If we did a brain scan on the President-Elect, we’d find a smaller volume of grey matter in the left anterior insula and in the prefrontal cortex, the parts of the brain governing emotional empathy and regulation. His campaign was a pornographic celebration of narcissism, a Monster Truck Rally of insouciance. It was a terrible county fair: loud, humid, chaotic, peopled with dirty carnival barkers. One part of the crowd, the mad part, is cheering. The other half is retching, salivating, sweating, hurting (seemingly) beyond prayer. The madness and the nihilism in 46.5% of the electorate caused the (truly athletic) nausea in 48.2% of voters. Ahh, the fucking Electoral College! Suddenly, the worst angels of our nature — the minority of voters — were empowered to define the boundaries of a moral community.
The 8-bank pool shot, the “Black Swan” event of the 21st century, our political Fukushima, happened. We did it.
It wasn’t the DSM-diagnosable patients who elected Trump (~10% of the population). People with personality disorders don’t vote as a bloc. Their political motivations are more like the goals and sub-goals that Artificial Intelligence theorists ascribe to self-aware (but heartless) and self-improving AI systems: self-protection, resource acquisition and efficiency. The acquisition of power is always its own justification. Maybe the DSM folks voted disproportionately for Trump, but it was the non-DSM folks (the other 90%) that got him elected. We ask forgiveness for them because they have the capacity to feel remorse and their penance can be meaningful. Not in a Liberal Paternalist Way, but in a real way. They massively fucked up and need a LOT of forgiveness. They should be praying for wisdom and humility every hour of every day. Their actions were astonishingly reckless. Prayer is the only salve for those so unwise and so unskillful.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34).
There’s a healthy debate about the “armchair pathologizing” of our leaders and the dastardly “Narcissist” label for Trump in particular. It’s the kind of moral inventory that an amoral machine like an AI wouldn’t perform. Because an AI can’t experience emotional pain. Same with the Trump Campaign. Anger, yes. Pain, no. Non-Narcissists conflate the two feelings when they interact with Narcissists. Their once-clear emotional perception gets twisted and they can’t easily “de-frag” without years of soul-searching, therapy and the like. Even then, it’s this meta emotional space. So abstract. Learning NPD feels like learning a new calculus describing emotional anti-matter. As Javier Marias relates: “…the cruelest of individuals depend a great deal on the puzzlement of others, trusting that their assaults will seem so disproportionate that other people, rather than judging the assailant severely and trying to placate him or get him to stop, will merely shrug and wonder what terrible crime the object of his cruelty could have committed, and conclude, even though they have no idea if they’re right or wrong, that ‘it must have been something really bad, otherwise how explain such venom; whatever it is must justify such extreme behavior.’”
Winning does not magically transform narcissism into something more classically ‘human’. Neither does the vaunted “Office of the Presidency” itself. I mean, it probably would with people that don’t have personality disorders, but it won’t with Trump. Wishful thinking is dangerous. It’s not a strategy. Which gets us to the real conversation.
What does resistance look like?
Resistance is external (what we do in the world) and internal (how we form meaning and narrative, how we do self-care). Resistance is the chance — and really the privilege — to transform our hearts, exercise our empathy, practice our courage, and purge the parts of ourselves that aren’t in alignment with our highest nature. 1,460 days is a long time. We offer one another wisdom for the resistance:
- State (and re-state and re-state) that this ain’t normal. It’s not normal. Trump-ism is a kind of ‘artilect’ (artificial intellect) governed by narcissism and egocentricity. As Omohundro writes in “The Nature of Self-Improving Artificial Intelligence”: “An agent which sought only to satisfy the efficiency, self preservation, and acquisition drives would act like an obsessive paranoid sociopath.” It’s not normal. Don’t normalize it. This is severely fucked up. Never tacitly accept the Administration’s framing of anything. Start with this premise always: this is an absurd, toxic lie.
- Dark humor will get you through difficult times, but be mindful of overindulging. On election eve, a Russian friend phoned and said, snarkily, “America has such unsophisticated predictive analytics. In Russia, we know many years ahead of time — and with perfect accuracy — what the outcome of the election will be.” Too much dark humor becomes fatalism, so stop before the brink.
- Don’t leave. When we’re in pain, it’s what we want to do. Don’t leave. Hold the pose. Feel the pain like it’s your job. It is your job. Our job. As Richard Wilbur tells us, “Love Calls Us To The Things of This World.” Be in your body, in this place, right now. Let all of the pain (ecological, ancestral, etc.) of this moment move through your system like a probe, a probe that’s going to ultimately find and eliminate everything that’s less than our highest good. Sitting with the pain will suck. The 1,460 days may feel like an extended version of chronic high-dosage methamphetamine withdrawal. Accept this because it’s the hardest lesson: fairness and justice operate outside our temporal conditioning.
- Move the energy. Don’t let the anger find a home in your body. Feel it, but don’t let it stay (“move along now, people, nothing to see here”). Yoga, running, swimming, weight-lifting. Dance is a form of resistance.
- Study resilience, even in the pain state. Go to the classics: Mandela, Frankl. How does suffering become meaning? What does David Brooks mean when he talks about “resume virtues versus eulogy virtues”?
- Look for guidance from people with real courage and stamina. Find humans with real moral achievement and invite them and their stories into your experience. Find the father taking daily care of his 20-year-old autistic son, waking up each morning to screams of incomprehension. Find his love and his patience. Find the mother whose 6-year-old is yelling pure venom (“I hate you mom! You’re the worst mom! I wish I could never see you again! You are a butt, mom!”) on a crowded train for a solid hour. Hear this suffering, acknowledge it as holy, and experience love’s most sincere invitation. How do these screams become an invocation?
- Don’t do deals with the NPD, or justify any participation with the regime. This is hard. But when you marry a narcissist or sociopath, as America did, the temptation is to make compromises (“Maybe if I play nice I can have a seat at the climate table, and then he won’t appoint Myron Ebell’s pick for EPA”, “I’m accepting this invitation to the White House out of respect for the office”, etc.). This is non-sense. And don’t accept the invitation because you know the front-man, whether the front-man is Christie, Giuliani, Sessions, etc. A sucker is born every second, and these Collaborators will suffer (in time) the greatest indignities. Don’t endorse their naked opportunism. Any participation with the regime is an endorsement of its pathology. Don’t take the money, or the power. PLEASE SEE NUMBER 1 AGAIN.
- Choose more nutrient-dense ‘long-form’ thinking (novels, essays, newspapers) instead of the distorted funhouse mirror of Facebook Fake News and the Twitterverse. The medium is the message. Choose your media like you’re choosing a long-term partner. Somebody rational, not reactive. Reading is an act of resistance, a silent prayer to the imagination. It’s a form of cognitive organization that gets us closer to truth.
- Seek out friends in the caring professions: hospice nurses, mental health workers, yoga instructors. People that help other people navigate. Seek out friends with chronic conditions. Find a guy with a colostomy bag and a good attitude and love that guy up. Go out and find community and create community. What if Trump-ism leads to explosive growth in book clubs? What if, in this devastation, we find a path away from “Bowling Alone” to bowling together?
- Find a new vigilance for the challenges after Trump. Read and participate in the conversation about AI, computational neuroscience, quantum computing and nanotechnology. Before the techno-utopians decide our future for us, without our consent. Trump-ism is a milder format Artificial Intelligence (though it may not seem very mild right now), a canary in the coal mine. He’s a human upload from the Twitterverse. Trump takes actions to avoid his own demise (appealing to white nationalists, lying to coal workers, etc.). Resource acquisition is Trump’s main goal (“we’ll take the oil”). But what if, instead of a Cheetos-colored buffoon without a conscience, we were subject to an amoral super-intelligent AI? As a society, we need experiential learning and new tools for inevitable 21st century challenges. Trumpism could be the training wheels for building the conscience, wisdom, fortitude and muscle-memory for even greater existential threats.
That’s a lot. It comes down to finding connection, internally and externally. You feel like “the center cannot hold.” But it can. And you can.