"Feelings are ridiculous, especially when unauthorized people get their hands on them."
-- From The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek
I sit in traffic, trying to get to a work meeting (my meeting) and a construction crane is stalled, blocking traffic both ways on Grand Ave. I feel the annoyance and anger at being prevented from simply getting to work on time. I hear the constant honking of the woman behind me (she of the ludicrously large SUV driving in the the city) and I stop myself from acting similarly. I think for a moment, knowing that by adding to the impatience and frustration of the people surrounding me, I solve nothing and only indulge in petulant behavior. So I disconnect my actions from my emotions and chill out. I wait a full twenty minutes. I do not indulge in a childish tantrum. I am obviously going to miss my meeting.
Somehow, I still feel like I accomplished something adult.
I watched the first presidential debate (as you likely did) and laughed and was amazed and was disgusted. I was riveted to the ground, however, like a bystander watching a video of someone being shot for being black or a car accident in slow motion.
It occurs to me that this election is far more representational than simply a reality TV star with no policy experience vs. a career politician with twenty-six years of baggage and secrets. This is an election between the two sides of each of us: the Id and the Ego, the Child and the Adult, Feelings and Intellect. This representational quality of the two candidates is why it is so easy to transfer Trump vs. Clinton into memes: The Patriarchy vs. Feminism, Racist vs. Reformer, Evil vs. Good.
For awhile, there was the Bernie phenomenon, which injected the specter of Hope in the mix but with him sidelined, we are faced with a battle between our dual natures more than anything else. The Superego has been benched and now the two loudest parts of ourselves are at war.
Trump is the America that desperately wants to indulge in. His is the energy and tactics of a child, determined to throw tantrums and shout down opposition and bully and bark, essentially stomping his feet and rolling his eyes to silence critics. Whether we like it or not, Trump is the true candidate of the activist class: the gun-toting 'patriots' who bunkered down in support of Cliven Bundy, the #BLM activists who show up to rallies and shout down politicians, the self appointed Knights of Social Justice who make demands and spit and scream when challenged.
Clinton is the candidate of self imposed civility. No one in recent history has been more badgered, name-called, aggrieved in personal and professional ways, pilloried from all sides, than Hillary. Her response has always been to button down her obvious rage and comport herself like an Adult. Reason over emotion. Focused and determined calculation and an iron-fisted grip on not allowing herself the release of childish impulses to bark and piss and moan.
We want to be able to act like children. We want to be able to yell loud enough about our pain and discomfort and force the rest of the tribe to stop and address them. We want to shout down those who would disagree with our ideas, no matter how ill-formed and short-sighted they may be. All children are victims in some ways - it's always someone else's fault, someone else always started it, nothing is fair.
Parents understand more than most. When your kid is throwing a tantrum in an airport or a restaurant, the rest look at you with disdain, as if you had any control whatsoever of the emotional tsunami unfolding in the middle of an Olive Garden. Trump is the candidate of that child.
Where things get dicey is that revolution is an act of emotion. The failure of so many revolutions is that while started with the ridiculous, powerful, unstoppable feelings of disenfranchisement and oppression, the feelings that life simply is not fair and changes must occur, once the institutions are burnt to the ground, those high dramatics are never very good at rebuilding from the ashes. The self imposed civility and reasoning skills of an adult need to be employed to rebuild. So often those who start the revolutions believe that sustained rage is enough. It never is.
I'm no longer mystified by Trump's ascension nor am I surprised by the bizarre amount of public support the man has received. Trump claiming that violent crime is worse than it has ever been is in many ways no different than the hyperbole of social activists claiming that slavery still exists. We want to believe these things because it feels good to believe them in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary of both statements.
The unauthorized access to our feelings compromises our ability to accomplish much beyond destruction (which is not a good or bad thing, just a state of change.) This is a hard lesson for we Americans to accept. We are creatures of feelings who desperately need supervision but resent it nonetheless.
The flaw in most of our logical response is that those like Hillary, who manages to control the unauthorized access to her feelings (I do not count myself among them but I'm always trying to belong in that camp), is that we believe because emotional dramatics are not on display, they are not present. If I refuse to stoop to the level of posting private correspondence online to frame an enemy, my rage does not exist. If I do not post a video of myself crying and ranting, I must not care or feel no hurt. If I do not honk and bark out of my window at hapless construction workers, I must not care if I miss my meeting.
Not true. It is the control of unauthorized access to our feelings and our responses that defines an adult mind.
While I am frequently not very successful at preventing that unauthorized access, I'm getting better at it and that's good enough for me.