokee.html

    It’s hard to be subject to his….I can’t help but say it, evil on a daily basis for years and not feel worn out. It has been like watching a serial killer doing his business right out in the open and not being able to do a thing about it. Also, watching his enablers fanning the flames like the wildfires we’ve been ravaged by was tough.

    Whatever we practice we get good at. The people who voted for Biden were voting their hearts and hopefully will continue to follow that path within them.

  3. Cliches abound in the space we’ve been in and in where we find ourselves now. The one that pleases me is: ‘a breath of fresh air’–after coming into the light from a dungeon. As always, I appreciate your eloquence.

  4. While I have always followed your thoughts and ideas, Kent, and was a total Democrat in the past, since March of this year I have looked at things differently. I can’t speak for others not in my home state of PA, but the world, as I see it, looks much the same as it did n 2019. Except for one thing. Covid. I have a 16 year old grandson who cannot go to school because his anxiety causes him to be ill for a while. Since March, he and his friends have been a “close knit” group, and he has not been sick once other than his occasional allergies. Because we have seen how unreliable testing is for this “virus”, we cannot risk him being tested and causing our lives to be on hold and my daughter out of work. Fear of this is worse than any illness to us. While I hated Trump for a long time, I began to think maybe he was aware of things we were not. Although he was crude, and ill-mannered at times, and I thought he wasn’t doing good for the environment, his agenda was to get American working again. And he did. Now people are out of work and small businesses are failing. Elderly people in nursing homes are shut in without seeing their families. I have friends I can’t see because of their fear of a sickness that I have not seen at all in seven months. This makes no sense to me. I voted with my heart , too, to get rid of this fear, and be free people again. The fear of something keeps it growing. I don’t trust this new Administration and when Biden said, “We are headed for a dark winter”, I don’t think he meant the weather. There are nasty people on both sides of this, but our ultimate goal is to find out how this all began and not to accept the media’s spreading their explanation. If we remember the distant past in this country, it is not beyond certain in power spreading illness and disease to complete their plan. Call me what you want, but I, too am afraid for us all. Afraid of a forced and unnecessary vaccine, afraid of losing our freedom and not realizing it. I see it every day. Others call it “staying safe,”, I call it “control”. I pray others are right and this will all end someday soon, that this “new normal” that they have shoved down our throats since March, will become the old “non perfect” normal. I guess we shall see…

  5. This is a strange turn for you toward conspiratorial fears. I would be wary of using personal situations (I, too, have grandchildren who are losing their childhood to fear of the virus)to draw larger conclusions and support larger policies. The facts are the facts about the death toll from this pandemic. It is the “back-door” infections that we need to fear: not so much the children getting it as the children becoming carriers and spreading it. I am perhaps guilty in the other direction: I do not believe that Trump had anyone’s interests at heart in his cruel withholding of PPE and government aid, and I cannot impute anything positive to his actions, even if they were accidentally wise or beneficial, which I do not believe they were. And the “allowing it to spread” approach proved faulty where it was tried. There is a lurking “one world order” paranoia in your post, it seems to me. Am I misreading you?

  6. Thank you. That was so beautifully said, and helped to further heal my heart. I’m going to share it with others. We all need this right now.

  7. Kent, thank you for writting the words and sentences that reflect my beliefs & thoughts but can’t put them on paper so concisely as you. I’ve commented to a grandson who is in Trump’s reality ” It’s up to all citizens of this country to change attitudes and work together, not political parties.” that’s the best I can do will save your words to use with family members who negate my attempts at holding us together.

  8. Thank you, Kent, for your eloquent and healing words. This nation is so much better than what we have been witnessing – all if us, with few exceptions have goodness in our hearts,
    and somehow we have gotten caught up in the madness in one way or another. Thank you for the wonderful reminder of who we are.

  9. very well said Kent…I think you are correct. Thanks for putting it into words. GONE is how we all are spelling relief.

  10. Dear Kent,

    I understand the relief for many people in the US but let us also hear what a few (only a handful) of observers are saying:

    Slavoj Zizek: Biden’s win changes nothing and signifies stalemate that could see Trump run again in 2024
    https://www.rt.com/op-ed/506197-zizek-biden-win-changes-nothing/
    “The US is now almost symmetrically divided, and Biden’s words of unity and reconciliation sound vacuous – as former US secretary of labor Robert Reich put it: “How can Biden heal America when Trump doesn’t want it healed?” And this division is here to stay. As academic Michael Goldfarb argued: “Trump was no accident. And the America that made him is still with us.”…”But the outcome of the elections is not just a stalemate – there is a clear winner: the big capital and deep state apparatus, from Google and Microsoft to the FBI and the National Security Agency. From their standpoint, a weak Biden presidency with the Senate in Republican hands is the best possible outcome. Without Trump’s eccentricities, international trade and political cooperation will get back to pre-Trump normality, while the Senate and Supreme Court will block any radical measures. The paradox is thus that, in the US, the victory of the ‘progressive’ side was at the same time its loss, signifying a political stalemate which may even give Trump a chance to return to power in 2024.”

    Also, cultural historian, Morris Berman made the following comments after the election (I have consolidated them. Note: In his comments WAF stands for the title of his book Why America Failed and ch. 4 is chapter 4 in that book that explores the Civil War):

    “It is sobering to contemplate the fact that for 4 yrs, the US was governed by a madman, someone who was clinically insane. Of course, since Bad Is Good in these end-of-days, that was a plus. The late Roman empire also had emperors who were out to lunch, including a 7-yr-old boy, and this contributed to its collapse. But of course, a vulgar boor can get a bit tiring. Biden will do very little to change things, despite the hopes and dreams of the progs. But at least he’s not an asshole, wh/brings its own kind of relief. History is rarely linear, and by treading water, Obama-style, his admin will serve to slow down our disintegration to some degree. Perhaps, in 2024, with a Trump comeback, we will be ready to resume a more accelerated pace into the abyss. In any case, from a declinist pt of view, it’s comforting to know that nearly half the country lives in the alternative, self-destructive universe created by Trumpalumpi.

    And so, Joe. Joe will not unite the country; this is the usual post-election rhetoric. The country will remain bitterly divided, you can count on it. As for his larger mission: he will do his best to restore the globalized, neoliberal regime that has been in place for decades, and was certainly reinforced by Obama. A corporate world, with a corporate agenda, which causes suffering for most of the people on the planet. Think ahead to 2024: Trumpi, or some version of Trumpi, will certainly have a chance at the polls once again. And if that person isn’t a bulvan, a vulgar boor, the chance will be so much greater.

    The final problem is that we have 2 nations that don’t want to talk to one another, but which each have something important to say. Dems will ignore what I said in WAF ch. 4, and continue to tear down Confederate statues, for example. The rt will go on ignoring the murder of black people by white cops. Etc.

    And hovering over it all is the truth that almost all Americans are clueless abt, including the hi-IQ dummies at the NYT and elsewhere: the US is finished, no matter what anyone does or says. The empire is dying, and for most people on the planet, this will be regarded as a positive thing. All of the things I identified in the Twilight bk as bringing the country to its knees, are coming to pass as we speak.

    From time to time somebody will raise the issue of Biden being some sort of shill for corporations, during his time in the Senate, and as VP. I can well believe it, but I’m wondering if any of you have come across evidence for this. I’m quite sure he will strive to promote globalization and neoliberal economics, but is there any specific evidence for his working to promote corporate interests?

    Watching (online) jubilant crowds of progs in NY, Philly etc. celebrating Biden’s victory, I can’t help reminding myself of how fundamentally unintelligent Americans are…which includes major anchors, newscasters, editors, and so on. The progs actually believe that the source of the American ‘problem’ was Trump, and now that he’s being replaced by someone who is presumably a nice guy and doesn’t engage in constant lying and disgusting rhetoric, all will be well. It’s so amazing…as I have said, even the smart ones in this country are dumb. Was all well during the Obama admin, when Obama turned into a war criminal and was regularly murdering civilians with drones (he himself picked out 1/3 of the targets)? When 0 was done abt the environment, and the rich (like Obama) were getting richer? Americans focus on the personal and the trivial; the larger picture is literally beyond the reach of people who have 0 training in history or sociology. Instead, let’s dance in the streets over the dump of Trump (=pure evil) and installation of Biden (= messiah). Let’s get excited over the fact that Kamala is a person of color, while forgetting that Obama was a person of color, and did shit for 8 years (and hardly promoted the cause of people of color). Meanwhile, the US is, and will remain (for as long as it can) a genocidal war machine run by a plutocracy and cheered on by clueless morons.

    An analogous situation: in DAA, I talk about how hurt Americans were in 1980 over the Iranian hostage crisis, how they took it personally, w/o any recognition of what we (CIA) did to Iran in 1953–deposing Mossadegh (democratically elected president) and installing the Shah and his torture regime. There is never any larger picture for Americans, never any connecting of the dots.

    Nor do the progs want to address what motivates the Trumpites, why Trumpi came pretty close to winning a 2nd time around; or why Dems lost seats in the House, and gained little in the Senate. Those motivations are real, and cannot be dismissed as groundless. (Not that the bubbas are esp. interested in what motivates the progs, of course.) Americans believe that emoting is the same thing as thinking, and that self-righteous passion proves yr rt.

    Anyway, the post-election glow will eventually fade, and no one–neither progs nor bubbas–will ever conceive of our stubbornly refractory problems in structural terms. I doubt very many Americans wd be able to say what ‘structural’ means, in fact.

    What we are witnessing rt now, I believe, is a false dawn.

    The problem is that Biden is a staunch advocate of globalization and neoliberal capitalism, both of which–the record is quite clear on this–make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. That is the larger picture.

    On another note, I’m aware of the rather dramatic swings of the American electoral process. Bush Jr. was such a shmuck, and led us into the worst foreign policy mistake in US history (altho Vietnam is rt up there), that the pendulum swung strongly away from the GOP and put Obama into office. Obama was a pretty boy, a nothing president, treading water for 8 yrs, and as Hillary offered nothing more than more of the same, the pendulum took another violent swing back, and we got Trumpi. Who was such an asshole, and flubbed the covid situation so badly, and was so clearly racist, that the pendulum then swung back again, and we now have Mr. Empathy in the W.H. And in 2024, after very little substantive is accomplished? Can we predict another similar reversal (which seems to be the American electoral pattern), namely a return of Trumpi or someone even more rt wing and nasty? Just thinking out loud here.
    I can’t refrain from observing how singularly awful Trumpi is as a human being; one of the worst, when you get rt down to it. A jackass like no other, even beyond dreck such as Nixon, or Reagan, or Bush. Of course, from a declinist pt of view, this was a gd thing, and perhaps, like Grover Cleveland, he’ll be back. But when you stand back a bit, and look at the guy from a distance, he comes across as surreal.”

    I would also encourage people to read Joe Bageant’s works. Most relevant to recent happenings is the following essay (written in 2006 during the Bush years):
    http://www.coldtype.net/Assets.07/Essays/0107.JoePunch.pdf
    Excerpts:
    “Americans take comfort in the spoonfed “pendulum” theory of politics. No matter that the pendulum smacks them in the goddamned head at either end of the swing, because supposedly, it achieves some democracy preserving balance. To my mind, it merely offers a different faux target for citizen discontent every four years, so the same powers behind the powers can continue to extract wealth and sucker the public into consumer confidence and the latest Wall Street Ponzi scheme, or fighting wars to obtain more wealth and to protect what the elites have already piled up.Yet American tolerance for this pendulum bullshit, for this set of fake choices between two powerful groups of political elites who are dancing in the Washington conga line, asshole to belly button pretending they are alternatives to each another, seems endless.
    Just what on god’s green earth do liberals think the Democrats are going to do after they finish singing “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?” Really? What to do after they spend a few more years indexing the Republican crimes? The Republicans have the stolen geet, the Dems have a two-year ticket to ride, and the working guy and the middle class are pretending they are not about to get the worst reaming since Herbert Hoover was president. What are the Democrats to do, dear Nelly, pray tell? Well, it would be nice if they would immediately move to dismantle the police state that is so well under construction. And ideally they might begin to address the real problems that constitute the very shaky stage upon our delusional “American lifestyle” movie is being played out – peak oil and the collapse of the environment. When it comes to the peak oil crisis, their best shot seems to be Al Gore telling us to hang our clothes on lines and turn down the thermostats, never once mentioning, much less blaming, the corporations that keep our nation addicted to
    oil, and are responsible for bankrolling the Bush/Cheney junta that brought us this ongoing national nightmare in the first place. ”

    Himanshu

  11. Just watched the film based on Neither Wolf nor Dog, so decided to look up Kent Nerburn and stumbled into this interesting exchange. First of all, I appreciate Kent’s assessment of the post-election period – like a salve on a very painful wound, and admit that everyone – no matter the political stripes, have been sucked into the Trump Black Hole.
    I disagree that we will recover quickly from this time because the harm and hurt are very deep: The issues that have been revealed with the Trump presidency have been around for a long time – and will continue to fester until we find the courage to enact paradigm-shifting change to save ourselves.
    To Anita: I hope you recover your wits enough to examine the reality of Trump’s criminal incompetence and naked cruelty. I understand the fear you speak of, but suspect it’s misdirected. Please look beyond your own world to see the damage Trump has done to our country to enrich himself and create as much chaos as he can.

    To Himanshu: I happen to agree with much of what you say. But you offer no alternative scenario….I’d hoped to find, within the sheer volume of your post, that you’d have offered a path out of the dystopia we are all living in now.

  12. I may well have been a bit too sanguine about this outcome. I assumed Trump’s self-absorbed fantasies would continue, but I was hopeful that the deranged among his followers would slowly come to their senses. Instead, they seem to be digging ever deeper into their toxic beliefs and intransigent illiteracy. I still think that time will heal things, but it is beginning to look like that healing may have to come after a protracted civil war of opinions and ideas. It is not deeply insightful to say that we are not confronting an ideology, but a cult. And cults only disappear after the cult leader disappears or a radical reprogramming takes place.

  13. To ess Jay:
    Thank you for your comments. I will offer the way out in this response but let me say a few words as to why I normally do not include solutions when it comes to the problems facing the US. I did not say anything about the way out because in my experience much of the dominant culture of the US doesn’t understand (or want to understand) that the problems facing the US are structural in nature. MLK Jr understood this (refer to his quotes about the edifice needing dismantling, changing from a thing oriented society to a person oriented society. He also saw that the equal share of the pie that he was trying to get for black people is rotten…privately he began to wonder if he was leading his flock into a burning church) as did writers and social critics such as John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut (He said: “There is a shit storm coming.”), Joe Bageant (who I quoted in my previous post and highly recommend his works), C Van Woodward, Andrew Hacker, Lewis Mumford, etc. US cultural historian Morris Berman (who I have also quoted often) and a few other contemporary writers such as Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov, etc also understand this. Again the point is if we misdiagnose the problem we will never come up with a real solution. I understand people’s urge to find quick solutions but I see that we (not you or Kent) need to spend some time looking at the structural problems in the US the way they are, understand their magnitude and then look for solutions.
    I would also encourage you to think about the situation of the late Roman Empire (around the third and fourth century AD) with which contemporary US shares many characteristics. What could possibly have saved it or what was its way out? The emperors and the Roman public continued to believe in SPQR (In the US case the SPQR is American Exceptionalism to which both the Republicans and Democrats steadfastly adhere) while Rome burnt and eventually collapsed.
    Now onto the way out: Both Morris Berman and Joe Bageant advise (and I agree) that if you are a young person in the US try to emigrate to a Latin American country or countries in EU and Asia that are outside the Anglosphere (UK, Australia). If this is not possible then both suggest doing an “inner” emigration. What does this inner emigration mean? To answer this question I will quote from Joel Magnuson’s book “The Approaching Great Transformation” where he has summarized an important part of Morris Berman’s book The Twilight of American Culture(TAC):
    “In TAC (2000), cultural historian Morris Berman tells of the Franciscan monks and others in the 4th century who “took it upon themselves to preserve the treasures of the Greco-Roman civilization as the lights of their own culture were rapidly fading.” Berman draws a parallel between these monastics of early middle ages to what he calls the New Monastics. These are those in our contemporary society “who resist the spin and hype of the global world order; he or she knows the difference between reality and theme parks, integrity and commercial promotion…dedicated not to slogans or the fashionable patois of postmodernism, but to Enlightenment values that lie at the heart of our civilization: the disinterested pursuit of truth, the cultivation of art, the commitment to critical thinking, inter alia.”
    “The New Monastics are aptly summarized on the cover of Berman’s book by Ferenc Morton Szasz, “[People} who are willing to reject the corporate consumer culture of our time and instead work to preserve the historical treasures of our civilization.”
    Magnuson goes on to add: “ For our purposes here, we can think of the New Monastics as those among us who will craft new institutions patterned after businesses, governments, non-profits, and other social structures that are treasures worth preserving in our current system that we will leave behind. These are the organizations governed by rules that are unconventional in the sense that they place truly sustainable practices, community empowerment, aesthetics, and social justice over profit and growth.”
    I see Kent’s works as a great example of what constitutes a New Monastic Individual.
    Below are some essays and excerpts by Morris Berman and Joe Bageant that further elaborate on what “Inner Emigration” could mean:
    Dual Process: The Only Game in Town

    http://morrisberman.blogspot.com/2016/05/dual-process-only-game-in-town.html
    Excerpt: “Dual Process consists of two parts, as the name would indicate. The first part is the collapse of the reigning socioeconomic formation; the second part is the concomitant emergence of alternatives, what could well amount to the latter’s replacement. As far as collapse is concerned, I’ve already indicated how the system is doing itself in politically, economically, and spiritually; and as I suggested 16 years ago, in The Twilight of American Culture, these processes are going to continue unabated—a prediction that proved to be true. In fact, they actually accelerated. The truth is that no system lasts forever; change is the only constant we find in the historical record. As one social critic argued a few years ago (Peter Frase), “humanity has never before managed to craft an eternal social system…and capitalism is a notably more precarious and volatile order than most of those that preceded it.” Wolfgang Streeck, in an article he published in 2014 in the New Left Review, wrote that “What we are seeing today…appears in retrospect to be a continuous process of gradual decay, protracted but apparently all the more inexorable.” Whatever stability capitalism had in the past, he goes on to say, was dependent on the presence of countervailing forces (e.g., labor unions). Today, no force is on hand to check capitalist expansion, balance it out; which suggests that it may undermine itself by being too successful. Everyone in these societies is mesmerized by consumerism, and thus dysfunctions in the system continue to accumulate, because there is not enough structural variety to cope with change. In a word, he concludes, “victorious capitalism has become its own worst enemy”; it is “dying…from an overdose of itself.”

    Also I recommend reading all of Joe Bageant’s works(Deer Hunting With Jesus, Rainbow Pie, and his essays that are freely available online: http://www.coldtype.net/joe.html). Below are two essays that are very relevant:
    AMERICA:Y UR PEEPS B SO DUM? Ignorance and courage in the age of Lady Gaga
    http://www.coldtype.net/Assets.11/pdfs/0111.Joe.Culture.pdf
    Excerpts: “Capitalism’s faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it’s personal now. Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we so fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on that lonely plain of the inner self. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight. Doing either will take moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.”
    THE SUCKER BAIT CALLED HOPE
    http://www.coldtype.net/Assets.08/pdfs/1208.joe.dec.pdf
    Excerpts: “The real solution — not to the problem, which is unsolvable in the long haul, but to balancing those eternal scales inside ourselves — begins with a more contemplative and reflective life, and the care of the soul. Both of which are necessarily thwarted by the wasteful daily busyness of our materialism and technology. Jesus did not text message his truth, and the Buddha never had a single friend on Facebook. Yet we hear their truth across millenniums. They simply practiced compassion. Only by eliminating suffering among sentient beings, do we create the spiritual soil in which peace can flourish. That takes conviction. The real stuff . It pisses me off that the Christian fundamentalists of my childhood were right about one thing — the value of conviction – but that’s the way it is.
    And as long as we are still breathing and passing water, choice remains available, even superior choice: Accepting the truth and acting upon it. Thankfully, we can do individual positive action. It starts with getting in touch with higher intelligence: Our own. After that, it’s soul work. We can, at the very least, deliver our bodies to the halls of power and say: “No more scorched babies in Iraq!” We can refuse to participate in a dead society gone shopping. We can remember and contemplate the example of Rachel Cory. Or even follow that dogged neocon mantra of “taking personal responsibility,” but doing it for real. All of which can be considered voting for the spirit. It will take an entire lifetime of commitment, and the world will continue to crumble around us even as we work. There will be not one ounce of public glory or reward during our lifetimes, not if we are doing it right. And if we turn a buck on it, we can be assured that we are playing the same game as this earth’s wrecking crew. Which is called irony, I guess. Yet the reward lies right there before us. Knowing and observing the spirit in all things… even above life itself. It is the first fearful step… the first stone on the path to liberation. Anyway, that’s my take on things. Namaste. Get me a beer while you’re up.”

    Himanshu

  14. Himanshu’s contributions are never easy, but always worthwhile. They are well-thought out, well-reasoned Cassandra cries about the state of our country and culture. They are like the unexpected downswooping of some bird of prey while the kiddies play in the “good Trump, bad Trump” sandbox. So, hitch up your big boy or big girl pants and give this a go. Serious food for thought.

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