Staying sane in the era of intense political polarization.
Have you gotten caught up in the woke madness/Trump madness duality?
Whichever “side” you’re on, you’re potentially opening yourself to manipulation on a breathtaking scale, and offering yourself up as a feast for energy parasites.
“Trump’s the best thing that’s happened to this country in a long time.”
I’ve been friends with Doug since I was 18, and he knows I am totally apolitical. I’ve never discussed politics, never cared to and absolutely nothing we were talking about as we walked along the beach could have possibly precipitated the sudden Trump Is The Man monologue that seemingly came to life out of nowhere. I think we were actually discussing ice cream.
Doug and I both come from very political Republican families. His office wall is lined with pictures of himself in the White House shaking hands with various presidents. I come from a family of trade lobbyists and elected officials. So, we both know the game, but for me, politics has always been a huge turn off.
So, I say nothing in response to Doug’s sudden outburst. It’s not the kind of silence that says, “I’m listening, tell me more.” But rather the kind that says, “No. Pass. Reset.”
But he goes on. And he’s angry, and trying to bait me into a debate. It’s so out of character. I’ve known him forever, and have never expressed a single political position. I’ve never once discussed candidates or elections or issues or anything. Zero. I’m not even sure how he would know that I would debate him. I mean, for all he knows, I’ve got a MAGA cap tucked away in my luggage.
Just in case he’s momentarily forgotten who I am, I remind him blandly, “Doug, you know I’m completely apolitical. I have no interest, not even the slightest.”
This generates a pause. This two second space that’s undefined. It’s Chaos. His brain has gone off the Loop for two whole seconds and anything is possible here. He could change the subject. He could reboot. It’s such an amazing two seconds, and I’m so keen to see what comes out of it. It’s exciting!
He quickly regrooves himself into the Loop and continues as before, only getting angrier and more defensive, even though he’s essentially alone in this conversation. I’m totally neutral in this. Not angry or disgusted or bored or anything. I’m just observing the way this is playing out.
His only way out of the loop is to actually have a heated debate, though let’s call it what it really is…a fight. Or, to be told he is right. Trump Is The Man. But somehow I don’t feel the latter would be as satisfying…but more of a second rate consolation prize. The Program that has fashioned this Loop wants a fight. Interesting. And it tries to engage a fight with a person unlikely to give it one. It’s not intelligent, then. It’s not deploying in the best conditions, it’s deploying in all conditions, indiscriminately. This is highly mechanized, a very low grade mechanical Loop.
Looking into the Loop I can see certain mechanisms. There are a bunch of talking points, or arguments or “proofs” — they are preprogrammed and sit like missiles waiting to be deployed. Normally they would be deployed automatically, when the Opponent (in this case, myself) expresses any kind of opinion that diverges from Trump Is The Man. The interesting thing is, the missiles must be deployed. So Doug will continue to try to get me to give him the grounds to deploy them, but since I won’t, the missiles fire off anyway.
It’s really fascinating to watch, in a macabre kind of way. That’s true for watching any program that’s taken over a person. It’s kind of like observing a mini spirit possession.
So, Doug finds himself reflexively deploying these missiles…his arguments against things I have not said, positions I have not taken. Because there is a point in the Loop where they must be deployed, and it’s not up to him. So if he has to essentially rage out all on his own, to a completely non reactive person walking next to him, to the backdrop of a gorgeous California sunset throwing out spectacular colors and turning the sky and sand a kind of mauve pink…then that’s what he’s got to do. It’s not up to him.
I’m the house guest of a Trump supporter for three months.
We take nightly walks on the beach. Doug’s wife doesn’t like beach walks (yes, it’s true, some people who live on the beach don’t like to walk on the beach). He gets in the Loop, but each time it seems like things are a little less edgy. There’s less energy. It’s like the Loop is getting less tight and wound and more loose and disordered.
Since he is just repeating himself, I do the same. Without any malice or judgement, I say some variation of, “You know I’m completely apolitical and don’t have any interest in these things.”
Then things begin to shift a bit. Sometimes he still makes a flaccid attempt at the Loop, but it has less and less energy. Once in a while, he will tell me why he believes Trump is doing a good and necessary job for the country. These statements are very brief, calmly delivered and it actually sounds like Doug in there and not a machine. When he does this, I listen keenly, and tell him these are interesting viewpoints. And I mean it. In these moments, he’s sharing his authentic, earnest beliefs about what will move the country forward into a safer, more prosperous future. Whether I agree or not is not important at all. I’m learning something, and engaging with something real…with Doug.
By the time the second month rolls around, he’s calmed down significantly. I rarely get the Loop anymore.
But wait! The Loop’s not gone!
Doug and his wife are getting ready for a two week African Safari. I’m really excited for them, since neither has ever been to Africa and it’s something they’ve wanted to do while they are still physically able. They are at that time in life where that’s something that’s front and center. Doing things before they Geez Out (their term, not mine). Now, is this geeze or geez? I couldn’t figure out how the verb form of geezer is spelled.
Anyway, getting ahead of the Big Geez. So they booked this trip to Africa with a tour group that does guided tours all over the world just for UCLA alumni. Imagine, they were going to be stuck with a group of 12 UCLA graduates (who like to go on vacation with other UCLA graduates…I have to admit, I don’t really get that)…and he was getting so riled up!
For two weeks prior to his trip, he started getting all excited and aggro about how he was going to be the only Trump supporter in a group of Ultra Liberals…all jammed together for two weeks and they’d be unable to run away. And he was going to give it to them. He fantasized about what he would say and how they would react and he played this over and over and got more excited and worked up. He easily spent as much time ramping up for this as he did preparing for the practicalities of his trip, like safari-appropriate clothes, power banks and bug spray. He brought a MAGA hat (not kidding).
He was so looking forward to offending these people, lobbing his missiles at them and getting a good fight in. It was the strangest vacation anticipation I’ve ever seen!
When they returned, his wife confided in me that everyone was actually very civil and listened to him respectfully, even though they disagreed. No fighting.
Another Trump supporter takes advantage of a captive audience.
So, fast forward just a bit. Now I’m on a four hour flight from Taipei to Bangkok. I’ve got a really good aisle seat up front and I’m expecting this to be a breeze. The gentleman sitting next to me is older, in his late 60s, and seems mild mannered enough. He tells me he’s Canadian, but has retired to Thailand. We exchange a bit of polite conversation, and then like any good, decent, experienced flyer…I pull into my own space, expecting the rest of the flight to be silent.
Out of the blue, I’m Trump Zapped. Mr. Ottawa is in the Loop, hard. I tell him I am completely apolitical and have no interest, but of course, I could be speaking ancient Greek for all he can comprehend. What I’m saying is not part of the Loop, so it’s like it isn’t even heard. I can’t get away. He gets angrier and angrier, and goes on and on, lobbing his missiles at someone who is offering nothing in return, except for repeated versions of, “I have no interest in these topics.”
I can’t believe how angry and involved he is. I didn’t realize you could be a citizen of Canada, reside in Thailand, and get that worked up and involved in the Trump Loop. I mean, how does that work? He told me it’s a hobby of his and he spends two hours a day listening to “news” to keep up to date on all these points. He continued repeating all kinds of conspiracy theories and reiterated how much pleasure he got from keeping up with the daily outrage that Trump’s tweets caused in the US. From his retirement on a tropical beach in Thailand. So incongruous.
He finally fell asleep. Small mercies. The minute he woke up, the first thing out of his mouth was something about the Liberal conspiracy against burning coal or something like that. I mean, his eyes were barely open and he turns to me and starts up again. I look at him and tell him for the tenth or fifteenth time…”I’m completely uninterested in these topics.” He looks on without comprehension.
Are Democrats different?
I’ve never quite been hijacked by a Liberal in the same way as I’ve just described. But I just moved from one of the most Liberal areas in the world (I’m sure!). When Trump was elected, there were signs in my neighborhood inviting people to group therapy grief circles. Seriously. It was very emotional. Over the next few months, I would be visiting with neighbors — very short visits with people I don’t know that well. Usually to deliver extra produce that I grew in my garden. And they would bring up Trump out of absolutely nowhere, not even really saying his name…like he was He Who Shall Not Be Named. And they would weep, I mean, really start sobbing. It was pretty weird.
I would show up for client meetings, in a professional capacity, and they would start talking about Trump out of nowhere…just assuming that I was not a Trump supporter, assuming I shared their political beliefs and affiliations. What if I didn’t? As always, I had never expressed the slightest political opinion, position or affiliation. So, what if I voted for Trump? It was unthinkable. There was no way they could conceive that a competent, intelligent, trustworthy and kind person such as I am could possibly have voted for Trump, or that I could even have political beliefs that differed significantly from their own. Because I was one of them. If I had voted for Trump and they knew about it, I don’t think they’d give me their business, and I don’t even think they’d accept my free garden veggies. In fact, if I didn’t vote at all, it would probably be seen nearly in the same light. Or if I voted Libertarian, when they had no chance of winning. “It’s people like you that let this happen, even if you didn’t explicitly want it.”
So in that camp it was more about being branded an unethical person, shamed and ostracized. It was about moral indignation and being accepted as part of the community or rejected. It was less aggro and more emotional.
For a person who isn’t involved in politics, who never engages anyone on that level…why are all these people showing up on my Life Screen?
I mean, what the heck is this about? Talk to me about travel, about gardening, about what it’s like to grow up mixed race (if you want to get into a potentially controversial topic). I’m the least likely target for raging/emotional political convo, one wonders why this has been such a feature of my recent experience. I can’t say why, except to write about it here. To point out the Loop and its mechanics. I doesn’t really matter what the content or subject matter the Loop is using. You know that, right? Loops are mechanical grooves or tracks we keep looping over again and again, in a semi possessed state. And seeing the mechanics of one Loop really clearly is like seeing the general schematics for all Loops, because they are all pretty much the same.
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