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Editorial: Destroying the Politics of Trump and Seeking a Deeper Political Consciousness

The Arrow seeks to explore politics in a broad sense of the word—societal issues, challenges, and questions that are political by nature. We have avoided the trappings of US electoral politics because our audience stretches beyond the US and because the teachings of Buddhism and other contemplative wisdom traditions transcend the narrow spectrum of political showmanship and stale ideologies that characterize this country’s electoral politics. However, in the context of the 2016 US presidential election, we feel that silence would be a form of complicity with harmful social and political systems.

The sad fact of this election cycle is that anyone who wants a more compassionate, egalitarian society will find a mixed champion in Hillary Clinton, and an absolute enemy of those values in Donald Trump. That Trump embodies egomania, delusion, greed, and violence in their purest forms is obvious. And yet there is a risk in uncritically validating the Clintonian worldview just because the alternative is unquestionably worse.

In liberal circles, including contemplative communities, we’ve noticed a certain tribalism—qualitatively different than Trump’s racist xenophobia—that views Trump supporters as insane or ignorant rednecks and middle class liberals as compassionate and rational. Easy vilification of others—particularly working class Trump supporters or young third party supporters—obscures the real issues of our time, just as Trump’s rhetoric does. Beneath the “us-versus-them” narrative lies the structural inequality that encompasses all of society: lack of educational opportunities, dim prospects for meaningful work, and cultural values that perpetuate injustice and oppression against particular groups. It is within this skewed political climate that pressing emergencies like climate change, poverty, and mass incarceration receive little to no airtime beyond the occasional convenient sound bite exploited by both major political parties.

However, let us be clear: the politics of Donald Trump must be utterly and thoroughly destroyed. Wisely and compassionately destroyed with conviction in the basic goodness of Donald Trump and his supporters—but destroyed nonetheless. (As James Rowe puts it, “Racists are not white supremacy.” While the former “are deluded and often vicious” but still possess an “aching human heart,” the latter “should be ruthlessly expunged from the earth.”)

Trump’s outrageous statements about women, immigrants, and people of color during his campaign and in the past are horrific and dangerous, particularly because they have legitimated for some the public and vehement expression of racist, xenophobic, and sexist ideologies. But Trump’s statements, comments, and behaviors are not at all uncommon; in many ways they are ubiquitous.

Take, for instance, the most recent scandal that sent members of Trump’s party fleeing—his deplorable remarks that condone the objectification and sexual assault of women. We cringe because we hear these words on television and because they come from the mouth of a presidential candidate. But men say the same things—and worse—all the time. Men constantly refer to women in ways that normalize rape—online, on college campuses, in the military, as but a few examples. This is rape culture, one among many expressions of the violence of patriarchy. And as Kelly Oxford’s Twitter conversation so painfully demonstrates, sexual assault itself is equally ubiquitous, despite downward trends in recent decades.

Or consider Trump’s repeated interrupting of Secretary Clinton throughout the presidential debates. This behavior is jarring to watch because we expect more dignified discourse in a debate forum and from a presidential candidate. But this too happens all the time to women in meetings and conversations, at home and at work. Even the most well-intentioned men are likely guilty from time to time of (unintentionally) exercising their patriarchal privilege to interrupt women unchallenged.

And all this is to speak nothing of the racism and xenophobia of Trump and his most hardcore supporters.

What makes Trump so dangerous is that his public platform allows others to feel justified in the aggressive public expression of sexist, racist, and xenophobic ideologies. That is dangerous because it increases the possibility of overt acts of violence. But we can’t forget that many of these ideas are expressed more quietly, half-jokingly even, in smaller groups and less public settings and institutions. These more pervasive expressions out of the public eye—and therefore its scrutiny—form the bedrock of structural and cultural violence.

Buddhism speaks of the four karmas: pacifying, enriching, magnetizing, and destroying—skillful actions for working with neurosis or difficult situations, and best applied in the order listed. Teachers warn against resorting to the destroying karma because it is so easy to misinterpret and use with aggression rather than with compassion. But maybe it is actually time to destroy the politics of Trump. Chögyam Trungpa advises that destroying should be used specifically when there is “a strong pseudo-logic or a pseudo-philosophical attitude or conceptualization. It is necessary… when one is using logic and ways of justifying oneself so that situations become very heavy and very solid.”1

How do we engage in the destroying karma in a wise, skillful, and wrathfully compassionate manner? A first step is to recognize expressions of racism, sexism, or xenophobia—however subtle—when they arise in ourselves or when we witness them in conversations—the racist or sexist joke that is a joke until it’s not. Until it’s a political platform.

We destroy the politics of Trump when we interrogate our own participation in racist, sexist, neocolonial systems. We destroy the politics of Trump when we create spaces for working through our own subconscious biases. We destroy the politics of Trump when we do not leave unchallenged the racist and sexist comments or ‘jokes’ of friends, colleagues, or acquaintances—when we are not afraid to ‘ruin the moment’ or ‘not take a joke’ for the sake of justice.

We also destroy the politics of Trump when we examine the interdependent conditions that bring about far-right politics and a center-left establishment that fails to offer a meaningful alternative to inequality and perpetual war. Contemplating interdependence means coming to terms with an American culture so deeply disempowered and alienated that an authoritarian like Trump can gain as much power and support as he has, and that people turn to racism, cowardice, and violence to hide their vulnerability and hopelessness. Contemplating interdependence also means coming to terms with the lack of enthusiasm and cynicism of young people who are alienated, indebted, and losing out within the capitalist consensus.

In Buddhism, one does not achieve an end to suffering by ignoring the causes and conditions that bring it about. Similarly, we will not create a more uplifted, kind, flourishing human society by ignoring history. We actually have to “start where we are,” as Pema Chödrön says. Through this lens, the confusion of US electoral politics becomes remarkably clear: Consumed by narratives of hope and fear, our public discourse fails to acknowledge the present (beyond convenient sound bites), and the past that has brought us here. To “make America great again,” for example, is to construct a dangerous fantasy, an image of the past idealized for some but ignorant of the pain and abuse of others. Yet the failure to “start where we are”—to fully acknowledge the present and the historical conditions of violence and injustice that produced our current reality—stretches across the political spectrum. Indeed, we are all trapped in some way within the confines of systems that have been normalized, unable to see beyond the seemingly natural organization of a political economy that wreaks havoc on our world.

How can a political awareness emerge out of a combination of contemplative practice and critical thinking, not out of the narrow political narratives that surround us? Through meditation practice we might catch glimpses of a fuller picture of the world, including the socially constructed nature of the political and economic systems that we take for granted. Meditation practice might also help us wake up to how we perpetuate suffering through these systems while the narrow rhetorical dualities of electoral politics blind us to these systems’ existence. This acknowledgment—examining how our life conditions form our outlook on politics, fairness, justness—is a small but key first step in destroying the politics of Trump and creating a sane and compassionate society.

  1. Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation, in The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa Volume III, ed. Carolyn Rose Gimian (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2003), 237.

7 Comments

  1. Dale Hinchey says

    Thank you Mr. Daley,
    You mention:

    Buddhism should never be equated with “final solutions related to destruction,” which is a dangerous misunderstanding of that karma.>>>>>>>>>>>

    The Buddhist karma of destroying is not at all relegated to a politically correct version of that activity in the Buddhist texts which describe it. It is a final solution coming in progression after three former karma’s. Such destroying activity occurs in all three kayas, including the nirmanakaya. There just is no way to soft peddle that and it is related closely with the impermanence which permeates Jambudvipa. One cannot accept 3 of the 4 karma’s and then edit the last one , a popular reductionist approach among modern day Buddhists. In the West we really do like to think we will live forever, while in fact we are all being destroyed as we speak, its just that pervasive, often coined the Cosmic Joke.There is no escaping the karma of destroying , we can only transcend it for a certain time, given good fortune, a genuine teacher, and the help of the dralas! Perhaps a descriptive reference might be in order:

    “So the very action of the fourth karma rudely pops any fantasies we may have of nobly wielding the sword of virtue while those we deem nonvirtuous fall to ignominy. The enemy that falls to the sword is not a human adversary, but the project of ego, itself. It’s only from ego’s point of view that adversaries exist; so the sword has no bias toward this or that individual. Ego permeates the entire situation, which otherwise wouldn’t be stuck. Unsticking the situation requires cutting through all self-serving strategies — some of which, this side of enlightenment, will reliably haunt our best attempts at genuine warriorship. The success of the fourth karma depends on how far we’re able to go in renouncing our carefully crafted roles in ego’s movie of heroes and villains.( Such as Trump or Hillary, my addition…DH)

    I’ve found it helpful to think of the fourth karma as a gift to the situation. As an act of generosity, it’s subject to the threefold purity: no gift, no giver and no act of giving. So in the practice of this karma, there’s no one wielding the sword, no stroke and no sword. There’s just the courage to own your best understanding of the situation; the practice of staying with your fear; and the willingness to support yourself unconditionally as fixation is severed and the illusion of control falls apart.” Shastri Jennifer Woodhull
    [ http://shambhalatimes.org/2015/05/31/the-fourth-karma-and-the-painful-point/%5D

    Using the term “karma of destroying” in the vein of politics indeed is equated with the utopian search for a final solution, which in fact easily may be seen philosophically as barking up the wrong tree. One has enlightened society as the ultimate destination but looking down the wrong path on how to get there, a path which in fact is illusory like so many of our worlds, and only the genuine teachings and seeing with the heart can place us on the genuine path of accomplishing enlightened society.This view transcends politics as we might know it, and which we like so much to engage.The departure point is equanimity, the “painful point.”

    It occurs in passing that it is those who have never seen, smelled, tasted or experienced war or other extreme conditions of suffering like to pad the karma of destroying so as to soften it for the peaceful palate of out times, an honourable palate, yet a deceptive one. This can provide no end of humorous perspective on whatever activity one can encounter day to day.

    The karma of destroying is not something that can lead to anything positive in the mix of peaceful political debate, no matter how much emotion we find ourselves experiencing in the mix, no matter how much we feel ourselves right, or of superior morality. One can see a solidification of ideologically born ego constructs on every side of the current debate,including an assumption of the mantel of enlightenment on the part of several political encampments. That can be a mistake of vast proportion.Basic goodness is everywhere. We can take it where we find it. Its right there. Very pure and always present.

    By the confidence of the golden sun of the Great East
    May the lotus garden of the Rigden’s wisdom bloom,

  2. Dale Hinchey says

    However, let us be clear: the politics of Donald Trump must be utterly and thoroughly destroyed.>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Your editorial seems to leave you very few workable alternatives should the American people elect Donald Trump. The race seems to be very close statistically.

    I prefer a much more equinimous approach. Why?

    I do not believe that we Shambhalians should be Utopians particularly, and very much think that America is fortunate to actually still make available human birth , free and well favored, possible to its citizens, so much so that people from all over the world want to live there. Tibet lost that condition through polarization, invasion and war.

    Which ever way the election goes, we can plan to establish enlightened society beyond any preconceptions about who is what kind of being or otherwise. I disagree with the apocalyptic view that any politics should be destroyed. Freedom, responsibility and the Constitution of the United States require consensual approaches, not final solutions. Certainly enlightened society does not demand final solutions related to destruction.

    So we live in interesting times where we should look back at the sweep of history and what conditions allow for the flourishing of enlightenment. Utopia never works, not even for a moment., one only need examine the results of other utopian political movements of the twentieth century.

    It is the nature of Jambudvipa and the Law of impermanence that we must live with imperfection. There can be no utopian heaven on earth, such a thing is impossible. But we can work for the enlightenment of all, which will hardly happen by increasing polarization of people, using jingoistic terminology and treating propaganda as accepted fact, no matter on what side of politics one happens to be.

    May much cooler heads and hearts prevail, specifically those of cool bodhicitta in a stable seat of Wind Horse.

    By this merit , may all beings benefit.

    • Gabe Dayley says

      Dale, thank you for your comment. You raise a number of important points to consider in how to work with society in a productive way. It would seem that much of your comment is actually in agreement with the basic point of the editorial, given the central argument on how we can reflect more deeply on our own participation in systems of structural violence that cut across multiple demographies of race, class, and gender.

      Your disagreement “with the apocalyptic view that any politics should be destroyed…. Certainly enlightened society does not demand final solutions related to destruction,” it seems, is a misreading of the editorial’s central argument. More broadly than this particular discussion, however, the destroying karma in Buddhism should never be equated with “final solutions related to destruction,” which is a dangerous misunderstanding of that karma.

      To distill the editorial’s argument into one sentence, it is that to “destroy the politics of Trump” means (1) to reflect on our own behavior in daily life that contributes to systems of violence and (2) to acknowledge and address the structural inequality that so severely harms the wellbeing of people across this country—from working class, ardent Trump supporters to the immigrants that many of the former appear to hate.

  3. Ryan Watson says

    Thanks for this.

    However, I think it is a mistake to categorize the politics of Trump primarily as a politics of racism, xenophobia and sexism. Of course it is all of those things. But in the political/cultural discourse of the moment, those are all code words for “your views are wrong and repulsive.” So you’ve already set up a nearly insurmountable us and them dynamic. I mean, you wouldn’t negotiate with racists would you? 😉 You’ve left no room for any of the other karmas. Under this frame, it’s destroy or submit, isn’t it?

    The best categorization of the politics of Trump that I have heard is that it is a politics of resentment. The class of Americans that his campaign represents have been economically devastated in recent decades. Not by chance, but by the very policies that benefit us in the more liberal “salaried class.” And now the “wage class” of Americans is massively and rightfully resentful of “us” and the values “we” represent (btw I’m Canadian). The anger, blame, projection, racism, etc is hugely stoked on this resentment. It is impossible to justify or negotiate with racism. But it’s not impossible to acknowledge that the resentment underneath stems from legitimate causes.

    If you want to destroy the politics of racism etc, you have to set up a situation in which you don’t make a large percentage of Americans feel like you are trying to destroy them. Labeling the politics of Trump as racist and saying that it must be destroyed is walking right into that trap.

    The anger Trump is channeling will be heard. In fact I’d say that it has now emerged as the most powerful force in American politics (see Bernie Sanders). If the legitimate grievances, resentment, and anger of such a vast number of people cannot be acknowledged and channeled into positive momentum for change, it will only get worse. Much worse. If it can’t find redress within the political system, it will find it elsewhere, and that could be horrific. Imagine a charismatic version of Trump dressed in fatigues home after a decade of experience commanding counterinsurgency operations in the middle east. Is that so hard to imagine a few years down the line if our main response is to delegitimize and politically suppress this anger?

    I think Sanders would have trounced Trump. He represents that same anger, minus the egomania, racism, etc. That kind of leadership the only way out of this that I see, and even that is a pretty rocky road ahead.

    Your suggestions for destroying the politics of Trump are mostly internal and interpersonal rather than political. Of course working on how these patterns manifest in ourselves is important. But no amount of meditation or personal work is going to change the fact that it used to be possible to make a living wage as an American wage worker, and now it isn’t. Of course racism and xenophobia are no answer to that. But neither are tricks of framing that cast those with legitimate grievances as unworthy of recognition.

    • Gabe Dayley says

      Ryan, thank you for your thoughtful comment and critique. These are really important points you raise, and a level of nuance that is critical to keep in mind. It seems to me that we are in greater agreement than initially apparent. With respect to your first critique, I think it’s important to keep in mind what James Rowe puts so eloquently: “Racists are not white supremacy.” Our intent is never to create an us-versus-them dynamic with people themselves, but rather to reject with discernment a politics that is harmful both to the one who holds that view and to the people who suffer from the systemic oppression that the view supports. Moreover, this is why we also critique the “tribalism” among liberals that immediately dismisses legitimate grievances.

      The same goes with the use of the destroying karma, which is about rooting out the views of sexism, racism, and xenophobia that actually distract from the structural culprits of many Trump supporters’ plights—which we name in the editorial as “the structural inequality that encompasses all of society…” Our argument should in no way be misinterpreted as advocating for harming people or for rejecting the legitimate grievances they hold.

      To your point about the karmas, there absolutely has to be room for all four, and for exhausting the previous three before moving to the fourth. To what extent, however, might we categorize earlier responses to Trump’s not-so-subtle racism in the Birther movement as failed efforts to pacify, enrich, and magnetize? Perhaps not in the strict Buddhist sense of the terms, but attempts to resist this level of racism, clarify the facts by producing the birth certificate, and eventually make light of the situation could be seen as more docile approaches that failed to halt a growing politics of overt racism and xenophobia (that shrouds more legitimate grievances).

      It would seem that the idea of “destroy or submit” is a misreading of the editorial’s argument in two ways. First, “destroying” is explicitly linked with destroying our own tendencies to participate in violent systems, which are far broader and deeper than one person’s rhetoric. (In this case ‘our’ is not a universal we, but the largely progressive audience of this journal.) Second, “destroying” is implicitly linked to recognizing the legitimate grievances of working class people who have been devastated by the policies of a global capitalist elite. In this sense, we might say that it is through destroying the racist, xenophobic, sexist veneer—by not engaging in those types of scapegoating discourses—we could create room for addressing legitimate grievances. It seems we are in agreement on this point.

      Thanks again for your reflections, and hopefully we can continue this conversation in the future!

      • Ryan Watson says

        Thanks Gabe. Yes, conversation very much to be continued!

        To me there is no doubt that there are streams of the American political landscape that very much do need to be destroyed. Racism and xenophobia are definitely part of that. And so is oligarchy and business as usual politics. I think the question really is a highly strategic one about how to destroy those streams without turning it into an attack on vast swaths of Americans. As far as I’m concerned, this election represents the worst of the status quo vs the worst of the impulse for change. I’d be thrilled to see both of those destroyed. But I don’t have the power to do that. It will take a lot of patient building of alternatives before that’s even an option.

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