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Finding Peace in the Age of Trump

The means determine the end.

Achieving peace in the age of Trump might seem elusive, unlikely, even impossible. Millions of us are pointing fingers of blame and judgment, apparently oblivious to the disturbing meaning in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s comment, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

So many of us seem utterly unaware of our blatant hypocrisy, so aptly expressed in Tom Lehrer’s introduction to his 60’s satirical song, National Brotherhood Week: “There are some people who do not love their fellow man… and I hate people like that!”

In her book, Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan explores the complex terrain of denial. She writes, “Technologists expressed their amazement that Microsoft hadn’t seen the Internet coming, while Google had been blindsided by social media. Intelligence chiefs confided that they had had no insight into the Arab Spring while chief executives acknowledge that the hardest part of their job, even in a small company, was knowing what was going on.”

What’s really going on in the age of Trump?

Imagine a large band aid on your arm. Someone rips it off, exposing a festering wound. That wound will not heal until it’s treated; the band aid was merely hiding the problem. Trump is ripping off the façade of American / global civilization. That infection has been there a long while but now we can see it, smell it, and – understandably – we’d prefer to quickly slap another dressing over it and return to the comforting pretense that everything is OK.

Is everything OK? Was everything OK before Trump?

No. We’ve had our blinders on and still do. We rail against climate change yet continue to drive SUV’s and eat meat. We scorn those who dare question the safety of Smart Meters, Round Up, universal vaccines, and guns. We give big banks our money even though they’ve proven chronically deceitful. We believe our doctors when they say that it doesn’t really matter what we eat.

Why are we so willfully blind? Consider this pillar of modern thinking: the end justifies the means. This continues to be the prevailing paradigm, articulated in various ways, like: “We’ll do whatever it takes to win.” Or, “All’s fair in love and war.” And, “The American way of life is not up for negotiation.”

Meanwhile, anyone who has ever made anything knows that ingredients matter. Ask a chef if replacing sugar with salt might affect the taste of his cake. Uh, yeah! So, peeking from behind our blinders for a moment, perhaps a realistic re-frame of that statement would be, “the means determine the end.”

In other words, to bring this down to a personal level, what we express always has an impact. That hateful jab, directed at someone we know deserves it (because they are so hateful), will indeed increase hate in the world. And remember, “He started it” is something children say.

Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” in 1859 but the same could be said today. Which way is goes for you and me depends on what we are willing to see and the choices we make. Heffernan wrote, “We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking.”

Will we continue to point at others, especially the abuser-in-chief, as some refer to Trump, and thereby relieve ourselves of any responsibility? Or will we dare to look in our own hearts, question our own actions, and take the road less travelled? We could even look at ourselves in the mirror and say, “I am here to bring peace, not hate… no matter what!”

I wonder what that might accomplish?