As many people have, I have been transfixed by this unfolding train wreck that is the candidacy of Donald Trump. For many months, I giggled gleefully at all the late-night jokes on YouTube (the hair, the tan, his small hands, etc.,) and felt satisfying schadenfreude at the rich elites of the Republican party getting hoist by their own petard of 40-odd years of the Southern Strategy. But now that he is the official nominee of their party, and is one Clinton campaign misstep away from being president, I’m not laughing anymore. (In the unlikely event that Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic Nomination, I will breathe much more easily, since his poll numbers in swing states are much better than Hillary’s.)
Make no mistake about it: Donald Trump could in fact be the next president of the United States. I know, it makes me shudder with disbelief. I don’t drink much, and haven’t gotten drunk in more years than I can count, but I have to admit that the simple idea of a Trump inauguration makes me feel like getting shitfaced. Hardly the contemplative spiritual response, but there you have it.
But, speaking of contemplative spirituality, I’m pondering the meaning of his candidacy, much more deeply than simply either, “he’s a brilliant narcissist who is just doing it for the lulz,” or “he knows what buttons to push in people.” Both of those things are true, but what’s underneath all of that for those who support him?
Greed, hate and delusion are called The Three Poisons in Buddhism. They are also called “attachment, aversion and ignorance,” but for modern, western ears, greed, hatred and delusion might make more sense. They are called the three poisons because they are, in Buddhist philosophy, what causes suffering. More than that, these three are also called “the three unwholesome roots” because they are considered the root of all other negative states of mind.
The seven deadly sins of Christianity are really just another way of packaging these. Three of the seven (lust, gluttony, greed) are really the same as greed in the Buddhist sense. Envy and pride are delusion, and wrath is hatred. So, the seven deadly sins are actually also the three poisons.
I don’t actually think greed is especially primary for Trump’s followers. I think it’s primary for him, but not his followers. Hatred, perhaps, is primary for his followers (and not, actually, for him.) Trump certainly knows how to encourage the hatred that is likely already present in his supporters. His followers are primarily “struggling” white voters, mostly not college educated, and mostly in “old economy” jobs, who have a serious authoritarian streak. 38% of Trump supporters in South Carolina wished that the South had won the Civil War, and another 38% aren’t sure.
Then there is delusion. Most (60%) of Trump supporters think Obama is a Muslim. And according to that poll, 6% (6%!!!) think he’s a Christian (I know, after all that bru-haha about his pastor way back when!) And, of course, there is simply the delusion of thinking that Trump would make a competent president. Nothing, absolutely nothing about his professional life examined with a clear eye would suggest it.
So why is he so popular? It isn’t because people want to suffer. It’s because they are suffering already, and can’t move beyond hatred, delusion and perhaps a bit of greed to see clearly what’s happening.
As I talked about in my last post, we all do need saving, and in this particular moment, we need saving from a possible presidency of Donald Trump (I don’t even want to list all of the many bad things that will probably happen if he is elected.) Obviously, on a basic level, more people need to get out and vote for whoever is the alternative. But more than that – the only thing keeping us from doing this yet another time, with someone who’s even smarter and more charismatic than Trump, is by learning how not to be poisoned.