What is Trump?

Angry_TrumpDonald  Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP heap is a symptom of classic American anti-intellectualism, which unfortunately is the real cancer eating away at the Republican Party.

While many see Trump’s rise and even Sanders’ rise, not as anti-intellectualism, but as purely symptomatic of a growing frustration with establishment government, and certainly to some degree that is true, Trump is something much more sinister. The current discontent with the establishment was summed up nicely by a smart conservative friend of mine when he said, “People are getting tired of business as usual in politics and want change. I truly believe that the lack of term limits, and the creation of career politicians that are more worried about their next fundraiser or election instead of doing what’s right, is the cause of what we are seeing now.” But let’s evaluate this idea by analyzing both Trump and Sanders.

We’ll look at Bernie Sanders first. Sanders is a mostly economic phenomenon. His supporters are comprised of largely young, student loan-laden voters who have come to realize that our politics have rigged our economic system to favor the wealthy; to their exclusion. Our system capitalizes profits and socializes losses, something that became painfully clear during the subprime mortgage crisis and the subsequent extensive bank and corporate bailouts of the last decade, and they see Sanders as a catalyst to shake that construct apart. But being frustrated in the status quo does not an anti-intellectual make.

Trump’s rise is much more than simple frustration with the establishment. His brand of political populism in the Jacksonian sense is often a fairly clean inverse of anti-intellectualism. As wonderfully documented in Richard Hofstadter’s brilliant book, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life,” we know that this phenomenon ebbs and flows throughout our history, and here we are again.

But instead of a true salt of the earth populist like Jackson, today we have the billionaire Trump.

Trump is the perfect poisonous mushroom sprouting from the great pile of crap that was and is the rise of the Tea Party as the dominant Republican identity. These are the xenophobes, the homophobes, the conspiracy theorists, the racists, the birthers, the anti-science (read global warming deniers), the religious zealots, and other malcontents coalescing under a Gadsden flag umbrella and whipped into an angry frenzy by 24/7 “fair and balanced” nonsense and propelled by YouTube ranters and misinformed bloggers.  Trump is the absence of critical thinking. He’s the antithesis of reasonable discussion. He’s the personification of the comments section of any Fox News article about anything social or political.

In a nutshell, Trump is a creation of the GOP’s inability to keep its fringe on the fringe, and the party is all but lost as a result.

Sunday morning tea: thoughts on anger

PeaceAnother beautiful Sunday morning in the South ushers in time for some weekly reflection over a cup of hot green tea.

This morning, anger is on my mind.  Not that I’m personally angry, but rather anger as a pervasive emotion.

A case in point. Friday afternoon I was riding with my daughter who is still practicing for her driver’s license, and while leaving her school, we were slowly trying to make our way out of the highly congested school parking lot.  We were attempting to merge in to traffic yet no one seemed interested in sharing the road. In fact, when we did manage to find a whisker of space in which to start our merge, the young man we eased in front of was visibly distraught, shaking his head as if we had just robbed him of his last piece of bread.  Mind you, every vehicle was traveling at somewhere between 0 and 1 mph, so no one was going anywhere any time soon.

Anger. I see it everywhere and I’m wondering if anger is an epidemic in our culture? I see it while driving on the road, at the sports field, on television, in relationships, on the news, at restaurants, at the airport, and just about anywhere two or more people are trying to get somewhere or get something.

The reality of anger is that in almost every case, the anger is being felt by people who are not in control of their situation.

The irony of anger is that they will never be in control.

We get angry at strangers. We get angry at people who are trying to help us. We get angry at people we love. We get angry at animals. We even get angry at inanimate objects! And for what purpose? When does it ever help? Do we get where we are going any faster? Does our machine start working any better? Does our food start tasting more delicious? Does our wife start loving us more? In my experience, with the very rare exception where anger was an emotional response to some grave danger, anger has only ever served to make my own blood pressure rise, my own stomach hurt, and my own heart ache.

Before I started practicing mindfulness meditation, anger was an emotion that sort of creeped up on me and then suddenly enveloped me, like a rogue wave where one minute all is calm, and the next it’s crashing all over me. But now, I see the wave coming. I feel it in my stomach. I brace myself. Now, rather than drowning in the wave and letting it knock me this way and that, I let it break over me, wash off of me, and flow past me.

How can we export this understanding of anger to everyone in our lives? How can we all begin to recognize it for what it is: often simply an emotional response to the realization of our own impotence? I’m not sure.  I do know that the first step is to practice awareness of it in ourselves.

Because while they exist, it is surely the rare person, perhaps only the mentally unhealthy person, who seeks disruption and violence over peace and tranquility. If that’s true, then all of the people – those on the road, in the airport, at the restaurant, at home – should clamor for a cure.

If anger is an epidemic, our own awareness of it might just be the vaccine.