By Forrest Rivers
Like many Americans, I tuned in to the first presidential debate hoping to hear a real exchange of ideas between two men vying for the most powerful position in the world. Instead, what I and millions of viewers witnessed was an embarrassing spectacle of epic proportions. It would be an understatement to say that Donald Trump, the current occupier of the White House, utterly humiliated himself in this “debate” with his deluge of childlike interruptions, outlandish lies, and avowal of white supremacy. Unfortunately, the sheer outrageousness of his behavior, words, and positions were not only a great embarrassment to himself but also to the nation. Trump’s brazen disregard for the norms of human decency, humility, and compassion went far beyond the absurd theatre of politics in the age of COVID and was a shocking reminder of how much our culture celebrates the expression of unchecked ego.
In retrospect, it is not really surprising that Trump acted in such a crude and ridiculous manner on a national stage before countless viewers. After all, a disturbing pattern of divisive rhetoric, heartless actions, and arrogant behavior have long defined his time in power. Rather, the true surprise is how many Americans continue to come to the defense of this increasingly desperate megalomaniac. It is true that many concerned citizens and journalists were quick to condemn the president’s brazen conduct during the debate. However, the sad reality is, that too many people still make excuses for his disgraceful character. How do we know this to be true? According to numerous public opinion polls taken in the days after the debate, Trump’s approval among his very solid base of voters didn’t suffer in the slightest. If anything, the barrage of negative news coverage that many media outlets have (understandably) lavished on the president may prove to further galvanize his band of die-hard supporters.
The fact that so many Americans continue to support this clearly selfish and morally bankrupt man raises the following question: Is President Trump really just an extreme anomaly who happened to rise to power through the circumstances of crushing poverty visited upon disgruntled workers (through late-stage capitalism) and persistent bigotry among many Americans? Or, rather, is his rise to power the farthest thing from some cosmic glitch and the result of him being a mirror reflection of our collective state of unconsciousness? In the first year after his election, I sincerely believed his rise to power was mostly a result of the former. However, as time has marched on and I have reflected more deeply on the nation’s current predicament, I have concluded that the latter answer might be true. The painful truth is: we are Trump. To the extent that we should be horrified by Trump’s narcissism, callousness, ignorance, and divisiveness; we should also be horrified by our own and our culture’s collective displays of narcissism, callousness, ignorance, and divisiveness.
Whenever the president acts like a petulant child in front of millions of people we should retrieve archival footage of ourselves fighting, trampling, and even killing one another to get what we want during Black Friday shopping sprees. Whenever the Commander in Chief viciously lashes out at journalists or personally attacks one of his political opponents we should revisit our own social media feeds and see how often we harass and attack others who disagree with our beliefs and ideologies. And, whenever the president shamelessly boasts about his own immense wealth and implies that money defines the man, we should examine our own mindless pursuit of material gain and recall the instances when we may have looked down on those who are less fortunate. Simply put, Donald Trump is an icon for a morally declining culture that has long worshipped the path of ego.
Baba Ram Dass, the infinitely wise and beloved spiritual teacher, noted in one of his many heartfelt lectures from thirty years ago, how Trump was such a symbol of America’s egoism. In that remarkable and prophetic like a lecture, Ram Dass referred to the then real estate mongrel as a prime example of our attachment to ego. Crucially, though, this beautiful sage also explained through his characteristic combination of wit, humor, and undying compassion that we simply can’t respond to Trump with anger and hate. For not only does the president greatly suffer, but he is nothing more than a reflection of our own collective delusion. Instead, Ram Dass suggested that we must all look within ourselves and acknowledge that place where we are also one with Trump. Once we do this, then we can all get on with the spiritual work that allows us to transcend the collective state of unconsciousness that gives birth to the mindset which Trump now flawlessly represents.
Though it is very clearly not his intention, in a way Donald Trump may wind up being one of our greatest spiritual teachers.