August 2018 marked the anniversary of civil unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia where white nationalists clashed with counter-protesters. Then, President Donald Trump in his response to this event empowered ultra-right and racist groups by blurring the line of responsibility with the rhetoric of “blame on both sides.” Now, in condemning the horrific tragedy that took place last year, he maintained his stance with wording of “all types of racism and acts of violence.”
The victory of Trump in the 2016 presidential election brought a demise of the U.S. political establishment. As the legitimacy of institutions weakened, the veil of reality has now been lifted. Like the scenery kept hidden in the darkness of night, what was condemned, denied and kept secret in this society was now freed, entering the light of day.
Trump’s campaign slogan ‘make America great again’ captured the minds of many who are disenfranchised by the system. Patriotism that was quickly harnessed is now summoned for all to obey the rules of patriarchy and worship the glory of military might. As Trump administration carries on the legacy of U.S. imperialism, American exceptionalism of the Obama era appeared to gain another meaning.
The rhetoric of ‘putting the nation first’ also struck a chord with white supremacist groups that till now were more on the fringe. With Trump’s xenophobia and racism manifested in the Muslim ban as well as transgender military exclusion and deportation of Mexicans with a policy of separating families at a border, the notion of American superiority in the world became white exceptionalism.
Barbarians inside civilization
How did we get here? While many people were caught by surprise by the growing power of extremists that try to regress America into a pre-Civil War era, this return of European identity was not created overnight.
White supremacy has been a fabric of the political, economic and cultural system of the U.S., woven into every aspect of our lives. In fact, it has been a dominant force that shaped the world of past centuries. Since the Age of Discovery, civilization of the earth has become synonymous with European colonization of the world. Frantz Fanon, who studied the black psyche in the white world in the context of the Algerian resistance to French colonialism shared his own experience of colonial identification. In Black Skin, White Masks he made a sad predicament, saying “There is but one destiny for the black man. And it is white.”
The law of conquest of the Old World crept its way into the New World. As early settlers of North America were trying to free themselves from Great Britain and its king, Europe’s ambition to enlighten ignorance and bring order to an archaic force of nature became a new mission of Manifest Destiny to master the American continent.
The history of America carries contradictions manifested in hypocrisies of the original framers of country. Here we find the seed for Trump’s America that tries to create a republic for a few, who are deemed superior to humanity. On one hand, the U.S. Constitution laid the foundation for the rights of individuals, halting the rule of monarchy of that time. On the other hand, this new nation of law, with democratic principles contained the darkness of genocide of Native Americans, slavery of blacks and the oppression of women and minorities.
The idea of equality in the Declaration of Independence that inspired the hearts of many, has remained as empty words and for some appeared as blunt lies. The light-skinned men asserting themselves as God’s chosen race crusaded to civilize Turtle Island. In their self-righteousness, they were blind to their own barbarian within that slaughtered natives, enslaved blacks by treating them as subhumans, while subjugating women as objects.
American dream and the myth of equality
The savage beast inside America has been made invisible, covered up by a symbol of flags and legends that turned European colonists into pioneers, heroes and patriots. In the post-industrial era, the primitive man within civilization seemed to have found its vehicle in the new brand of national identity.
Psychologist Philip Cushman observed the emergence of a particular configuration of self in the post WWII United States. He characterized it as a self that “has specific psychological boundaries, a sense of personal agency that is located interiorly, and a wish to manipulate the external world for its own personal ends.”
He defined it “a kind of masterful, bounded self: the empty self” and described it as a psychological condition “that experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning” and that “embodies the absence, loneliness, and disappointments of life as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.” Then, he pointed out how this internal emptiness was used to fuel “the mindless, wasteful consumerism of the late twentieth century.”
The beast entered a vacuum at the core of individual identity, channeling people’ desires into the consumer economy to feed itself. Through beautiful images of affluent life displayed in ads, TV commercials and Hollywood movies, the glamour of American upper-middle class was created. This life style image was sold like a new product promised to make us whole. The narrative of the American dream was used as a sales pitch. It was the idea that with basic hard work and talent, anyone can succeed economically, regardless of their class or race. Enticed by this promise of social meritocracy, people entered into a market to compete in the pursuit of happiness defined by material wealth.
Individual’s urge to fulfill endless personal desires now merged with the unbridled greed of capitalism. Many began chasing after status, careers, and money to climb up the ladder of success that preserves the colonial hierarchy in a form of an economic class.
Crumbling illusion of democracy
The American dream and its myth of equal opportunity further erased awareness of racial injustice and colonial oppression. The virtue of liberty that is now uprooted from its foundation of equality became an ideology of neoliberalism. Along with it came the birth of corporate America that enshrines white supremacy through radical deregulation and expands its power under a façade of democracy.
In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, journalist and author Chris Hedges described how “the America we celebrate is an illusion” where “the words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase.”Hiding behind the anonymity of a corporate state, a master oligarchic class orchestrates the lesser of two evil politics to control citizens who are now turned into obedient consumers. They make sure with both Democrat or Republican presidents, that no matter who gets elected, white privilege always remains as a Washington consensus.
Obama, the first black president was installed as a symbol of progress and racial equality to make people entangle with empire’s illusion and keep the status quo of white color domination.Consumed by their own desires, Americans became self-absorbed, not being able to see the oppression created by their own government around the world. They became blind to colonization enacted under the name of globalization with exploitative economic practice of sweatshop labor, trade agreements like WTO and NAFTA and military intervention for resource grabs. By not being able to see the empire’s predation, people no longer feel burdened with the suffering of others. Silence becomes complacency and the sense of morality becomes dull.
Now, economic stagnation is shrinking the middle class. This consumer nation has begun to starve, losing means to soothe its internal emptiness. As the illusion of democracy starts to crumble, many people are gradually waking up from the American dream to see the ugliness that surrounds them. James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” Some react to Trump’s rhetoric of hate with similar hate. They direct anger to others, blaming each other for sabotaging the supposed beautiful life that they once thought they had.
Transforming outrage into courage
Trump and the resurgence of white supremacy opened eyes to the forbidden scenery that has long remained unseen, by keeping all in a fantasy of illusory light. We are now beginning to see ourselves surrounded by a corporate wasteland where depravity of conscience fails to tame unruly cowboys, who under the banner of profit at any cost continue this plunder.
In this moral desert, we are visited by phantoms of our own shadow. The new face of this American leader presents a mirror through which we see our culture’s own nothingness, masking insecurity and inadequacy in a façade of a ‘masterful self’. Reflected in this is our unknown self, forgotten and denied. It is that which compels us to grab power, while demanding and demeaning others in order to fulfill our narcissistic desire, promoted by this consuming corporate capitalism.
From refugees, gays, blacks and the poor, we begin to hear cries of those who have been exiled from an American middle class bubble of insulated reality. Standing next to victims of systemic oppression is the colonizer within each of us. Enslaved by internal hunger, they acquiesce to a system of patriarchy that binds all to shadows from the past.
For so long, we have been made to feel powerless and conditioned to seek approval from outside authority. Instead of finding answers within, many look to teachers and politicians who pretend to offer solutions to problems. We succumb to the orders of corporate masters for financial security and try to find value and meaning in commercial goods, seeking for validation in expert opinion. By doing so, we lose touch with our authentic selves and give away our own power.
The Trump presidency unsealed the demon inside the history of America that has been devouring the heart that remembers our intrinsic connection. The darkness we face now challenges all to find strength to fill the void inside ourselves that predators have been latching onto. Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner elucidated the role of evil and how it helps educate us to freedom and love:
“Love would be impossible for man and freedom would be impossible for man without the possibility of sailing down into the abyss. A man unable of his own free decision to choose good or evil, would be a being only led on a leading string to a good which must be attained of necessity and who had no power to choose the good of his own fully purified will, by the love which springs from freedom.”
Within days of Trump’s inauguration, people took to the streets to protest against this new commander in chief. While fear spreads across U.S. cities, people’s will to stand united against his hateful ideology is creating a nationwide movement. With slogans of ‘love’, people march arm in arm, trying to defeat hatred. Yet in order for this solidarity to become real resistance, our love has to go beyond passion, indignation and even compassion for the oppressed. Love that overcomes hate is an act of courage, chosen by each of us out of our own free resolution, to eradicate all terror that tries to freeze our hearts and govern our actions under the dictate of the mind. Courage is not an absence of fear, but is an act carried out despite that fear.
This love resuscitates the breath of life that inspired the truth held to be self-evident by the founders. We discover the wisdom that has always been there, guarded by the First Nations. It is supremacy of the heart—the love for our brothers and sisters that can overcome the love of power.
This transition to new political power brings us to a time of decision. We now have a choice. Outrage toward injustice can become the fire to destroy, fueling civil wars between one another. Or, it can be transformed into courage to dethrone the corporate aristocracy and restore the reign of the heart. A new light emerges that could truly enlighten the world. It is a light drawn from the darkness, dissolving the illusion of colonial hierarchy and illuminating the way for all to come home.