The Abusive Paternalism of Donald Trump (Mostly a Reptile) vs. Bernie Sanders, the Nurturing Father Figure

Is it possible that two powerful father-figures are running for president? One, a brazen rich guy with orange hair, parleyed an inheritance into billions, flies around in private jets, and owns hotels emblazoned with his name. The other, the son of poor Polish immigrants, made it all the way to the U.S. Senate and still drives a small Chevy –  the make of which he says he doesn’t know.

While Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders aren’t only presidential candidates in this election cycle, something the media never ceases to remind us of, the excitement among their supporters is indeed unprecedented.

Crowds in the thousands, including a preponderance of young people, wait in line for hours to hear the white-haired, philosopher they call Bernie. The senator from Vermont doesn’t have a superPac because he won’t take corporate money. Instead, the average campaign donation from his fan-base is twenty-seven bucks. While he’s done well in largely white states, Bernie’s popularity has been crossing the racial divide due to his views on income inequity, raising the minimum wage, and educational and job opportunity.

Donald Trump attracts a different demographic – older and mostly white, according a 2015 story in the LA Times. Trump doesn’t need a superPac because he’s rich.  Although he probably has a plethora of corporate donors. His past racist comments on minorities have no doubt given him a black eye, and are a turn-off to people of color. Even sorority girls with fake tans.

Whoever wins the presidency, though, will be at the nation’s helm at a pivotal time. Are we to be ruled by corporations that can spend unlimited amounts on their candidates?

Or are we to be a government “of the people, by the people and for the people…?”

I think we’re still trying to outgrow our adolescence – not yet out of that awkward stage – like teenagers trying to decide what they want to be when grow up, and in desperate need of mature guidance.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are both are “outliers,” not of the establishment mold. And each bearing wildly different ideas for a middle class groaning under the weight of lost jobs and low wages, craving the stability of their parents’ generation. You know, a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage. (Or is it a computer in every room? I forget.)

But I’m not going to discuss how they intend to run the country. What I want to talk about is personality.

Trump the billionaire is an outsider to politics, never having been elected to public office. Though I hope he at least had a class in civics. When his sentences don’t begin with the word I, leading to an outrageous proclamation, he’s demeaning, combative, and at times downright vulgar.  He also has a tendency to skewer people. Like Fox debate moderator Megyn Kelly. And how about the time he squirted a water bottle on stage, mocking a nervous Marco Rubio? How is this mature, reasonable behavior?

Sanders, on the other hand, is an insider. A decades-long crusader for the middle class, he’s an old-school gentleman, a good listener, and avowed democratic socialist who cares deeply about the welfare of others, but doesn’t give a ___ what his detractors think.

Let’s take these two outliers apart.

Trump is a phenomenon. He “shakes things up” with his wild behavior, I heard one devotee say. (Actually, it was my 84 year-old mother, whose favorite TV show is Shark Tank.) And he’s completely unpredictable, pouncing on any bit of perceived judgement by threatening a law suit.

Scientifically, this is how a reptile acts: Responding to challenge with a show of colors and finally aggression, fighting to the finish.Reptile with orange head

A reptile’s behavior is ruled by the brain stem, which sits
on top of the spinal column. Always, reptiles are ready for fight or flight at the slightest provocation.

If Trump can’t seem to follow a simple train of logic, it’s no wonder. He’s like a child, frightened at the core but acting like a bully, incapable of listening, processing and using rational thought. This is evidenced by his propensity for jumping down his opponent’s throat, for name-calling, and character-bashing.

To me, Trump’s behavior seems trauma-based. His outbursts and bullying are the type of behavior Governor Jerry Brown of California says is typical of disruptive children in the classroom. Not because they’re bad kids who should be suspended (in fact, Gov. Brown stopped out-of-school suspensions for elementary students, and now provides counseling). But because when people have a history of stress and trauma, their brains are easily triggered. They are less thoughtful and resilient because their stress-hormones, namely cortisol, go sky high, impacting higher-level thinking skills, which makes them “low-effort” thinkers. In other words, they act like reptiles.

Donald Trump’s behavior is a symptom of larger problems. If he cannot conduct himself with restraint, that makes him unreasonable. And reasonableness is an essential trait for a president.

Bernie Sanders is a completely different kind of father figure. bernie-sanders-portrait-02-

While Trump is authoritarian, Sanders is authoritative. There’s a big difference.

Authoritarian is “my way or the highway.” Inflexible, harsh, punitive, distant. No respect for individual needs and differences.

Authoritative is limit-setting, but with flexibility and respect for individual needs and differences. It’s warm, loving, and present, but with expectations. And above all, reasonable.

Sanders radiates empathy for the individual. To this guy, greatness is not about what he can do, but what people can to together. Greatness is about becoming aware of the need in others. So it makes sense that his followers love him. They’re not looking to be saved by a paternalistic despot, but to be led!

The problem is, people like those in the Trump camp are not of a mind to accept reasonable guidance. They’re looking for someone to save them. To kick out all the “bad guys.” They’re looking for the person who yells the loudest.

Like Trump, their brains cannot possibly be wired for rational thought. And similar to children with attachment disorder, they don’t take well to nurturing and inclusion. Maybe because of their own parents’ failures to nurture them. Or a history of stress and trauma. But mostly, I think, because they feel “unheard.”

Sadly, they don’t understand why they’re angry. The absence of thought is frightening.

So along comes Donald Trump. Someone just like them. Someone devoid of intelligent, rational thought, unable to listen to different points-of-view. Unable to wrap their heads around anything new. And he rants and blames and accuses – everything unprotected children wish someone would do to those who have hurt them and yet were supposed to protect them.

Inside, these adults are needy children – adolescents at best –unaware that they have been robbed of their capacity for empathy by non-nurturing families, and prejudiced by conservative talk radio wonks, religious leaders, and co-workers whose acceptance they crave. They have no idea they’ve been duped. Taken for suckers.

At this late stage in America’s spiritual development – well past infancy and toddlerhood – this country needs to grieve its traumas. Its losses. But it needs a president who inspires people to become more.

I remember the day conservative talk radio came to Albuquerque. It felt like the Nazis had landed – and I was completely unprepared for the hit. For a mom used to making school lunches to the local
morning DJs who interspersed pop songs with traffic and weather and the occasional giveaway, the new talk radio was like an act of aggression. My kitchen was under fire. When I called the station to complain, they said this is the way it was going to be from now on.

So I stopped listening.

To rewire ourselves, and heal the damage, we need to doubt those who ridicule and hate, and spend time with affirming people. Not those who would condemn anyone who doesn’t look, act, or think like us.

And to select the right president to parent us as a nation, we must prefer someone who will teach reason, unity, and love. Someone who reacts not with anger, but empathy.

Someone who challenges us to take new risks, exposing our small selves to something new and bigger, something we might even fear. And then tells us to keep breathing, healing, and going about our lives in peace.

Because in acknowledging our biggest fears, we learn that we will not disintegrate, or even die, but become stronger.

Heck, look at Bernie. He’s been facing opposition his entire career. Now he’s stronger than ever.

Do you know what happens to a reptile after it attacks an enemy? It dies within a few weeks. FFG





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