This year at Thanksgiving, many of us are in shock, still grieving what might be a horrific collective tragedy — both the presidential election, and what is about to unfold in the Trump era.
So I am writing this for those folks who are grieving, at a time normally dedicated to giving thanks, to both resonate with that grief and to suggest that in facing daunting new responsibilities as engaged activists, we may evolve to a whole new level of integrity, realizing that this is an important test in the school of life.
For me, this paradox of grieving and thanks seems appropriate to the season. Like JFK, both my father, and my spiritual teacher died during the Thanksgiving season. It has always been a holiday full of both sadness and joy, a time for gathering with loved ones in both grief and gratitude.
First, the grief
This year our grief is collective. The behavior of the 45th President during the campaign was, to use a charged word, deplorable.
We watched Donald Trump seemingly lie and bully and trick and charm his way into becoming the most powerful man in the world. Early signs indicate his administration may be controlled by a group of conservative Republicans, including many who have implacably opposed and attacked the most recent Democratic administrations and presidents, even at the cost of American well being, prospects, and our national interest and reputation. They have some legitimate policy ideas, but no coherent reality-based program.
We face an urgent global ecological and climate crisis, and related economic, social and cultural crises that can only be addressed meaningfully by a skillful combination of both so-called “conservative” and “liberal” approaches and attitudes. The modern and postmodern left are in disarray, with a long road ahead before they can cohere any real power.
Key democratic institutions, like our free press, are weaker than they’ve been in the history of the republic. It is not entirely delusional to fear that we are all — conservative and liberal, and all of nature — at the mercy of Donald Trump’s whims.
That’s the danger of what looms ahead, casting such a stark shadow. As soon as Trump takes his place as President, personifying the government, we will be displaced as never before from our civic identity.
We may no longer be able to locate ourselves simply as proud citizens of the United States of America, the first modern democracy, the cradle of progress and innovation, the most benign superpower in human history.
We will also be citizens of a country ruled by three unified branches of government led by a man who has for over a year been publicly flirting with making our nation the most consequential ecological criminal in history, ready to institutionalize policies that will someday be prosecuted before the International Criminal Court as “Crimes against Humanity” (and crimes against all Earth’s living creatures, trees, flora, rivers and oceans.)
The existential reality of this has descended upon us suddenly. A great cloud of alarming cognitive-moral dissonance is reshaping our collective story and identity. Something shifted in our guts when we realized the too-horrible-to-contemplate was suddenly not a bad dream but our actual waking situation. America and the world are not as we had assumed. Neither is our future.
Next, Taking Our Medicine
It is a monumental task to emerge from our long-held asana of denial, but it is good medicine in any case, so best to simply swallow it and get moving.
What just happened? Trump voters are a disparate group, and it’s unfair to generalize about all of them. But, as a group, they seem to have been primarily distinguished by being less educated than other voters. His “base” made fake news go viral, generally expressing a great deal of incoherent anger. Together, they just delivered us a conclusive “fuck you”. This was a revolution by vitality against mentality, cohering the resentment of the belly against the arrogance of the head, the people who work with their hands and their guts vs those who work with their heads and their hearts, the uneducated vs the overeducated.
If you are reading this, you, like me, probably fit in the “overeducated” category. The good news is that there’s a way to learn this lesson. Instead of presuming that we are victims, we can presume that we participated in creating this situation and that we can make changes that will transform its seeming implications. Making that move—from presuming that we are victims of circumstance, to presuming that we are at cause, the co-creators of this situation, empowers us. It means we can change our act and make a difference.
Let’s accept that there is no path forward for a dissociated elite. We will have to find authentic ways to re-engage our cousins and neighbors who voted for Mr. Trump. One of the most important practices pointed to by all great spiritual traditions is the importance of spending time in Good Company, with people whose consciousness you wish to emulate. This moment of truth means one thing quite clearly: Instead of only retreating from our unwashed fellow-citizens into Good Company, we will need to be Good Company to them. We must learn to cohere friendships among people of good faith that are strong enough that we can magnify Good Company in a way that has social influence. We have no way forward without reweaving our social fabric. At first, person-to-person, intimately, until we’ve learned enough to do it authentically in other media.
This is a time that will be calling for heart conversations. Luckily, we know Trump voters, and we love them. And they love us too, don’t forget. We may be sharing dinner with them today. That’s our opportunity this Thanksgiving.
Remember that you love your conservative cousins. Listen to them. Remind them of your connection and strengthen it. Ask for their compassion. And be patient with slow, organic progress.
That may be a tall order. On the surface, some of them can be pretty rough, but most are easy to love. They are our spouses, children, parents, friends, neighbors, co-workers, co-religionists, schoolmates, salespeople, customers, and colleagues. They often have the best intentions. Most of them work hard and try to conduct their lives with class and honor. It’s true, though, to me and many people like myself, too many of them seem contracted, selfish, resentful, misinformed, arrogant, emotionally violent, and dangerous.
And we seem to them like abstracted, superior, arrogant, soft dreamers and “knowledge workers”, people they carry on their backs as ones who create tangible wealth. They are the builders, tradesmen, cops, firemen, merchants, small business people and hard workers who drive the American economy. They see us as free-riders, who skate by, designing and gaming the system to our advantage, and to their disadvantage. They have a point. And they just delivered us an emphatic “fuck you!” Let’s learn from it.
Moving into Gratitude
So this is a great gulf we can each begin to bridge. This is the moral and cultural battle, and every one of us is on the front lines. To the degree that we are able to practice virtue and wisdom, we become a force for healing and evolution.
This grim election result suddenly changes the context of our lives. It makes those of us who are practitioners fellow inhabitants of a new reality. We cannot simply be prosperous middle class citizens of Trump’s America. To the degree that we sustain our values, we will become citizens of a new polity, a resistance movement.
For some of us it feels as though we have been conscripted into a revolutionary cadre in the mountains. Except it is not a deliberate conspiracy, it is just a raw moral understanding arising in our hearts. It can arise at any time, in anyone, and thus will pervade all corners of the fabric of society — an invisible, organic, decentralized, inherently revolutionary movement, with potential expressions in every human heart, regardless of political persuasion.
Thus we might discover that we have allies in unlikely places, even among many members of the Republican party, and, possibly even in the new administration. Probably even in the Trump family — in whatever ways the hearts of Tiffany, Ivanka, and Melania will influence the 45th president. Perhaps Donald’s immense will to self-glorification can express itself in the desire to be a successful, respected President of the United States, measured by the 20-20 hindsight of history. Maybe he will even do what it takes—even reach out to Democrats—to achieve that. His significant shifts on many of his rallying issues in the past few days might be a portent of this.
But it is most important to locate this commitment, authentically and personally, in your heart, and mine. Each of us notices a call to civic duty. It’s a call for a politics of virtue, as my friend Steve McIntosh has observed. Our inherent intelligence — cognitive, moral, and practical — is on alert, orienting itself toward what is highest and best for our collective evolution.
Without thinking about it, and certainly without talking about it, we are an inadvertent conspiracy, a new republic of the heart, an invisible commitment to be of meaningful benefit to the health of the whole, especially when its health is under threat.
This change seems likely to require that many people who were not heretofore politically active now will find it possible to take a stand, assuming civic responsibility, presuming to be “at cause” of larger events, rather than a victim of them. This means effectively engaging as citizens in relation to the Trump administration, both attempting to elicit its best behavior and helping avert or prevent its worst. That means some of us will be active by engaging within the system’s key institutions, others will engage opposition outside the system, and not forgetting that still others will be engaging an invisible activism by participating directly in Trump’s administration.
A fierce intention toward wholeness is spontaneously emerging in our hearts. We realize our well-being is intertwined with the thriving of the whole human and non-human family. We feel moved to act under a logic that reflects multiple bottom lines — including self-interest, but also the interests of our loved ones, neighbors, region, nation, world, biosphere, and inner and outer cosmos (what Ken Wilber means by “Kosmos”).
This Thanksgiving may be a good time to have conversations with like-minded friends and family about these matters.
It may also be a time when we can have conversations with friends and family who see the world entirely differently, conversations in which we become curious, in which we listen to them, and strengthen our bonds, beginning, at least in small ways to do the crucial work of reweaving our frayed social fabric.
The coherent heart intelligence of all human beings, in and out of America, activated by this urgency, will find new channels for cooperation and synergy, functioning, like a collective psychic immune system, mounting “constructive resistance” to whatever in Trump’s programs is insistently destructive of essential values, including the health of the living Earth.
Crisis conditions bring out the best and the worst in us. This moment seems like it will embolden what’s worst in us, empowering human arrogance and unkindness. But it is also calling upon what’s best in the human heart, at least in those of us who are humbly related to something bigger than ourselves. That’s something wonderful we can notice this year at Thanksgiving. We can pray for it, intend it, call upon it, and give thanks to it. And we can talk about it.
Wholeness, integrity, coherence and health are synonyms for a principle. It’s not just a passive abstraction, wholeness has agency. Wounds heal. And the power of wholeness surges in response to fragmentation, incoherence, regression and corruption. We each can recognize it in the crowd of voices in our hearts, some that are powerfully inspired toward thriving, moving us to serve wholeness and health and integrity, willing to clean up messes when necessary, showing us that we are unalterably committed to life.
These subjective intentions reflect a larger phenomenon operating at every level of the natural world, a universal evolutionary impulse. The homeostatic reciprocal living processes cited to support the Gaia hypothesis cohere because the entelechy of wholeness attracts and animates coherent synergies. We don’t have to imagine that Gaia has interiority or “soul” qualities to see the significance of this.
Finally, Regathering Around the Old Table
And here we are, still engaging our age-old tradition this Thanksgiving. So let’s gather with friends and family and give thanks. And there is much to be thankful for.
We can give thanks for the dedicated service of our first integral president, Barack Obama.
We can give thanks for our loved ones and the loving connections we have — even with our unwashed, feisty relatives.
We can give thanks for our beautiful living earth and sky, our mother planet.
We can give thanks for the fact that we have lived so much of our lives under conditions of such privilege, and that we we have been given the opportunity to see and understand so much.
We can have meaningful conversations with each other, in whatever way restores and deepens our bonds, and reweaves the social fabric, heart-by-heart.
And we can give thanks for the fact that we are headed for a time in which circumstances will give us an opportunity to live lives of meaning, and to embody integrity and virtue, and to reconnect with each other. Postmodern life has made these human needs terribly difficult and confusing to fulfill, and they will soon be available in new ways.
We can pray for the humility and wisdom to discern and embody new levels of virtue, and to forge new levels of friendship and community.
We can pray to live as practitioners, awakening always, growing and changing, and becoming the change we want to see in our world.
And we can give thanks for the opportunity to live during “interesting times” when our practice, and what we do, has the possibility of mattering so much—to the whole future of our living planet.
So this is a special Thanksgiving.
Evidently there will be much more for us to learn this year. And there will be much to do. I thank you for tuning in and sharing this journey with me.
To our evolution,