If Republican operatives like Frank Luntz hadn’t already perfected the ability to manipulate people (“What matters most in politics is personality. It's not issues; it's not image.”) so that they’d regularly vote against their own interests before, we now have an administration that is thoroughly experienced in the manipulation of emotions over logic and the triggering of all that will keep its enemies off guard.
The President himself has a history of being an egotistic, self-promoting conman and reality TV entertainer, and the real mastermind behind his initiatives, Steve Bannon, came from the leadership of the Breitbart right-wing news-manipulating organization. Thus, the first days of this administration have been marked by immediate bold executive actions that have been paced to hold the media’s attention and make people reel from their rapid-fire timing.
Their strategy is brilliantly meant:
- to make the President look as if he’s a real take-charge CEO - appearance is what Trump is all about;
- to overwhelm his enemies with so much coming at them that they don’t know where to start;
- to keep movements that stand against his agenda off balance with so much material that they become exhausted and less effective;
- to divide the various liberal organizations that focus on specific causes by blatantly flogging each one’s own horse;
- and to distract those opposed to him from focusing on important legislative activities that take place behind all of his headline-getting hypocrisies, lies, and absurdities.
His followers from the religious right-wing are basking in his strong leadership and the prospect that they'll finally make progress on their anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ agenda. All arguments that his personal life is anything but what Jesus would do or be don’t matter when he promises them that they'll come out winners.
Addictive religion’s need to find a new pusher of their high of righteousness, has placed its faith in what he's pushing. And none of that “makes sense” in any other terms but their need to feel as if they're righteous winners against all those evil forces that make fun of them.
Religious right-wingers feel more emboldened and are adding to the plethora of initiatives that are appearing to challenge not only Rove v. Wade but marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights. They're thereby re-triggering all who have not dealt with their rightful bitterness and negative emotional attachment to the religion they claim to have rejected.
These are times, then, for action, protests, solidarity, and the ability to see how all of the causes being attacked, from the environment to working people’s issues are related. They're times when the forces working against progressive causes are ensconced in all levels of government and business with tremendous financial resources.
But what's necessary is also the renewal of every activist’s internal journey as well as outward activism. If its goal is to trigger, overwhelm, craze, and exhaust, this is a time when leaders are more susceptible to burnout and destruction.
It’s a dangerous time that more than ever requires personal growth and introspection along with outward justice work. And activists, particularly their leaders, are just not good at taking time to put attention on what’s going on within themselves.
Activism, in fact, can be used addictively – to not experience what’s going on inside but just doing something and getting caught up in all the work that a manipulative enemy demands to be done so as not to deal with personal issues that challenge our effectiveness. The only way to keep that from happening is to value time to focus on what we are really feeing and give it attention.
When the late Molly Ivins reminded activists to “above all have fun,” she was aware of the fact that effective and healthy activism demands what is stifled when we're triggered by unhealed hurts and pain. And being active, especially in leadership, is guaranteed to bring up hurts around past leaders, family dynamics, effects of past oppression, and reminders of our disappointments.
So, promise me that you’ll dedicate some time to do a gut check.
(1) Do we know why we’re personally in a cause or even leading it? Do we see what it will do for our own freedom or are we just doing it for others?
(2) Have we really settled our past issues about religion? Do we believe we’ve left a religious organization but are still trying to prove them wrong as if their opinions do still matter to us?
(3) Can we be okay without everyone liking us? Can we let their feelings go and stay on the course we’ve set before us?
(4) Are we expecting our activism to solve problems that it can’t solve such as a need to be somebody or to be saved from loneliness or meaninglessness?
(5) What “triggers” us so that we react out of anger and hurt rather than in a creative, strategic manner? Healthy activism is much more relaxed than we want to admit, less frantic and reactive. If we’re triggered by what others do, that’s our problem.
(6) Are we unable to ally with others or afraid that if their cause gets too much attention (or money), that that will be at the expense of our cause? Are we, thereby, reacting out of a model of scarcity rather than cooperation?
(7) Are we expecting members of our movement to constitute our support group or have we set up a support network to share frustrations, fears, and moments of hopelessness? Can we name members of our support network?
(8) Do we think that we don’t have time to do this? Do we think that we’re someone above all this? Do we minimize our need for an internal journey along with outward resistance? Are we keeping up a model of activism and leadership that destroys people because it’s based on an old warrior model?
We’re in a long-term battle – it’s not a sprint but a marathon - that will take its toll on us if we don’t take care of ourselves every step along the way.