Resources for Recovering Resilience: Brilliant Perspective on Tuesday’s U.S. Presidential Elections

Dear Folks,

Passing on to you a brilliant analysis of the confusion/facts around tomorrow’s U.S. Presidential election from my friend and close colleague Rick Hanson. Simply brilliant.

Find the Facts
Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
November 5, 2016

It is so very helpful to see the truth both around you and inside you. Then you’re more able to handle threats and fulfill opportunities, understand others, and make wise choices. Not finding the facts is like closing your eyes while walking on thin ice.

Facts are important at all levels, whether for an individual, a relationship, or a country. I am going to focus here on America. Voters will choose a President on November 8 – but on every day I think we are having a related election about an even more fundamental question:

Yes or No?

Where do we start? By claiming our right to know what is true.

That’s no small thing these days. When fire-hosed with information, it’s hard to make sense of it, so people shrug, shake their heads, and tune out. Most journalism has become a fact-free zone of horserace or theater-criticism-style commentary, or false equivalence between very different things in an attempt to appear balanced (“shape of the earth: opinions differ”). The truth is, many of us don’t know what the truth is.

Also, our beliefs are created and defended by loyalties to groups, grievances, and self-interest. As Upton Sinclair wrote: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Personal Disclosure
So, I should state my own loyalties. Growing up with loving but controlling parents, I value independence and self-reliance. I was a registered Libertarian for many years, and may have read Atlas Shrugged more times (four) than Paul Ryan. Like our Founders (here’s to Hamilton), I’m for civil liberties, voting rights (obviously, for more than white male property-owners), and the rule of law. I’m for competition on a fair field. Whether in grade school, Wall Street, Washington, or Moscow, I’m against bullies and cheats and hypocrites, and for children and the earth altogether.

I’ve recently begun my 65th lap around the sun (wow). Having lived through a lot of relevant history, I’d like to highlight some facts, both past and present.

The Human Tribe
Let’s start w-a-y back. Our current politics are grounded in the social structure of primate bands in which alphas gain and hold power, and then use that power to control resources such as food and female reproduction. In more complex forms, we see the same thing in most human hunter-gatherer bands, in which our ancestors lived for 95% of the past 200,000 years. With the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, wealth and power became even more concentrated in the hands of a few, enabling them to support warriors to enforce their rule and priests to justify it.

It’s a very old story. At any point in human history, life has been particularly good for a few people and much worse for most people. In our own time, there is less starvation and disease, but the general fact remains true around the world: great inequalities of wealth and power, along with the use of wealth to tilt the playing field to gain more power to tilt the field further to gain even more wealth. The story is the same regardless of ideology; consider communist Russia and China.

I’m not saying that all those who have wealth and power gained it unfairly. But throughout history, we see again and again the self-serving use of wealth and power by the few to confuse and frighten the many. It’s the classic pattern: repeating the Big Lie, burying the truth or hiding it in a fogbank of disinformation, whipping up fears about “them” attacking “us,” and exploiting our vulnerability as tribal beings to grievance, anger, and payback.

Recent Events
Sound familiar? It’s happened a lot over the last forty years in America, and is now at a fever pitch in this election cycle.

Understandably, many people are foggy or simply wrong about what’s actually true – a lot because most media rarely offer a factual context to the latest screaming headline. So here’s a (necessarily simplified) summary of facts relevant to the current election. If you know them already, skip to the end; I’ve included a lot of links but didn’t have time to reference every single point. Whatever my loyalties, facts are facts. See for yourself if these are true:

  • The 1960’s see a swing toward civil rights, environmentalism, feminism, gay rights, cultural and sexual freedom, and antiwar sentiment – all loosely associated with the Democratic party.
  • In 1968, Alabama Governor George Wallace runs as an Independent on a platform of racial segregation and gets 14% of the vote. Richard Nixon promises law and order, and wins narrowly. He and his vice president and top aides break multiple laws and eventually leave office for prison or disgrace.
  • The Republican party develops its “Southern strategy” to win over Wallace-type voters, also joining with fundamentalist groups seeking political influence over science in public schools, sexual behavior, and reproduction. (As a religious person myself, I see a vital distinction between people of faith who act in accord with their own beliefs . . . and “political fundamentalists” – the term I’ll use here – who try to enforce those beliefs on others through the power of the state.) People vote Republican for various reasons, but the functional core of the party becomes a coalition of wealthy elites, traditionalists, and political fundamentalists serving each other’s interests.
  • Starting in 1980, Ronald Reagan and his Congress slash taxes on the wealthy, and attack or undermine unions and other protections for blue collar workers. “Supply-side” and “trickle-down” policies fail; running as fiscal conservatives, he and George. H. W. Bush oversee a tripling of the national debt.
  • Bill Clinton becomes President in 1992. Taxes are raised on the wealthy, the economy grows strongly, and the national debt eventually starts shrinking. Running as traditionalists and moralists, Newt Gingrich and his party begin attacking longstanding traditions of governance; they shut down the government and “weaponize” legal investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton. Gingrich is revealed as a serial adulterer, and his successor, Dennis Hastert as a child molester. Fox News starts up, joining a growing network of right-wing talk radio shows and internet sites. Years of intensive investigations into both Clintons prove that . . . Bill lied about consensual sex with a White House intern. At the end of his second term, there’s a projected federal surplus of $5 trillion over the next 10 years.
  • Al Gore gets half a million more votes than George W. Bush, but the result in Florida is critical for the Electoral College. There’s widespread suppression of Democratic votes there, but Republican election officials halt the recount, enforced 5-4 by Republican Justices on the Supreme Court, and Bush becomes President.
  • After running as a “compassionate conservative,” Bush swings hard to the right, and cuts controls over the financial sector, taxes on the wealthy, and help for the working class. Wealth inequality grows and middle class incomes stay flat. Having promised to be tough on national security, Bush and his team downplay repeated warnings about al-Qaeda, and on September 11, 2001, over three thousand Americans die. In 2003, US forces invade Iraq, based on false claims of ties to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction, neither of which was found. The costs of this invasion and the occupation that followed will be about 190,000 lives and 2.2 trillion dollars – plus it strained the US military and our relations with allies. Released from regulation, the financial sector implodes, triggering the Great Recession, throwing millions of people out of work. During Bush’s eight years, the projected $5 trillion surplus disappears, replaced by a doubling of the national debt.
  • In 2008, the Republican party chooses Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Barack Obama becomes our first African-American President, inheriting the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and a mess in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republican Senators continue to violate traditional norms; they filibuster nearly everything so that it now takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass just about anything, and they refuse to fill routine vacancies in Federal courts and agencies, including those related to financial industry regulation and national security. In the face of fierce opposition, Obama gets a stimulus package passed, and the US has a much stronger recovery than Europe or Japan. During his two terms, the unemployment rate drops from 9.3% to 4.9%, the private sector adds 11 million new jobs, and over 20 million people gain health insurance.
  • The Tea Party rises, along with intensified efforts to suppress Democratic votes through ID laws, intimidation at polling sites, and other methods originally used in the South to reduce Black votes. Republican lawmakers gerrymander congressional districts to tilt the electoral playing field further, and in 2012, “Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin.” Obama (through our military) pursues and eventually kills Osama bin-Laden and many other al-Qaeda leaders. Based on a prior agreement with the Bush administration, the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq insists that we withdraw our military occupation of their country; a Sunni-centered insurgency develops and gives rise to Isis. Antonin Scalia dies and in another violation of longstanding norms, Republican Senators refuse to hold a confirmation hearing on any Obama nominee, and that seat on the Supreme Court has remained vacant for over 250 days.

The Current Situation
The Republican party chooses Donald Trump to represent it as President. His businesses would compromise US security and some are backed by Russian oligarchs, and he’s supported by Vladimir Putin (former head of the KGB), whose security forces are manipulating our election to pick Trump. His insistent loyalty to Putin and his denial of Russian cyberattacks are deeply alarming to U.S. and European intelligence officials. His wealth is based on cheating working people, ripping off investors, doing nothing for charity, and refusing to pay his share of taxes. The unemployment rate for white workers is 4.3%, the U.S. economy has gained 3.2 million jobs since Trump began running for President, the crime rate is approaching historic lows, and Trump’s core supporters have a median income over $70,000; white male resentment and nationalism is their primary fuel – not economic anxiety – turbocharged by alt-right and conservative media.

The Democratic party chooses Hillary Clinton, who has become the most thoroughly scrutinized and thus effectively transparent Presidential candidate in our history. Myself affected by years of negative spin about her, I was pleasantly surprised when I found the facts about her: a highly intelligent introvert, not a natural politician, and a centrist liberal who’s been committed to public service her adult life, with a particular interest in the needs of women and working people. She’s been attacked steadily for 35 years – reaching back to charges that she wasn’t feminine enough as the Governor’s wife in Arkansas – and what’s the worst that’s been actually found? Let’s see:

Meanwhile, Donald Trump hides his finances, destroys emails and other documents against court orders, and boasts of gaming the system. While complaining about the media rigging the election, by March of this year he had received over $2 billion worth of free media. He and Republican Senator Richard Burr have “joked” that gun-owners should shoot Hillary Clinton. Senior Republican lawmakers continue to violate traditional norms that protect a democracy, and they have already vowed to hold endless hearings, to refuse to vote on her judicial appointments, and to begin impeachment proceedings – no matter how big her victory next week. Alarmed by a group of angry FBI agents leaking information to harm Clinton, FBI Director James Comey made an unprecedented intrusion into the election with his vague letter – widely criticized, including by senior Republican lawmakers and officials – about Clinton emails possibly being on a computer used by a former staffer (which, given the facts of her email use, will be irrelevant anyway).

After everything we have been through, starting November 9, will we as a country – especially the professional centrists in the media – have learned anything at all?

Today and Tomorrow
And here we are. In this limited space, I’ve needed to leave out many details on all sides, but the factual essence is clear.

Elections have consequences. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton will run the most powerful organization in the history of the world. You’ve seen the debates. Who do you think would be better at it?

More broadly, we will choose one kind of policy or another – and we’ve seen the results over the past 40 years, summarized above. If Trump is elected, millions of people will lose health coverage, taxes will be slashed for the richest Americans and will rise for the middle-class, efforts to slow global warming will fall apart, and much regulation of the financial sector will be eliminated. If Clinton is elected, the gains from Obama’s presidency will be protected and expanded.

Facts alone cannot make a decision; we also need values. I have many relatives and friends who vote Republican. They have good hearts and I hope they think I do, too. I also know people who were fierce supporters of Bernie Sanders and now favor Jill Stein. I can understand someone placing an overriding value on an issue like abortion or gun ownership or sending a signal to Wall Street that trumps (sorry) all other considerations.

But please consider also the recurring themes in human politics: the manipulation of confusion and fear, our vulnerabilities to grievance and anger, and the enduring power of liars, cheats, and hypocrites. I’m sick and tired of people who wave the flag but put America in peril and cut programs for veterans, whose words are righteous and moralistic but whose actions hurt vulnerable children, who despise mythical “takers” but rig the system for themselves and their buddies, who are sanctimonious in public but do dirty deeds in private.

Ask also the ancient question that cuts through the words to the deeds: cui bono: who benefits? Votes have effects. Do you want your vote to support a coalition of rich elites, political fundamentalists, and bigoted nationalists?

I don’t. That’s why I’ve voted for Hillary Clinton. I also voted for her because I think and feel that she is a very good person, actually an amazing person to come through all that she has and still want to serve this country and its people. I am very glad and proud as an American and as a man that she will be our first woman President.

May you and I and everyone else keep finding the facts. And learning from them. For our own sake, and that of others


This comes from Rick Hanson, Ph.D., clinical psychologist,New York Times best-selling author, and invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard universities. See Rick’s workshops and lectures.