Part 1 – O Ye, of Little Faith

Donald Trump is not going to just go away. Of that we can be sure. Which means we are not yet off the hook, and are going to have to continue to find ways of getting to the bottom of the Trump phenomenon. 

And counterintuitive as it may seem, that means accepting the fact that it is not just about Trump, that what has happened to the country over the past few years is not just about him. 

He likes to think it’s all about him, just as he likes to think he is the reason for everything that happens. And for some mystifying reason much of the rest of the world seems to like to think that too.

So the first thing we should probably do, is to stop giving him that satisfaction. But we can only do that if we allow ourselves to see that he is more a symptom than a cause of the problems now seen throughout the country and the rest of the planet – problems which his presence has merely exposed. All of which means those problems are not going to go away just by getting rid of him. Though admittedly that wouldn’t be a bad first step.

But ridding the country and the world of him is going to be more complicated than simply voting him out of office. Because it also means ridding ourselves and the country of those issues, attitudes, and dynamics that put him there in the first place. And that means finding ways to see the true complexity of the world, rather than the simplicity of the black and white, right and wrong, good and bad view he was able to exploit and then help invigorate – the one we have become accustomed to using over the past few years – especially in the political realm. And yes, we have all being doing that.

come up with a more nuanced view

That narrow, simplistic view is a big part of the reason for the mess in which we now find ourselves. So if we are ever going to extricate ourselves from that mess, we are going to need to come up with a more nuanced view of what is truly going on in the world, as well as what we can do to make that world better. After all, how can we expect to come to any kind of agreement about the forces at play and how to impact those forces, when we live in a world we don’t really seem to understand? 

And that lack of understanding goes beyond the rather subjective and nuanced issues of the social and political realm, to the more practical and objective aspects of our modern world. And to see the truth in that, we need not look any further than our global economy and the experts who study it. I’m talking about the thousands, perhaps millions of professionals from around the planet, many of whom have been striving for decades to understand the economic forces that shape our global world. 

most of them can’t predict what will happen any more accurately than darts on a dart board

Yet those experts can’t even begin to agree on what is going on at any one point in time, never mind what is about to happen – to the stock market, or the price of oil, or the bond market, or any of the multitude of other measures and factors that drive our global economy. In fact as individuals, most of them can’t predict what will happen any more accurately than darts on a dart board. And we’re talking about what will happen today or tomorrow, never mind next month or next year or next decade. 

They just don’t know, and for the most part are really just guesstimating. And that same lack of certainty and understanding can be found in every aspect of our modern world.

That is nothing new of course. The world has always seemed largely inexplicable to us. 

But with all the progress we have made over the last century or two, one would think we’d begin to feel a greater sense of understanding. After all, with all our advances in science, we know so much more than we ever have. And as a result, we as individuals know more than ever before. 

So why do we feel so at sea so much of the time? Why do we seem to feel more confused than ever, about what is happening in our world?

That sense of unease is likely due, at least in part, to the fact that while our vast store of knowledge does provide us with many answers, it also leaves us with many more questions. As the saying goes, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” 

And we now live in a world boiling over with information, which leaves us feeling overwhelmed – not only by the fire hose of information constantly coming at us – but also by the feeling that there is so much out there we need to know, but do not. And that leaves each of us to struggle to find the answers, or at the very least to find others who can help us understand what is truly going on. 

And that is where Donald Trump comes in.

And what makes his appeal so inviting to so many, is that we have no one else to turn to to help us sort it all out, no one who can tell us what to look for, what’s important and what’s not – at least no one we feel we can truly trust. 

And that is mainly a result of the lack of faith we now have in our institutions, from political to journalistic to academic and beyond. And while that loss of faith has been happening for centuries, the trend has really accelerated over the last few decades. Tony, one of the characters in my novel has some views on that, which I think might help bring it into perspective. So I’ll end with his thoughts. 

What he’s reflecting on in this passage, is the fact that as a society we had lost our faith in those institutions we formerly relied upon to shape our opinions. As he sees it:

“Political parties had lost that power because of the public’s newly acquired awareness of the sausage making process, often having access to as much information as those in power. Corporations had lost their power because of the way they had come to treat their employees – no longer promising a job for life, one with healthy working conditions, to go with a healthy salary and benefits…

So where else could individuals go for guidance? Most were left only with their houses of worship. Which was perhaps why the religious right had become such a powerful political force in the country. But Tony knew as well as anyone, that for most Americans faith in God and church had waned, especially over the previous few decades. And to Tony that seemed to indicate how, once again, a glut of knowledge and information could lead to unforeseen circumstances.

Having access to all that information meant that many of us now saw too much and knew too much about our place in the universe, to believe in the kind of god our forbearers once worshiped. Which meant that, in a sense, science had “cured” us of our faith in those ancient beliefs and institutions.

All of which told Tony we had lost our faith in religious institutions in much the same way we had lost our faith in other institutions, and for the same reasons. We just knew too much – and so in a sense had become too smart for our own good.”

Next… part TWO…