By the end of last weekend I began to think that both beauty and ugly are in the eyes of the beholder – beauty seen by Group A as inside while ugly resides in Group B. And Group B feels the same way – that it is full of empathy and love inside but sees ugliness in the other.
The process of sorting out what is real from what is imagined can be daunting, since all of us – pro and con – have strong feelings about the Trump Presidency. I’m put in mind of a Cherokee legend, re-told after 9/11 that bears on this past weekend:
An old chief was teaching his grandson about life. He said, “A fight is going on inside me, a terrible fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside everybody else in the world.” At last, when the grandson asked which wolf would win, the old Chief answered, “The one you feed.”
I went to the Inauguration on Friday, and what I experienced was not a “basket of deplorables” marching about, but people who were not only outraged at Washington but also kind to one another – and to me (despite my wearing a “This is not normal” button). Calling Trump’s followers ignorant or mean-spirited allows them to be dismissed, to be sunk without trace. My preconception about Trump supporters was challenged, however. I saw parents kind to their children, grown up men and women helping older Trump supporters cross streets or find places to sit.
Looking back on those moments the next day, at the throngs of people in the Women’s March on Washington who found strength and resolve from one another, I could see similarities between the two crowds. And ironically the same fact applied to both groups: they were marching among kindred spirits. Each group was happy to be there – albeit on two different days and with two different agendas. They felt affirmed and even delighted by other members of their own group. They felt part of a community, even though viewed from the outside they were like oil and water.
It feels good to feel part of a community. It is affirming. And it seems necessary for one unified community to define the other as antithetical to their own. To the red-hatted Trump people, most protesters represented “elites” who emanated arrogance and a false sense of superiority. But they couldn’t see any of those qualities in themselves. The pink knitted-cap people, some full of love and others full of vitriol, delighted in their huge numbers. But most seemed unable to see any love and empathy existing in the Trump group.
The founder of the Washington Psychoanalytic Society, Harry Stack Sullivan MD, said, “We are more human than otherwise.” He also said, “If you have to maintain self-esteem by pulling down the standing of others, you are extraordinarily unfortunate.” The history of schisms in America sadly proves Sullivan right.
Presidents Obama and Bush, for all their profound differences, behaved as part of the same nation. Unfortunately for America, our new President is equally comfortable whipping up love and hate in others – something disturbingly hollow, manipulative, and dangerous.
Any recognition of similarities got dwarfed by Trump’s rhetoric, and endangered the hope that one group might find common ground with the other. Those are the facts as I see them – at least for today. But whatever the facts, I know it’s easier to hate than to love – especially between groups.