No, America Is Not Full of Assholes

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Nov 9, 2016 · 4 min read

A lot of people I know are very surprised that Donald Trump managed to win the US presidential election. How is it possible that someone like Trump can be the President? His character seems to be so deeply flawed. Well, it requires a lot of people to vote for him. Over 59 million people voted for Trump, that’s roughly 18% of the population. That’s a large percentage. Does that mean that almost 20% of the US population are assholes?

I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with the people who voted for Trump. I don’t think they’re assholes, or selfish, or even necessarily bigoted or racist. Sure, he probably got many votes from white supremacists, but most of his voters were just regular people.

Here’s the thing, most people are regular people, whether they voted for Trump, Hillary, or someone else. You and I are pretty much regular people too. Regular people have pretty low self-awareness and low equanimity. We’re very reactive. If we lost our jobs and our standard of living dropped drastically, and we saw a lot of immigrants around, and we were told that it was their fault, and someone seemed to empathize with our losses and with our misdirected anger, we would probably also want to believe what he told us. We would also probably vote for him.

We’re all reactive. We have fights with our spouses. We argue with our kids. We get triggered and we do “stupid” things all the time. Voting for Trump was just a regular, irrational, emotionally-driven reaction by a lot of regular people. The anger and hatred we see? We know that powerlessness and fear underlie these emotions. Let’s not create demons.

Here’s something that’s going to be hard to hear: most of us Democrats or Independents are just as “deluded” as any Republican; it’s just that we have a different flavor of delusion. Some people (The Right) cling to the belief that, “I work hard for my money. I don’t want it going to anyone else. They can get their own money. And while they’re at it, they better not kill fetuses.” Other people (The Left) cling to the belief that, “We should all take care of the weakest in our society, and share the wealth a little. And while we’re at it, women should have the right to choose whether they kill or give birth to their fetuses.”

Can we not see that these are two sides of the same coin? These are two perspectives that are often held dogmatically, each believing itself to be the justified, righteous one. It becomes impossible for either side to see anything valid about the other side’s perspective. Meanwhile, we’re all just humans, deeply entrenched in suffering. Right now Democrats, most Independents, and many Republicans, are mired in anguish. I heard that in 2008, when Obama was elected, many Republicans were equally disturbed. So the wheel of suffering keeps on turning, and we all keep turning it.

No, America is not full of assholes, unless you consider yourself an asshole too. America, as everywhere else in the world, is filled with regular, suffering people, people lost in their own pain and reaction. At this particular moment in history, millions of those people have reacted against eight years of a black president, against healthcare for all, against the rule of a perceived Democratic royal family, and against a confused understanding of immigration. There has been a big reaction from The Right, and we see an equally big reaction occurring on The Left: “Those stupid, bigoted people!” Meanwhile, other parts of the world are deeply entrenched in stable socialist systems, and those systems and the people in them are railing against the election of Trump.

Many people complain bitterly about what is happening, and yet they call themselves “conscious.” These people don’t meditate regularly. “Consciousness” is just an ego-label, an identity to associate with and to use to feel better than others. We need to start meditating more, and we need to start referring to ourselves as “conscious” less. We who practice meditation every day understand how truly unconscious and deeply mired in suffering we are. “Life is suffering” was the Buddha’s first noble truth for a reason. “My life is suffering” is even more accurate. He said, “The world is on fire! And you are laughing? You are deep in the dark.” It’s time that we all become more aware of this.

We cannot untangle this problem and develop a more adaptive, peaceful civilization from a place of reactivity. We must deepen our self-awareness and equanimity. Only then can we witness what is going on inside ourselves and stop the inner war. Only then can we hope to provide our fellow humans — whether Republican, Democrat, or other — with a space of awareness and equanimity, a space that will support them in developing these adaptive qualities in themselves.

If you want to take action, the most effective and adaptive kind of action, sign up for a 10-day vipassana retreat and get established in a daily practice for yourself. Work on ending your own suffering first, and in the process increase your willingness and ability to truly support others.

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.

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An engineer-psychologist focused on machine intelligence. I write from my own experience to support others in living more fulfilling lives | duncanriach.com