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If we can speak of such a thing as an American “national psyche,” then I don’t think anyone—right, left or center—would even try to pretend that ours is in any sense healthy at the moment. We would no doubt disagree, perhaps even vehemently, on the exact nature of our problems, their root causes, or their possible treatment, but I do think nearly everyone would agree that something has gone—is going—horribly wrong.
So here’s my take, in a nutshell: the “character flaws” in our national psyche run pretty deep and have many causes, but the proximate cause, the most recent one, the one that is sitting right on top, is 9/11. As a society, I think we have collectively failed—or rather, refused—to fully and properly process the trauma of that event.
I would like to suggest that the rise to power of Donald Trump, and its associated societal and cultural phenomena, are but symptoms stemming in part from that fundamental refusal.
You may remember last month’s discussion of “high conflict” personality disorders, and how they can emerge when someone gets stuck in the “anger” phase of bereavement or mourning, rather than going through the normal period of depression that precedes acceptance. Rather than entering that phase, which might have entailed looking humbly and sincerely within ourselves and the way our country has conducted itself on the world stage since, say, the Vietnam era (another source of severe national trauma, by the way, also not fully addressed), under the Bush Regime and the neoconservatives we allowed ourselves to be locked into an inflexible, belligerent and reactionary stance, one that soon squandered the immense reservoir of support and solidarity that we had received in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Such an attitude, by the way, is also very easy for demagogues to manipulate.
The “bad case of the DT’s” in my title, of course, refers not only to Donald Trump, but also a condition called delirium tremens. This sometimes fatal ailment is experienced by people coming out of extended periods of alcohol abuse, and is characterized by agitation, feelings of doom and hallucinations. These hallucinations can be so extreme as to represent what is called “altered sensorium”—in other words, one inhabits a world completely divorced from reality.
Or as Kellyanne Conway might put it, a world of alternative facts.
You can decide for yourself, dear reader, whether or to what extent our collective terror and trauma has been engineered, leveraged and manipulated. Consider who has benefited and who has suffered. One doesn’t have to buy into the darker conspiracy theories to see that certain powerful and power-seeking folks have taken full advantage of the opportunities that 9/11 presented them.
I want to point out one more factor at play in our present disease, and that’s addiction. As a nation, we have become addicted to enjoying a certain level of power and primacy in the world—one that we are about to lose, and we know it. Donald Trump represents the last vestiges of an unsustainable, obsolete, dying view of the world.
In other words: we are about to hit bottom.
The good news is this: hitting bottom is the moment when the possibility for change becomes real, and the necessity for change becomes obvious.
Because at that point, to refuse to change is to die.