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What motivates the president?

August 11, 2018

The world is complex, as are we who live in it, often making it difficult to interpret people’s behaviors. Perhaps the most notable present cases are the decisions of President Donald Trump to commit two unpardonable sins: first, separating young children from their parents; then apparently “losing” many of the kids so that their families may never recover them and thereby making it unclear if the children will ever be safe or receive adequate nurturing.

But, to the point, how do we explain these decisions to ourselves? And we do have to come up with explanation because, while we may neither make the decisions nor have the authority to overturn them, we can’t avoid suffering the wounding of our own spirits that comes from being associated with such heinous actions: This is “my” country that is doing this; this is “my” land of promise. And so we each must live with the gut-wrenching ownership of these actions by our own country — this land that I love, a beacon where so much is darkness.

Having said that, but not being able to understand what seems a complete absence of compassion, of human warmth, I am thrown back to opposing explanations: Either Trump is insane (or, maybe, just not sane) or he is evil. For the former, we can have no further explanation; insanity gives us no logic. But the alternative, that the decisions are acts of evil, is frightening because from that realization we can postulate or conjecture similarities to prior historical events, and we can uncover the probable goal or goals, as in the example that follows:

If I wish to carry out an agenda of reprehensible public acts; for example, stop medical coverage for millions of voters, degrade public schools so children of poverty will always be an underclass, foster industrial waste production with both public financial costs and degradation of public health, allow repeated assaults on innocent gatherings while opposing any controls on guns, and so forth, I would be wise to make the public both fearful for their own safety and deeply ashamed of themselves, so they don’t speak out against my actions or organize effective opposition. And, in what activities does our president particularly excel? Fear-mongering and widespread disposition of shame; the notable, repeated stage after that is one or another form of tyranny.

Mike Schultz is a retired professor and research communication scientist. He lives in Santa Fe.

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