Less than a week into the Trump Administration, I find myself incapable of remaining silent as I move through the blogesphere and social media where individuals aware of catabolic collapse, that is to say, the collapse of industrial civilization and abrupt climate change, insist that the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the American Presidency is essentially no different than the ascendancy of any other political candidate, thereby minimizing the severity of the 2016 election’s outcome. In a recent article, “Donald Trump Is Not The Problem, He’s The Symptom,” Nafeez Ahmed argues that “… it is a mistake to believe that Trump is the problem who must be resisted. Trump is not the problem. Trump is merely one symptom of a deeper systemic crisis. His emergence signals a fundamental and accelerating shift within a global geopolitical and domestic American political order which is breaking down.”
I consider Nafeez a solid ally in grasping the reality of catabolic collapse, yet I believe that his assertion is only partially correct. Resonating with Nafeez’s assertion, I devoted a great deal of energy in my recent book Dark Gold: The Human Shadow And The Global Crisis to illumining the personal and collective shadows that succeeded in electing Trump. His Presidential victory is testimony to the pernicious core of the American shadow. I have stated repeatedly that Trump is among other things, a classic shadow magnet, drawing from American culture its ghastly toxicity in the form of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, entitlement, and much more in the same way that a well-crafted poultice might extract pus from a wound. Clearly, Trump is a symptom, and, from my perspective, he is also a problem.
Indeed I recognize the existence of a deep state and the neoliberal agenda that has dominated the politics of this nation and the Western world for decades. I was well schooled in it by Mike Ruppert and many others, and I have been writing about catabolic collapse for more than a decade and more recently, catastrophic climate change. Yet as in the healing arts, to ignore the symptom in favor of only addressing the syndrome is to engage in a form of malpractice. A significant portion of my body of work has been devoted to addressing the syndrome and preparing for it logistically as well as existentially. We now find ourselves in a situation where both syndrome and symptom must be confronted.
Those collapse-aware individuals who have been following my work and that of a host of others writing about the demise of industrial civilization and the ecosystems, are well aware that as societies unravel, they will not be governed by kind, benevolent, ethical leaders who have the best interests of their citizens at heart. Rather, collapse will produce and is producing the most corrupt, vicious, despicable leaders imaginable who promise the masses that they alone can ward off collapse, but will only exacerbate it. As the unraveling accelerates, we can expect to see many more Donald Trumps—in fact, they are waiting in the wings of a host of countries following a similar right-wing trajectory as Trump and his accomplices. They are all symptoms of the collapse syndrome, but I am not willing to shrug and callously comfort myself with, “It would have been just as bad with a liberal.” Trust me, if Hillary were the current new President, I would be ranting as vociferously as I am ranting against Trump.
So how do we respond to the madness of King Donald as well as the madness that has produced him?
First, I believe that we must recognize that King Donald is profoundly mentally ill. While you may argue that previous Presidents had to be mentally ill to commit war crimes, ignore torture, offer countless blank checks to Wall Street, and carry out the US military’s drone program, on one level, that is so, yet on another level, they could be reigned in by political forces greater than themselves because at least they recognized that there were political forces great than themselves. Moreover, the “formers” were not as intractably committed to a Goldman Sachs agenda marinated in oil pumped by a petroleum industry that is fraught with epidemic bankruptcies. The malevolently crafted program for eviscerating the economy, shredding the Constitution as well as what is left of the social fabric of the nation, and greenhouse gassing the planet into oblivion was far less blatant.
What is mental illness? What is mental health?
I will not attempt to lay out my own psychological diagnosis of Trump. That has been accomplished by some of the most insightful luminaries in the mental health field such as Robert Klitzman, Dan McAdams, Psychiatry Professors Asking For Neuropsychiatric Evaluation of Trump, and Citizen Therapists Against Trump. But what does any of that matter? The man won the election and is now President. Case closed?
Trump enters office with the lowest popularity rating since popularity polling began in the United States. But more importantly, one can feel, as well as hear specific verbalizations daily, often several times daily, of the discomfort people feel, and not just American people, regarding Trump as President. His incessant pathological lying, his deplorable narcissism, and his flagrant disregard for ethical constraints and conflicts of interest transmit a kind of deranged emotional chaos that translates to the public a sense of being trapped in the passenger seat of a car being driven by a crack addict at one hundred miles per hour. Moreover, the blatant use of Orwellian language such as alternative facts or the very notion promoted during the Presidential campaign that facts no longer exist is inherently crazy-making. I have stated for years that I believe that on a collective unconscious level, “Everybody Knows,” as Leonard Cohen wrote and sang—a song which so appropriately describes the deeper sense of collapse and possible extinction that ceaselessly haunts all members of our species. That “knowing” was already in place before the unhinged reality TV superstar became President, and whatever internal chaos was simmering in the unconscious prior to that event now appears to be approaching a boiling point.
Secondly, we must resist. Yes, we must grow our gardens and learn the skills required for living in a post-industrial society, and it is crucial that we also resist, not only to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but because it is a moral imperative. In the Wages of Rebellion, Chris Hedges writes:
Rebels share much in common with religious mystics. They hold fast to a vision that often they alone can see. They view rebellion as a moral imperative, even as they concede that the hope of success is slim and at times impossible…The best of them are driven by a profound empathy, even love for the vulnerable, the persecuted, and the weak.
Hours after the Inauguration of Donald Trump, Occidental College Professor, Peter Drier penned his article “American Fascist,” in which he stated that:
The United States is not Weimar Germany. Our economic problems are nowhere as bad as those in Depression-era Germany. Nobody in the Trump administration (not even Steven Bannon) is calling for mass genocide (although saber-rattling with nuclear weapons could lead to global war if we’re not careful).
That said, it is useful for Americans to recognize that we are facing something entirely new and different in American history. Certainly none of us in our lifetimes have confronted an American government led by someone like Trump in terms of his sociopathic, demagogic, impulsive, and vindictive personality (not even Nixon came close). “We’ve never seen a president with so little familiarity with the truth; he is a pathological liar, on matters large and small.”
We are witnessing something new in terms of the uniformly right-wing inner circle with whom he’s surrounded himself and appointed to his cabinet. We must adjust our thinking and view with alarm his reactionary and dangerous policy agenda on foreign policy, the economy, the environment, health care, immigration, civil liberties; and poverty. We have to be willing to sweep aside past presidential precedents in order to understand Trump’s willingness to overtly invoke all the worst ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds in order to appeal to the most despicable elements of our society and unleash an upsurge of racism, anti-semitism, sexual assault, and nativism by the KKK and other hate groups. We need to suspend our textbook explanations about the American presidency in order to recognize Trump’s ignorance about our Constitutional principles and the rule of law; and his lack of experience with collaboration and compromise. We’ve never seen a president with so little familiarity with the truth; he is a pathological liar, on matters large and small.
Resistance appears to be reverberating globally, yet marches and jubilant moments of truth-telling must not be substituted for protracted struggle against all forms of fascism whether they be socio-economic-political fascisms directed at humans or a plethora of brutal fascisms against animals and land bases resulting in extinction. As my friend Andrew Harvey writes, look within and determine what most breaks your heart, then find a way to resist that form of fascism and work with every ounce of your being to alleviate the suffering of those oppressed by it. Currently, some form of protest is happening in the United States daily, sometimes hourly. We must continue the momentum of resistance as much as possible for as long as possible, understanding that escalating repression of resistance is almost certain.
One naïve mistake made by opponents of Trump and typically made by those who oppose an autocratic candidate is the assumption that when he/she comes to power, they will not carry out the threats they verbalized during their campaign. This naivety results from having been able to avoid life in an autocratic milieu. Those who were not so fortunate, such as Masha Gessen writing about growing up in the Soviet Union, tell us that Rule Number One is: Believe the autocrat. Believe that he or she will do exactly as they have promised, and just this week, CNN reported: “Donald Trump Is Doing Exactly What He Said He Would Do.”
Thirdly, commit to working on the part of yourself that colluded in the syndrome of which Nafeez Ahmed writes. As you resist the symptom, Donald Trump, reclaim and heal the shadow syndrome that has permitted his election. Become familiar with your own inner Donald Trump. Journal about it, draw, paint, sculpt it. Ask for dreams about it. Make a list of every odious quality in Trump and carefully examine how each one subtly or blatantly lives in you. Notice how those parts have quietly colluded to create a planet on the edge of extinction, poisoned and suffocated by greed, ego, revenge, privilege, narcissism, and entitlement. And, if you have a spiritual practice, look for the shadow there. Are there places in your practice where you might be using spirituality to bypass your deep grief, rage, and terror regarding our planetary predicament?
Fourthly, commit to learning and experiencing the deepest meaning of the word Reconnect. Every second of every minute of our lives is about relationship—with our bodies, with the air, with our loved ones, with our animals, with our work, with our creativity, with food, with water, with sexuality, with the sacred, with money, with time—please tell me what you are not in relationship with?
The bone marrow origin of our potentially pre-extinction predicament is that we have bought hook, line, and sinker into the delusion of separation, and it will take the rest of our lives to learn how to learn and experience reconnection. Nevertheless, even if we have only a few years, hours, or minutes to live, nothing could possibly be more important than palpable, cellular experiences of reconnection: With ourselves, with each other, and with Earth. Anything less than this deep psychological and spiritual work will perpetuate our own industrially civilized madness and keep us pre-occupied with maintaining business as usual as much as possible, leading to more discomfort, disconnection, and despair.
As we engage in reconnection with self, other, and Earth, we will quite naturally feel as if we have a foot in two different worlds because we do. On the one hand we know that infinite growth on a finite planet is over, and yet we are firmly rooted in the delusion of limitless progress and prosperity. Throughout the course of my work, I have created, and continue to create practices which assist us in navigating this foot-in-both-worlds experience without which it becomes virtually impossible not to return to business as usual or sink into mired anguish.
The three paramount questions we must daily contemplate are: 1) Who do I want to be in the throes of humankind’s unprecedented unraveling, 2) Who do I want to be alongside my allies and loved ones, 3) What do we want to do together to nurture and protect each other and Earth?
King Donald is the ultimate finished product of industrial civilization’s paradigm and the consummate mirror of our personal and collective shadows. It may be that before he completes his first term, he will be impeached or removed by some other means. Catabolic collapse and the climate catastrophe that he is presently exacerbating will continue unabated. Other madmen or madwomen will succeed him.
But more importantly, he isn’t just one politician who isn’t any worse than another. He has erupted at this precise juncture in the catabolic collapse process, offering us myriad opportunities not only to ponder how we arrived at the threshold of extinction, but why we are even alive at this moment in human history. He shatters all hope of returning to business as usual and compels us to preserve sanity and soul by recommitting to rigorous reconnection with ourselves, each other, and Earth.