Blog, Politics

Seven Reasons Not To Work With Republicans

Originally published April 5, 2017 on The Huffington Post

1. The relentless, god-awful language and policies of Trump, his family and administration, and the Republican Party are not only a constant daily assault on our sensibilities, but completely unforgivable.

2. The recent failed Republican plan for replacing the Affordable Care Act shows clearly what the Republican Party stands for: sheer contempt and utter disregard for the poor and elderly.

3. They care only for the super wealthy.

4. They’ve been taken over by Right-wing extremists who are a threat to democracy.

5. They are boiling over with cruelty and meanness.

6. One is morally bound not to cooperate with those who values are so debased.

7. They are an abomination to everything that is wholesome and just.

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Blog, Crisis Management, Politics

Donald Trump: A Long-term Crisis of the GOP’s Own Making

Originally published 04/01/2016 on the Huffington Post

By any measure, Donald Trump is a major crisis of, for, and by the Republican Party. It’s certainly a crisis of its own making. In doing so, the Republican Party has violated every single one of the key tenets of Crisis Management.

Since 1982 when seven people died after taking Tylenol capsules that were laced with cyanide, I helped start the modern field of Crisis Management. Since then, Crisis Management — the systematic process by which organizations and institutions prepare for major events that threaten to harm them, their key stakeholders, and the general public — has developed enormously.

We pretty well know why crises happen and what organizations, institutions, and even whole societies can and need to do to lessen their susceptibility to crises of all kinds. The basic problem is not the lack of fundamental knowledge about Crisis Management, but the lack of will that is critical for its effective implementation.

Early in my research, and that of others, it became clear that there were a number of key activities that organizations and institutions needed to undertake if they were to be prepared before major crises struck. If they didn’t do these beforehand, then often it was too late for them to recover. In a number of prominent cases, organizations and the careers of individuals were destroyed.

To mention only two, they needed to set up specific mechanisms that would pick up the inevitable Early Warning Signals that accompany and precede virtually all crises. Along with this, they needed to actively probe their systems for potential crises and thereby hopefully prevent them long before they actually occurred, the best possible form of Crisis Management.

For another, they needed to design, put in-place, and continually test and update Damage Containment Systems before major crises occurred. If they didn’t, then a crisis would continue to cause unmitigated harm. BP’s oil spill in the Gulf is the classic worst-case example. Before the well was capped, over 200 million gallons of oil were spilled. In other words, merely reacting inevitably makes the effects of crises far worse.

Against this background, the Republican Party couldn’t have done more to cause a crisis for itself, the nation, and the world than if it had intentionally set out to design and promote a candidate for President in the likes of Donald Trump. (Ted Cruz is not far behind.) Indeed, many have in fact accused the Republican Party for doing precisely this.

Since the 1950’s, its unrelenting messages, both coded and uncoded, of division and hate have not only splintered the Party but the country. In short, the Republican Part has created a culture that has directly spawned the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, etc. In this regard, Trump and Cruz are not aberrations. They are the end result of forces that have been brewing unabated in the system for over 60 years.

One of the worst things that faulty cultures do is that they render Early Warning Signals moot and irrelevant. For months, it was apparent that Trump posed a major threat to the Party and to the country. By the time that Mitt Romney and others stepped in and sounded the alarm, and thereby tried to contain the damage, massive harm was already done. A BP-like oil spill of monumental proportions has swamped the Party, and even worse, threatens the country and the entire world.

In retrospect how many how many different groups does a candidate have to insult—clear Early Warning Signals—before it’s readily apparent that major efforts in Damage Containment are needed? But then, the Party repeatedly deluded itself with faulty rationalizations such as “Trump is just a flash in the pan; he’ll burn himself out; he’ll never be taken seriously; etc.”

(The Donald’s latest gaffe about women who have abortions needing to be punished is only the latest lame attempt in Damage Control, too late and too little after the fact.)

Make no mistake about it. If someone like Trump is elected, the damage will be enormous. The worst fear is that it will not just be long lasting, but irreversible, certainly to the Republican Party, and worst of all, to the entire nation and the world.

Since it did an awful job in preparing for a major crisis, the Party is banking on its last hope of Damage Containment, an open convention. But even if another candidate is eventually selected, the all-too-real fear is that it will only provoke waves of violence from those who hanker for authoritarian leaders such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

One of the key lessons of Crisis Management is that no crisis is ever a single, well contained, and isolated crisis. Instead, if an organization or institution is not prepared for a wide variety of crises, then no matter what the initial crisis, it invariably sets off an uncontrolled chain reaction of other just as bad, and in many cases, even worse crises. In the case of the Republican Party, trying reactively to contain the damage to one crisis threatens to set off even worse ones.

The moral is that the costs of not preparing for major crises are always higher and worse than those of proper prior preparation.

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Blog, Politics, Psychology

The Psychopathology of the Republican Candidates

repubs

Originally published November 24, 2015 on Nation of Change

As a lifelong student of psychoanalysis, I am led to the proposition that the behavior of the current crop of Republican candidates and their supporters can only be properly understood, if that, in terms of psychopathology. Conventional explanations such as Washington is more partisan than ever, American power is in decline, etc. explain part of the anger of the Republican electorate, but they cannot account for its sheer intensity.

Conventional explanations also cannot account for why when challenged the candidates not only deny actual facts, but engage in out-and-out lies and deception. For example, Donald Trump receives major amounts of campaign contributions from his supporters. Contrary to his repeated claims, his campaign is not fully funded by his own fortune. For another, Dr. Ben Carson did appear as a spokesperson for a questionable product. And so on!

Yes, the Republican candidates are certainly engaged in pandering to their base, but this only raises the fundamental question why the base lives in a fantasy world that is increasingly out of touch with reality. For instance, it’s complexly unrealistic, if not insane, to believe that one could actually get Mexico to pay for a wall thousands of miles long that would keep its citizens out of the U.S. What interests of Mexico would this possibly serve? Why does the base so readily accept anything that literally pops out of the mouths of the candidates? The more preposterous the idea, the more fervently it’s embraced.

In times of great stress, underlying fears and anxieties that have not been dealt with adequately rise to the surface and take over people’s reasoning, if not their minds. Thus, enormous anxieties and fears having to do with: (a) underlying racial and ethnic differences, (b) the fact that white men, in particular, are no longer in complete control, (c) a world that is so complex that no one can fully explain, let alone control it, (d) the ever-present danger of terrorism, and (f) the seemingly loss of power and influence of the U.S. in world affairs—all of these and more are sufficient to drive sizeable numbers of people into the most bizarre fantasies. Gaining control by whatever means of an uncertain, dangerous, and precarious world becomes paramount.

I cannot emphasize enough that in times of great stress, people revert to earlier, primitive stages of development. That is to be expected. Nonetheless, the extent to which the Republican candidates and voters have regressed to earlier primitive stages of human development is absolutely scary.  It’s nothing less than mind-boggling.

One does not overcome great anxieties and fears by facts and logical reasoning alone. If anything, cold facts and logic only drive people deeper into fantasies. One requires calm, soothing voices that can address deep underlying anxieties, fears, and fantasies not by naming them directly, but by telling stories that provide reassurance. But this requires candidates that are strong enough to face reality in the first place, and then to fashion stories that make unpleasant truths palatable. True leadership is telling people what they can’t bear to hear. Sadly, I see no evidence of this whatsoever in the current crop of Republican candidates.

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Blog, Media + Politics

The Banality of Evil Arguments, Part II

Originally published on Nation of Change, April 20, 2013

On Thursday April 11, 2013, The Nation of Change published my blog, “The Banality of Evil Arguments.” In effect, I argued that evil arguments against reasonable laws for gun control are the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Unfortunately, one is never finished in beating back evil arguments.

Immediately after the parents of the children who were killed in Newtown met with President Obama and Senators in Washington DC in an attempt to win support for new gun control legislation, the Right-wing began its scurrilous attacks. In the most despicable manner possible, the parents were roundly accused of “politicizing a tragedy.”

Listening to the sickening “arguments” — if they can be called that — the following question immediately crossed my mind, “How should the Newtown parents have responded such that they would have satisfied the Right?” The “answers” I came up with constitutes in effect an evil argument.

First of all, according to the Right, the parents should have suffered in complete silence! They should not have in any way made a public spectacle of their tragedy.

Second, they should have totally accepted the premises and the arguments of the NRA. Thus, Newtown was the act of a single, isolated, deranged individual. In short, there are no such things as “systems effects.” One can have a nation with an average of one gun per a population of 315,000,000 and there will be no spill over effects on violence and public safety in general. In other words, a highly armed society poses no threats. Indeed, it’s safer than one that is not highly armed.

The argument continues: background checks and limits on the types of guns and ammunition are not only completely ineffective in preventing tragedies like Newtown, but they are gross infringements on the rights of law-abiding citizens. When push comes to shove, it all comes down to this: “the ineffectiveness of gun laws and the infringement on the rights of law abiding citizens” is a gigantic stick to beat down any reasonable arguments for gun control. It is the “show stopper” against any and all arguments.

How many times do we have to say that by definition murderers don’t obey laws against murder? But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have such laws. Laws are one of the prime hallmarks of a civilized society. Laws are in part how we declare and support our values.

Contrary to the NRA, gun laws are effective. Of course, they don’t work perfectly. Does anything?

Law-abiding citizens have always had to give up previous things that were thought to be rights and privileges in order for civilized societies to exist. Wasn’t this once true of the so-called “right” to own slaves?

In sum, “protecting the ‘rights’ of law-abiding citizens without considering the greater good” is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Originally published on Nation of Change, April 20, 2013

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Blog, Media + Politics, Psychology

Psychotic Nation: Media, Macbeth, Cinderella

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 17, 2012

Make no mistake about it. America is in an extreme state of mind. It is gripped by forces that can only be described as psychotic.

The great poets and playwrights understood implicitly that to understand politics—indeed, to truly understand anything human—one not only had to understand the intricacies of the human mind, but extreme states such as psychosis.

Much of what motivates humans is buried deep in the unconscious. As a result, most people are not unaware of some of the most powerful determinants of human behavior. This is why drama is so important. It is the art form par excellence that digs far below the surface of everyday life to bring up to the light and thus examine the “dark forces” that govern so much of human conduct.

This was brought home recently when my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the play Medea, Macbeth, and Cinderella in Ashland. Despite its critical shortcomings—too often it seemed that three of the most disparate characters imaginable were merely thrown together as in a disjointed nightmare—it nevertheless managed to illuminate the dark side of politics even though this was not the prime intention of the play.

Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella brings together three of the major forms of drama: Greek, Elizabethan, and the modern American Musical Comedy in Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway production of Cinderella. But most of all, it serves as a prime vehicle to compare and examine the role of women at three critical stages of life: middle, Medea; late, Lady Macbeth; and early, Cinderella.

One of the key interpretations of Medea is that she is driven to murder her children because of the uncontrollable rage she feels towards her husband who has deserted her for a younger woman. Lady Macbeth is complicit in her husband’s murder of the king as well as subsequent murders because of their ruthless ambition. And, Cinderella represents the stage of youthful, dreamy idealism, if not pure fantasy.

From a psychological standpoint, Medea is gripped by an extreme state of psychotic rage. In killing her children, she has lost complete contact with rationality, if not reality altogether. In a word, she is not only consumed, but blinded by overwhelming hatred. Lady Macbeth is equally blinded. She too is in a deep psychotic state, in this case one of murderous and completely out of control ambition. And, Cinderella is living in a state of pure fantasy, if not an out-and-out delusion. While she is not necessarily in a psychotic state, she is clearly on the borderline between reality and unreality. Were she to acknowledge the unresolved hatred she feels towards her stepsisters and stepmother, then she might indeed experience psychotic rage as well.

To be fair, while women are central characters in all three plays, the male characters have more than their share of psychosis as well. Thus, Media, Macbeth, Cinderella should be viewed more broadly. It is not just about women alone. It is about the human condition.The parallels with contemporary politics are astounding. The Republicans and the extreme Right are literally—not figuratively– willing to kill the children, and of course the parents, of the uninsured—if not their own in the bargain– because of their uncontrolled hatred of a government that in their eyes has betrayed them by electing a Black President. Worse, a Black man has taken away their basic and God-given freedom to govern their most personal possession, their own bodies and health. The rage they feel outshines Medea a thousand times over.

The overwhelming ambition of the Republican candidates leads to them utter the worst, contemptible, and in this sense, “murderous” lies and falsehoods.

Finally, Cinderella’s dream-like fantasies represent the Republican and Far Right fictions of an idealized America that is no more, if it ever was.

To see Medea, Macbeth, Cinderella is not only to witness, but endure the endless psychotic bouts of behavior that govern so much of our contemporary politics. This is not to label flippantly those whose political views I disagree with as necessarily “psychotic.” Far from it. My use of the term psychotic is reserved only for the use of the most violet language that characterizes President Obama in the foulest of ways. If it isn’t out and out psychotic, then it certainly borders on it.

Unfortunately, unlike the play, the curtain does not come down in “real life.” Indeed, it seems as if the “play” will never end.

As Nietzsche once said, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Our poets and philosophers know this all too well. If only the general public and our politicians did.

Originally published on Nation of Change, July 17, 2012

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Blog, Media + Politics, Philosophy + Systems

The Origins of Republican Pathology: Rebuilding the Emotional Containers of Society

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 13, 2012

By now, it is of course a truism to say that the Republican Party has tilted so far to the Right that it is extreme, if not literally a cult. As harsh as this may be, it doesn’t even begin to describe what’s wrong with it. In a word, the Republican Party is deeply pathological. In saying this, I am not using the term “pathological” flippantly. While I am not a practicing clinician, I do have a background in psychoanalytic thought.My point is that in order to see pathology, one has to dig deeply below the surface of everyday life. And, that’s precisely what psychoanalysis helps us to do. While psychoanalysis originated primarily in order to help individuals, it now has an important role to play in helping society as a whole.To see this, it is enough to consider the work of Wilford Bion. Bion is one of the greatest psychoanalysts of all time. His pioneering discoveries not only shed important light on the very earliest stages of childhood, but they also help to explain the toxicity that is rampant throughout our current public discourse and politics, particularly that on the Right.

From his work with adults—most notably psychotics–Bion was able to work back to the earliest roots of psychosis–pathology in general. The earliest stages of life are governed by an incredibly powerful interplay of, mostly unconscious, intense emotions between a mother, her young infant, and the child’s other caretakers.

“Projective identification” is the technical term for the process. It is the means whereby young infants project outward onto others thoughts, feelings, and emotions that are too painful, unpleasant, and intense for them to bear at their stage of emotional development. In other words, the internal thoughts, feelings, and emotions that unpleasant experiences trigger in young children—e.g., fears of abandonment, the demise of their caretakers as well as their own fears of destruction, not being fed physically and/or emotionally and at the precise moments when the child wants it, etc.– are not only expelled in often angry and hostile ways, but dumped onto others. In this way, others, and not the child, are seen as the “cause” of all that is experienced and felt as unpleasant. In a similar fashion, those aspects of the child that are experienced as “bad parts of oneself,” and thereby unwanted, are also projected outwards onto others. This is the only mechanism available to very young infants and children for dealing with unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Their cognitive abilities are not yet developed so that they can understand what’s happening and thus deal with it in more acceptable ways.

This is the “projective” part of “projective identification.” The “identification” part occurs if the child and/or his or her caretakers “identify strongly with” the projections, i.e., psychologically speaking, regard them as “true” or “warranted.”

If the mother and/or caretakers are “understanding,” i.e., if they are not overly distressed and repelled by the often violent thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the child, especially since they are typically expressed in the form of directly hostile and vicious attacks on the mother and/or caretakers, then over time they help the child to “contain” his or her own unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

In the beginning of life, the mother and other caretakers are literally the “emotional container” for the child whose own internal “container” is not sufficiently well developed to act on its own. But if for some reason, the mother and other caretakers are themselves not sufficiently developed, then the child’s “container,” and hence development, is at risk of being impaired.This is not to lay sole blame on the mother or other caretakers, for many other factors such as abuse and trauma by others can also seriously interrupt healthy development. Also, some children are more susceptible to violent outbursts due to neurological and physical factors over which they have no control.

With these ideas in mind, let me turn to today’s toxic public discourse and politics.

In their important and powerful book, It’s Worse Than It Looks, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein lay the blame for today’s toxic politics primarily at the feet of the Republican Party (http://www.amazon.com/Even-Worse-Than-Looks-Constitutional/dp/0465031331). They especially single out Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich realized early on that the Republican Party could end the 40-year rein of the Democratic Party through the use of the worst smears and invectives, i.e., essentially by demonizing the Democratic Party. Indeed, to Gingrich and others, this was seen as the only way they could recapture the Congress and the White House. Thus, Democrats were not only branded as “socialists,” but even worse, as “traitors.”Obviously, except by conducting direct clinical interviews with Gingrich, key members of the Republican Party, and the Tea Party, we have no way of knowing what if any trauma they experienced such that they are driven repeatedly to use the most violent invectives in demonizing their opponents. Nonetheless, one thing I know for sure. One does not manifest such violent feelings repeatedly unless there has been serious disturbance of some kind in a person’s history.

But I want to make an even more important point. Social scientists have long known that there is a direct societal counterpart for every single one of the mechanisms that pertain to individuals, and vice versa Thus, society is often equated either with the mother—The Motherland—and/or the father—The Fatherland because society is a surrogate parent. It is a parent writ large. In the case of The Motherland, society is perceived and experienced primarily as benevolent and nurturing. In the case of The Fatherland, society perceived and experienced primarily as authoritarian, harsh, and unforgiving.

No wonder Birthers are driven to such extremes of pathological rage. How could a “true mother” give birth to and anoint a “Black Other” with the highest office in the world? The only way she could is through a deep act of betrayal. And, betrayal by one’s mother, real or symbolic, is the worst of all crimes. It unleashes such a torrent of fury that it wants to destroy the guilty party again and again. No wonder why The Radical Right wants to “kill government!”

In a word, the “emotional containers of society”—our grand institutions, our leaders, our supposedly shared history and values–have broken down. They are “leaky” at best. They are no longer able to “contain” the emotional impulses of the Far Right. The impulses have literally broken through the normal constraints of society that are there if only in part to help ensure civility.

To counter such tendencies that can literally destroy a society, Mann and Ornstein propose among many things, a Shadow Congress made up of retired Congress Persons to “model” civil discourse and reasoned examination of the great issues that by definition cannot be dealt with by a pathological Right. They also propose that popular figures need to speak out constantly and reinforce healthy emotional discourse.Let me end by quoting one of my favorite social philosophers, Jonathon Swift: “You can’t reason a man out of what he was not reasoned into in the first place.”

You don’t reason with pathology. You cope with and treat it emotionally with the best means society has at its disposal. You mobilize public figures and moderate politicians to speak out calmly, continuously, and forcefully, and by doing so, reinforce healthy discourse.In sum, there is no greater challenge facing us than rebuilding the emotional containers of society!

Originally published on Nation of Change, June 13, 2012

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Blog, Media + Politics, Psychology

The Republicans’ Masterful and Insidious Prey on America’s Founding Fears and Stories: Part III

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 25, 2012

In two recent op-eds in The Huffington Post, “The Republicans’ Masterful and Insidious Prey on America’s Founding Fears,” and “The Republicans’ Masterful and Insidious Prey on America’s Founding Fears, Part II,” I talked about two masterful analysts of America’s founding myths and stories, Rupert Wilkinson and Robert Reich.

Wilkerson identified four fears have not only been present from the very founding of the Republic, but they are so basic that they are virtually synonymous with it: 1) The Fear of Being Owned; 2) The Fear of Falling Away; 3) The Fear of Winding Down; and 4) The Fear of Falling Apart.

In turn, Reich described four primary myths or stories that historically have not only defined American character, but have from the very beginning of our existence as nation shaped our major attitudes and policies towards key issues and problems: 1) The Rot at the Top; 2) The Barbarians at the Gate; 3) The Triumphant Individual; and, 4) The Benevolent Society.

Briefly, The Rot at the Top is all the European despots, evil kings, and tyrants from whom we initially fled. Given that Freudian Oedipal fears are always just beneath the surface as a natural phase of human development, they are especially painful, easily triggered, and manipulated when they have a strong basis in historical fact.

The Rot at the Top corresponds directly to Wilkerson’s Fear of Being Owned. It helps to explain why the outrage towards President Obama and “Obamacare” is so nasty and intense. As the head of government, a black president especially stokes fear, fury, and hatred of unimaginable force.

As helpful as Wilkerson and Reich are in understanding the largely unconscious forces that not only drive all Americans, but are especially powerful in motivating today’s Republicans and conservatives, I want to go even deeper. In a recent book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others, NYU psychiatrist James Gilligan makes the case that lethal violence, whether in the form of homicide or suicide, has increased significantly under Republican presidents and declined just as significantly under Democratic presidents. Indeed, lethal violence typically reaches epidemic levels under Republican presidents. Even under Democrats, it is still significantly higher than other developed nations.

The link is as follows: While Republicans perpetually talk about getting tough on crime, they actually need it to get and stay in power. Pitting the lower middle class and poor against the really poor, who are simultaneously seen as responsible for and the victims of crime, is a great way of diverting attention away from the fact that under Republicans, unemployment, income and social inequality, all of which lead to crime, actually increase considerably under Republican presidents. This is precisely why Gilligan sees some politicians, mainly Republicans — there are enough Democrats — as more dangerous than others.

More importantly, as a psychiatrist, Gilligan digs deeper for the underlying unconscious elements of human behavior. Republicans, and the Red State constituents they represent, are governed largely by a shame-based morality or ethic. Democrats, and their Blue State constituents, are governed largely by a guilt-based morality.

Under shame, I am bad. Under guilt, we or I did something bad, but we are not necessarily bad per se. Those who have suffered shame, say by being fired or chronically unemployed, are more likely to feel they are bad, and as a result, to strike back with intense acts of violence against others (homicide) or oneself (suicide).

In contrast, under guilt, one is motivated to help those who through no fault of their own have suffered, e.g., racial discrimination, unemployment, etc.

I cannot stress enough that it is absolutely vital to understand that these forces are largely unconscious. They are also not necessarily independent for one can be under the grip of both of them simultaneously.

Understanding such forces is crucial in attacking issues such as gun control, which are completely out of control. Even though the vast majority of both NRA and non-NRA gun owners are for tighter gun control laws, fear and shame are still the primary factors driving gun ownership to record highs. But neither fear nor shame can be approached directly, for one is generally too ashamed to admit one is ashamed! They have to be approached indirectly. For example, one needs to get uber-macho spokespersons to say in the most nonthreatening and blameless terms that it is OK to have as few guns as possible in one’s home: “It’s the manly thing to cut back.”

My point is not that we will solve all of our thorny problems through a better understanding of unconscious forces alone. That is absurd. But, we will not solve them through all of the appeals to so-called rational policies and thinking alone!

Unfortunately, conservatives understand this far better than liberals. If they are so smart, why do liberals have such trouble in understanding the power of emotions and good stories to shape politics and people’s behavior? Because sadly, as a general rule, liberals don’t understand that we don’t learn with our conscious minds alone. I don’t believe that we even learn primarily through consciousness!

Originally published on The Huffington Post, April 25, 2012

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