Donald Trump’s presidency has gifted us with an extremely high dose of cultural and political distress. The deluge of derisive rhetoric, bigotry, racism, sexism, fake news cries, outright lies, religious persecution and deep state conspiracy theories has triggered a public response of anger, righteous indignation, bitterness and animosity.
Clearly, the public trust has been fractured. The U.S. Capitol has been stormed and violated. We’ve witnessed two impeachments and been advised that the 2020 election was either the most legitimate in our history or a deep state massive election fraud which stole the victory from the proper winner. While Biden harvested over 81 million votes, Trump got some 74 million. And rather than a peaceful exchange of power, this precipitated The Big Lie, an eight-week voter fraud campaign stimulated by conservative cable new media, social media and numerous elected members of Congress through active support or, at a minimum, abject silence and unwillingness to acknowledge Biden as the victor. That forty-three U.S. Senators voted to acquit Trump even after the storming of the Capitol which endangered their lives visibly indicates that the public trust upon which our democracy so heavily depends has been fractured. The 81 million-74 million vote split indicates bitterly opposing world views that are thriving on hostility, animosity, acrimony and rancor. In the absence of trust the public focus shifts from optimism to pessimism, from half full to half empty, from yes to no, from hope to fear. This has deeply disrupted congressional attempts at mutual bipartisan negotiation to solve the major social problems now facing us.
How does a country function from this stance? It has long been known that when one’s worldview is confronted the instinctive response is to cross your arms, tense up, bear down, dig in and fortify. Attacking, confronting and condemning one’s world view often leads to hostility, resentment and even violence, but it does not lead to worldview change. Four more years of flooding the news and the world of social media with mutual ranting simply won’t cut it. Nor will the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Q-Anon or conspiracy theories. How do we get out of our massive cultural worldview split? How do we heal the fracture and shift the default setting from distrust back to trust?
Even a brief glance at the fields of philosophy (George Lakoff’s “Moral Politics”), psychology (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) or sociology (Becker and Cowan’s “Spiral Dynamics”) surfaces the same answer: When we humans feel safe and secure we open up to explore new options and alternatives. When threatened we dig in and prepare for battle. The basic ingredient required for one to change one’s worldview is trust, not distrust. How then to deal with Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Q-Anon adherents, white supremacists, conspiracy theorist, voter suppression, and the Big Lie?
There’s no quick fix, no light switch type toggle to just flip. It appears that avoiding the current worldview wrestling match and focusing instead on directly addressing the health, safety and well-being of the population at large, the public good, provides a more potent approach to raising the cultural trust level. The step-by-step development of government programs and regulations in critical areas such as the virus pandemic, climate control, health care, income inequality, unemployment, the poverty level, higher education costs, the criminal justice system, immigration, systemic racism, foreign policy and homelessness will do that.
Through such an approach the fracture will slowly heal until trust again reclaims its necessary default setting. Past examples of the success of such an approach include Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, public education and food stamps.
• Bill Dillon is a Rretired educator, psychotherapist and organization development consultant. Dillon resides in Juneau.