Like so many others, I have been continually stupefied by what is transpiring before our eyes (and behind the scenes) of the impending reign of Trump. The cliché “You can’t make this stuff up” is wholly inadequate to express the head-shaking (and knee-knocking) tsunami of hideous decisions he is making. But wallowing in this quagmire of deplorable decisions is decidedly not the point of this piece. Just the opposite, in fact.
The point is that we must recall the meaning of “stupefied”. It means “to make stupid”. Or as one dictionary has it: ” to put into a state of little or no sensibility; benumb the faculties of; put into a stupor.”
What better way to describe those of us who abhor what is happening: we are in a benumbed stupor. And, more to the point, what a perfect description of a citizenry ripe for ruination. Overwhelm us with so many outrageous statements, claims, positions, appointments, personal attacks, conflicts of interest, divisive bigotry, and unthinkable exceptions because, hey, he’s just Trump being Trump that we’re overwhelmed, outgunned, disheartened, and hopeless. Tell a big lie, sell the big lie, make a horrific decision based on the lie which has won its illicit right to be accepted–the truth long since buried behind subsequent non-stop waves of blatant dishonesty.
We’ve been turned into a nation of ADD victims, distracted literally every hour by another Trump caper. And we either follow them with incredulous, stupefied fascination, or we bury our heads, cover our ears, and go “Na-na-na-na-na” hoping that whatever we’re refusing to hear isn’t really happening. Perfect. Trump couldn’t have written a prescription for a more compliant, cooperative, ready-for-the-plucking citizenry.
Actually, he did write the prescription, and the medication is having just the soporific effect intended, overwhelming our capacity to take it all in and feel anything but helpless. And in our benumbed condition, we’re all the more suckers for his sleight-of-hand magic. Just look at all the attention being paid to his financial conflicts of interest and possible profiteering from his Presidency. Hey, look here! Look. Over HERE. Everyone can instantly understand and relate to somebody making a lot of money. Many can get up in arms about it and mutter sagely about how complicated his business empire is and what might have to be done about it.
Who really cares if he emerges from his reign a bit richer than he already is. For heaven’s sake, he’s already a ridiculously rich man. Still greedy for more, no doubt, but every minute we spend in anguish about his business empire is a minute not spent actively resisting his creation of the most avowedly destructive cabinet in modern history. Even worse than a cabinet designed to set America back half a century is his decision to entrust his own thinking to a genuinely demented Rasputin who will corrupt the truth and whisper cockamamie conspiracy theories in his ear all day long.
Imagine: We have a rookie President who, in his ignorance and incuriosity, is famous for being influenced by the last person he talks with. And he appoints, as the last person he will talk with before making important decisions every single day, a man so famous for lying that the Pentagon awarded him a brand name for his contemptible abuse of truth: “Flynn facts”. No, you can’t make this stuff up.
But the more important thing is that we can’t let this stuff stupefy us. Stupefaction is tantamount to approval. Worse, as Edmund Burke warned, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.”
And so we come to the point here: we have a choice between doing nothing, and doing something. The “something” is critical. That alternative choice is not “doing everything”. When we ape Chicken Little by wailing, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” we are (to mix the metaphor) like chickens running around with their heads cut off. Again, perfect for the plucking. We become stupefied ADD ninnies gnashing our teeth but accomplishing nothing to save the vital values Trump’s accomplices are busy trashing.
Enter the priceless educational concept of “learning valence”. When confronted with an overwhelming amount of data and impressions, one can best make sense and make progress by establishing a “valence”, which means selecting a single theme (e.g., effects of destroying the EPA) and using that theme as a lens through which to view and comprehend the entire morass. Once selecting a single theme, one finds that all manner of understandings theretofore obscured are revealed and leap to the fore, Suddenly (in the EPA example), it is not just the worsening effects of climate change, but also destroying jobs among the burgeoning sector of our economy that is working to mitigate and defend against the effects of climate change. And increasing the costs of healthcare due to pollution-related disease. And increasing fatalities from excessive summer heat. And reversing American leadership among the other nations eager to address this global problem–nations that have been relying on the example of remedial policies and practices our pollution-spewing country might champion. And on and on and on.
But if the demolition of the EPA is just one of dozens of stupefying Trump things you’re easily bedazzled and befuddled by, you’ll never get past savoring your momentary outrage at his minions’ specious claim that “the science isn’t settled yet” before you move on to get your next fix of outrage at whatever Tweet or appointment is designed to keep your head spinning. Keep moving, stay stupefied, make resistance feel hopeless.
As a young man, I felt guilty that all I really wanted to do was to start things. I had zero interest in running whatever I started. Since I was pretty good at seeing things that needed starting, I kept on doing it—but felt very bad that others had to do the unappealing work of administering them. Then I discovered—wow!—that lots of other people loved administering them as much as I loved starting them. I was off the hook.
And that’s what we all need to do now: take ourselves off the hook for paying attention to everything, for bemoaning everything, for reacting to everything, for yearning to fell Goliath with a single stone from our slingshot. Instead, we each need to pick just one single value close to our heart that is being threatened by a witless and/or demonic Trump regime, and decide to become an unstoppable champion of that cause.
That’s enough for today. I’m trying right this moment to practice what I’m preaching. I could go on with the “how” to become an unstoppable champion, and I will do that in a subsequent piece. But for now let’s practice KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). If we just spend the rest of today thinking about which issue we’re most likely to fight really hard to get right—environment, voter suppression, Wall Street regulations, minimum wages, immigration, free trade, women’s health, foreign affairs, job retraining, or any of a dozen others—and make a decision by tonight that this will be our own personal issue, that’s enough. We will have broken our stupefaction, and once clear-headed about what role we personally will play in protecting America’s most precious values, we’ll be poised to get off the bench and into the game as a team that’s got most of the positions well staffed. More on how best to play our positions, next time.