Dark Night of the Collective Soul

“There is no anchor anymore. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness.”

~ Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” The New Yorker

It came as a twilight, an eerie dusk whose faded light revealed the shadows of long-hidden beasts. Trepidation hung in the air like a damp chill as a steady wind blew, carrying whispered warnings. Low clouds gathered overhead as thunder rumbled from some distant place.

And then the storm was upon us. Lightning crashed and hard, cold rain fell as the wind howled like a chorus of injured beasts. Somewhere in a dark forest, an ancient door creaked open and mad dogs were loosed—an army of them—barking and ravenous, tearing to pieces everything in their path.

The storm didn’t pass. Every day brought with it more darkness, more cold rain, more barking, more chaos, more outrage and injustice. What becomes of a society when the mad dogs take over? What becomes of it when truth and reason are torn to shreds, and replaced by greed and hate?

What becomes of us when morality has nothing to do with anything?

By turns of fate that defy rationality and coupled, perhaps, with a slip through a crack in the space-time continuum, a society was taken over by a psychopathic government led by a mad charlatan. A crass reality-TV star and failed businessman who stayed afloat by laundering money, with a well-documented history of fraud, bankruptcies, housing discrimination, wage theft, and the vicious body-shaming of women along with sexual harassment and assault.

William Blake 

The mad charlatan’s insane campaign made it obvious he had no empathy, no sense of morality, and not even a small shred of decency. But he made big, flashy promises because that was his style–gaudy and gilded and without substance–and he declared that he alone could fix it. People believed him. Oh, they knew he was mean, but he would only be mean to the brown people while he made the world fair again for the pale ones. The charlatan worked them up into rabid frenzies of hate for his political opponents and for journalists and immigrants and academics and the opposing party. He vowed to drain the swamp of corruption. They were duped, rendered starry-eyed and oblivious to the danger and the lies, and they elected the mad charlatan president. They were unaware they had cast a vote for their own destruction.

And then the storm of chaos descended. The mad charlatan—an embodiment of bestiality and violence—unleashed a steady stream of outrages and grotesqueries, one after another, which continue unabated.

“While there have surely been American presidents who could be said to be narcissistic, none have shown sociopathic qualities to the degree seen in Trump. Correspondingly, none have been so definitively and so obviously dangerous… The need to be seen as superior and a lack of empathy or remorse for harming other people are in fact the signature characteristics of tyrants, who seek the control and destruction of all who oppose them, as well as loyalty to themselves instead of the country they lead.”

~ Dr. Lance Dodes, Gail Sheehy, Philip Zimbardo, Rosemary Sword and Dr. James Gilligan, ‘THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE WORLD’: TRUMP IS VIOLENT, IMMATURE AND INSECURE, PSYCH EXPERTS SAY; Newsweek

“Trump is a danger to this country not because he is ignorant and incompetent or because he has no regard for constitutional rights. He is a danger because he is amoral and has no regard for basic human values — and because he legitimizes amorality.”

~ America’s Moral Crisis: We urgently need a national conversation on our collapsing morality, Moyers & Company

In the post “Moral Injury: The Hidden Wound to the Soul,” I wrote about a significant (but unrecognized) aspect of trauma suffered from interpersonal involvement with a psychopath: moral injury (also known as soul injury). It is the emotional and spiritual impact of witnessing, being victimized by, or participating in actions that violate your core moral values and your expectations of the behavior of others.

Psychopaths and malignant narcissists are amoral. They’re indifferent (or even hostile) toward moral standards like honesty, empathy, fairness, reciprocity, integrity, and respecting the rights and autonomy of others. Amorality is injurious and deeply disturbing, and causes in us is a spiritual and existential crisis. An existential crisis “is that point in our lives when we encounter the absurd as a formidable opponent. It has crept into our lives, uninvited, challenging the very meaning of our existence,” writes Juan Pablo Hern. It is a deep spiritual depression.

We were morally injured when we experienced the amorality of a pathological person on a personal level.What we’re dealing with now is nearly an entire nation suffering moral injury, inflicted by pathological, amoral leadership.

The “act of moral decoupling is woven through this presidency. In this worldview, morality has nothing to do with anything. Altruism, trust, cooperation and virtue are unaffordable luxuries in the struggle of all against all. Everything is about self-interest. We’ve seen this philosophy before, of course. Powerful, selfish people have always adopted this dirty-minded realism to justify their own selfishness. The problem is that this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases.”

~ Donald Trump Poisons the World, David Brooks, The New York Times

“The paranoia of severe sociopathy creates a profound risk of war, since heads of other nations will inevitably disagree with or challenge the sociopathic leader, who will experience the disagreement as a personal attack, leading to rage reactions and impulsive action to destroy this “enemy.” Trump’s sociopathic characteristics are undeniable and create a profound danger for America.”

~ Dr. Lance Dodes, Gail Sheehy, Philip Zimbardo, Rosemary Sword and Dr. James Gilligan, ‘THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN THE WORLD’ Newsweek

A malignant narcissist became president, victimizing us all, and we’re learning the hard way exactly what that means for ourselves, for the country, and for the world. Every day we are assaulted by the words, behavior and policy of a man who is dangerously mentally disordered, along with a government of cowardly opportunists, many of whom also lack empathy. Every day, our critical institutions (the press, the judiciary, the presidency) are assaulted. Every day, our rights and our freedoms are assaulted. Every day, we witness or are ourselves the victims of immoral words, ideas and acts; and senseless, inhumane policies enacted under the guises of “national security” and “fiscal responsibility.”

Some of those acts and policies (not a complete accounting, and not in any order):

  • Incessant and obvious lying, not only from the president but from his aides, his Cabinet and Congress. There is “increasing loss of universal acceptance that there are such things as knowable facts on which rational decisions can be made, and instead ‘truth’ is whatever any given authority figure chooses to make it,” wrote Bernard Weisberger in The Sleep of Reason.
  • The pardon of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio. If the president can pardon anyone who defies a court order to enforce our constitutional protections, then those protections are rendered meaningless, and the courts are rendered powerless. This is an abuse of power and the worst of his many impeachable offenses thus far. The president’s pardon power was not intended to be used for a case like this one. 
  • The reckless, chaotic implementation of a discriminatory ban of travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. Totally unnecessary, but carried out as if it were a national emergency. The ban includes refugees who desperately need help. Recently it was announced that the U.S. would take in the least number of refugees in history (only 45,000) just as more people than ever are forced to flee their homelands to find safety.
  • A deportation force in high gear, even tearing apart families of undocumented immigrants who have no criminal record, are valuable members of their communities, and who’ve lived in the U.S. for decades and have children, jobs and businesses. Read about the mother of four American children, the youngest of whom is three years old, who was picked up by federal agents at her home in Ohio, and taken into detention ahead of imminent deportation back to her native Mexico. This is heartless and despicable. In February, Trump said “We’re actually taking people that are criminals – very, very hardened criminals in some cases with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems – and we’re getting them out.” This woman, and others being deported, has no criminal record.
  • Record numbers of civilians in Syria, Iraq and Yemen are being killed by American forces as air strikes ramp up as the rules of engagement were “relaxed.” On the campaign trail Trump pledged to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS, civilians be damned, apparently.
  • An ongoing battle to leave tens of millions of American citizens without health care, leaving them vulnerable to untreated illness, early and unnecessary death, medical bankruptcy and financial ruination. At this time, 28 million Americans are without health coverage. After repealing (or purposely sabotaging) the ACA, that number will go up to well over 50 million. A simple truth for anyone who isn’t morally bankrupt: A lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unnecessary and unjustifiable human wrong.

A lack of universal health coverage in a wealthy democracy is a severe, unnecessary and unjustifiable human wrong.

  • Daily tweeting by a reckless, irrational madman that has brought the world closer to nuclear war than it’s been since the Cuban Missile Crisis. That same reckless, irrational (and highly impulsive) madman can single-handedly unleash nuclear Armageddon at any moment, his orders unquestioningly carried out by the nuclear missileers of the USAF. The main requirement of their job is that they have no moral objection at all to using nuclear weapons. His provocations of DPRK’s Kim Jong Un via twitter present a real risk of nuclear war and World War III.
  • The Senate confirmation of a whole slew of corrupt Cabinet members with a known history of unethical behavior, conflicts of interest, and with clear intent to destroy the agency each was brought in to lead. If this perplexes you, read here. 
  • The gutting of hundreds of regulations that protect our air, water, health, safety, financial security, environment and planet, for the purpose of corporate profit. Regulations exist for a reason. Corporations are entities without ethics or morals; regulations are imposed ethics, put in place to protect people. Our second president, John Adams, said the purpose of our government is “the common good; the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men.”

  • An “election fraud commission” whose real mission is to commit election fraud, not put a stop to it. Trump has repeatedly, and falsely, claimed millions voted illegally. In reality, voter fraud is very rare. Read The Brennan Center’s seminal report “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” which conclusively demonstrates that most allegations of fraud turn out to be baseless. (The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve our systems of democracy and justice. They work to hold our political institutions and laws accountable to the twin American ideals of democracy and equal justice for all.)
  • Constructing the press as enemy. This is not only a violation of the right of freedom of the press, but “poses dire risk to journalists, to our other critical institutions, to the most vulnerable among us and to our democracy as a whole,” wrote law experts in the article Constructing the Press as an Enemy. Without an electorate informed of the facts, democracy cannot survive.
  • A completely unnecessary plan to slash taxes for corporations and the rich at the expense of everyone else, namely the eldery, the ill, the hungry, the youngest and the most vulnerable. This can happen in only the most abhorrent, morally sick society.
  • Attacks on the rights of LGBTQ people, a 180-degree turn from his campaign rhetoric: “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” Trump removed LGBTQ civil rights content from the White House website. He casually made the vile announcement via Twitter that trans people would no longer be able to serve in our military and reversed a policy that protects transgender employees from workplace discrimination. He is allowing so-called Christians to deny services on the basis that “religious freedom” usurps the Constitutional rights of LGBTQ Americans, somehow. It doesn’t. It violates the first amendment because it requires individuals to bear the burden of religions to which they don’t belong.
  • A horribly inadequate government response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico. As I’m writing this it is three weeks since the storm, and the situation remains dire and is worsening. Countless numbers of residents are still in desperate need of assistance. Aid workers report a continuing lack of food, water, and other supplies from FEMA and other relief agencies, and say people are standing in a FEMA line for 24 hours for one 16 oz bottle of water and a snack-size bag of Cheese-its. They’re drinking contaminated water, which poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease. Many people are still without medical aid. This is utterly inexcusable.
  • Trump’s ongoing divisive, ugly and violent rhetoric. “Donald Trump is addicted to violence. It is the principal force that shapes his language, politics and policies. He revels in a public discourse that threatens, humiliates, bullies and inflicts violence. This adulation of violence is mimicked in many of Trump’s domestic policies, which bear the weight of a form of domestic terrorism.” HenryGiroux, Donald Trump’s Addiction to Violence, Moyers & Company

Instead of “making America great again,” Trump is on a rampage of reckless, cold-hearted destruction.

More than enough cause for widespread moral injury.

It helps to put a name on what we’re experiencing.

“The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” and conservative institutions “with the blessings of a president … have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion.”

~ President George W. Bush, four months into Trump’s presidency

The following is a brilliant summation of why partisanship is not a factor in the resistance of our current circumstances, written on Twitter by David Rothkopf, author and Washington Post columnist; host of the podcast Deep State Radio; visiting scholar, Carnegie Endowment; and Senior Fellow, SAIS:

The GOP and right have sought to make it impossible to objectively report facts without a chorus of claims from them that it is “partisanship.” But their policies are objectively a relentless assault on the vast majority of Americans on behalf of a tiny minority. Think: what would you call it if a group sought to systematically take away the rights of women, minorities, LGBTQ community, those seeking asylum here. If it attacked and dismantled environmental protections, ethics laws, corporate safety regulations. If they promoted the spread of guns that kill at home and raise the rise of war overseas, if they undercut America’s alliances and empowered enemies. If they sought tax cuts that benefited the rich and hurt everyone else. If their entire policy platform were directly, measurably damaging American interests. If they gained power with the help of our enemies and sought to cover it up. If they undercut basic freedoms like a free press, separation of church and state, freedom of religion. If they waged a war on truth and facts. If they defended stealing and nepotism and public officials profiting from their positions.

It is not partisan to point those facts out. It is objective truth. So to are the foundations of the effort in racism and seeking to promote division while gaming the system and creating institutional structures that enable small minorities to claim and maintain power. It is not “partisan” to call that out. It is our responsibility as citizens. The viability of our system, our well-being and our standing in the world require that we understand it is not normal that our system is broken and that the president and his enablers are doing grave damage to the country and its people every single day.

This is not normal. This is not “politics.” It is not “partisan” to assert facts. Truth is not a political issue. It simply is. And right now we are a country in crisis… an ethical crisis, a moral crisis, a crisis of failed vision, a crisis of national divisions. This is not normal. We should treat it as the assault on what we hold dear that it is and as an emergency requiring us all to act. This is not hyperbole. This is the ground truth of life in a fractured, faltering America today. Every day, each of us that sees this, must do something to counteract it. Write, act, run for office, challenge the lies, speak the truth.

“Truth is not a political issue. It simply is.”

What are we to do about this? What can we do? Ignoring it won’t help, and I doubt you’d be able to anyway. This is nothing less than an existential threat, a threat to the soul and fiber of our country and our world, and it’s never been more important to be informed and take action.

Some of the best things you can do for moral injury are to share your thoughts and feelings with others who feel the same, and to take action to make a difference. It’s more important than ever to make your voice heard, to join in chorus with other voices of reason, compassion, conscience and morality.

Spending time with others who feel the same way you do is affirming and will let you know you’re not alone with all of this. Go out and join protests, go to town halls, join one of the many groups fighting for free and fair elections. Fight the lies by speaking the truth. Stand up for the people who are being terrorized and marginalized. Donate money to support candidates you believe in. Donate to charity. Support the ACLU or other organizations fighting injustice. Share your opinions with your Representatives regularly by emailing or call them at (202) 224-3121. And, of course, VOTE! Only half of registered voters voted in the 2016 election. Your vote is your voice, and it’s needed now more than ever.

Take good care of yourself. The spiritual depression of moral injury can cause feelings of hopelessness, despair and loss of meaning. Take some time on a regular basis to do the things that renew your spirit and refresh your mind, whatever those things may be for you. Time spent in nature, or quiet time in a church or temple, or an evening at the symphony can restore your spiritual energy and even restore your faith in humanity.

Behavioral coach Edy Greenblatt, Ph.D., offers helpful guidance in the article, Do You Have Trump Trauma? Restoring Your Resilience

It’s a good time to reawaken your spirituality and reconnect with the natural world on a spiritual level. This article from BackPackVerse can guide you. How to Re-Awaken Your Spirituality to Reconnect with the Natural World

Most of all, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.

♥ Love to each and every one of you.

A random list of articles I’ve read and found valuable (in addition to the ones linked to above):

The Weekly List: On a weekly basis, the List tracks news stories representing eroding norms under the current regime. Taken together, they reveal a nation pushed towards authoritarianism.

Harvard psychiatrist Lance Dodes: Donald Trump is a “sociopath” and “a very sick individual”

The Enormous Emotional Toll of Trumpism

How Donald Trump is changing America

Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism, By Dr. Lawrence Britt, political scientist and expert in fascist regimes.

Trumping the Constitution: Jack M. Balkin, American legal scholar and Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School, explains our current state of “constitutional rot.”

Unspeakable Realities Block Universal Health Coverage In America

The Harsh, Petty, and Highly Political Law of Jeff Sessions: Trump’s attorney general brings his own brand of Alabama justice to Washington

Trump Has Turned the GOP Into the Party of Eugenics

The Long, Twisted, and Bizarre History of the Trump-Russia Scandal: Here’s the timeline you need to keep track of the controversy

A clinical psychologist explains how Ayn Rand seduced young minds and helped turn the US into a selfish nation

How to Talk to Children About Donald Trump  The US president’s behavior is often at odds with the values we are working to instill in our children. So how do we explain Trump to our kids?

To My Fellow Plutocrats: You Can Cure Trumpism
“The real threat to our republic is an alarming breakdown in social cohesion, and the cause of this breakdown is obvious: radical, rising economic inequality, and the anger and anxiety it engenders”

Misinforming the Majority: A Deliberate Strategy of Right-Wing Libertarians
What is happening now is radically new — and designed to be permanent. We may not get another chance to stop it.

Is America Past the Point of No Return?
Oligarchs representing monopolistic Big Pharma, Big Banks, and Big Retail/Fast Food are devastating us.

Tyranny of the Minority 

My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump: We created him, and now we’re rationalizing him. When will it stop? By JEFF FLAKE

America Held Hostage:  In terms of numbers, most Americans reject conservative policy positions. So why are Republicans in office?

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4 thoughts on “Dark Night of the Collective Soul”

  1. Jessica

    So disappointed.

    1. Adelyn Birch

      It is deeply disappointing, but don’t give up the fight.

  2. Bev

    Omg…it is high time for this article…

    I keep wondering just what it is going to take for this three card monte dealer to be removed from power. it seems as if nothing he does is bad enough…

    1. Adelyn Birch

      Every time he does something awful, I think, “surely THIS will put an end to the madness!” Apparently not. Even if he reduces the world to cinders, he’ll survive in a bunker somewhere only to emerge and wreck whatever might be left.

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