Dangerous Trump Stories

by John Sautelle

Love or hate the election of Donald Trump? Either way, the stories we tell ourselves about it will shape our world. Therefore we owe it to future generations to choose those stories wisely. What stories will we choose?

Election day

On election day, watching the map of America change from blue to red, I felt stunned and bewildered. How could an unqualified candidate emerge as leader of the world’s most powerful nation? After the vitriolic political battlefield, masquerading as a campaign, overgeneralized, demonizing stories emerge which trouble me greatly. 'All those who voted for Donald Trump are racist misogynists.' 'All those who oppose Trump are part of the crooked establishment, hell bent on destroying our way of life.' Taken to their extremes these fear based, hate generating stories march both sides toward bloody confrontation.

Lessons from history

In this moment it serves us well to draw on the lessons of history. Let me be clear - the parallel I draw is not intended to equate Donald Trump with Adolf Hitler. It is about hauntingly similar economic patterns of their respective times; parallel stories of how deep seated fears and anger find their voice.

In 1932, Germany had an unemployment rate of about 30 per cent. Bankrupted by the First World War, suffering the Great Depression, people in Germany felt powerless and extremely angry. At the time Carl Jung expressed the view that Hitler was able to maintain control of the German people for over a decade because he was ‘the mirror of every German’s unconscious... the loudspeaker which magnifies the inaudible whispers of the German soul...'

In America Donald Trump's audience is very angry. Birthed in the mainstream middle class, where the American dream has been dashed on the rocks of steadily declining incomes, and inflamed by unpunished corporate excess, this anger fosters a collective blindness to much of what Trump says and does. So powerful is the amplified voice of this angst Trump’s own corporate history and self-contradictory world views became nothing more than background static to his supporters. Minority groups, with very real cause for concern, become easy targets for misdirected anger. At the same time, labeling all of his supporters as racist misogynists only serves to add fuel to the fire.

Where will this lead us?

These polarising stories mask the threads that connect them; a furious backlash by those being left behind. As political commentator Stephen Long points out: ‘The extreme chasms of wealth and income that characterised the 1920s are with us; the surge of protectionist sentiment in response to economic dislocation; the fracturing of the political centre, with shifts to the left and the right, and the rise of authoritarian nationalist rule.’ In response to broken economic and political systems, these forces drive us relentlessly toward violent revolution. 

What can we do?

Maybe, just maybe, we can avoid this by evolving our collective stories in a way that actualizes our deepest yearnings for connection and peace. Stories which value each and every human being, celebrate our rich diversity and respect the fragile ecosystems of our planet. I want to help create these stories for the sake of my children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces. If you agree, please share this story.

Footnote: After writing this blog I read Otto Scharmer’s Huffington Post article On the Making of Trump—The Blind Spot That Created Him. I encourage you to read it.

John Sautelle’s book, ‘Choose Your Stories and Change Your Life’ is coming. Head of Bendelta in Canberra, John works with senior leaders and their teams in Australia and internationally, helping them create life giving stories for their organisations.

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Emme Stone