Dear President-Elect Trump, with special attention to Ivanka, Melania and Kellyanne,
Congratulations on your election. I am among those who were shocked and frightened when you won. My brother loves you. I get how you make him feel good and how the Democrats didn’t reach him. We who fear your presidency would love you to prove us wrong and go down in history as a great president. This is unlikely, but possible.
Your election is a sea change unlike anything I have witnessed. Journalist Tom Friedman called it a “moral 9/11.” Many, shocked and awakened, attended vigils, protests, celebrations, prayer services, and dialogues. Some are taunting, committing hate crimes, grieving, observing mourning rituals, feeling terrified, committing to protect, going into therapy, becoming informed, making commitments, changing careers, joining organizations, building movements. You have unleashed powerful forces which can be channeled for good or ill – depending on your leadership.
I am post-partisan and outside the boxes. Your outside-the-box tendencies and pragmatic business skills can enable you to transcend incompatible contrived categories which impede deep understanding, enlightened policies and capacity for progress. As a political psychologist interested in reversing cycles of violence and retaliation, I can envision this possibility.
You can use your power to heal our country. For “political therapy” I entreat you to act as “Healer in Chief. ” Fear, hatred, aggression and denigration undermine your chances of success, as do provocative appointments. Each half of the country hates, fears and misunderstands the other half. Many expect your presidency to be a disaster – escalating division, anti-American sentiments around the globe, war, terrorism, global violence, and acceleration of global warming. You could go down in history as the worst president ever.
Or, you can transform your gifts used to dominate and divide for a higher purpose. Turn your organizing principles into their opposites.
The path to make America and the world great depends on:
Many are keeping an open mind, as Hillary suggested. Dave Chapelle said on SNL, “I wish Donald Trump luck. I’m gonna give him a chance and the historically disenfranchised demand that he give us one too.” Now you have a maximum generosity of spirit. It will evaporate the moment you betray our faith in you and will turn into opposition fiercer than had we not given you a chance.
Your presidency could be transformational. You are on a steep learning curve. Preserve and build on Obama’s accomplishments that are sound. Do not feel compelled to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Mature people can revise opinions based on new knowledge and information. Don’t fall into the fatal trap of groupthink by surrounding yourself with like-minded people. Seek out different points of view. Value facts and science, including social science. You too, keep an open mind.
You are 70. Aging is inevitable. Wisdom is not. You may evolve, or not. Your personal transformation is a prerequisite for success and our health, safety and survival. You model behavior and attitudes that people follow. We need you to model mature, constructive, and respectful behavior in words and deeds.
What was most promising, powerful, mature and healing were:
For “political therapy” to heal our nation, we need the three of you to visibly figure out new ways to work together, modeling apology, forgiveness, and transcendence, placing the country first. When Obama became president, the Republicans’ committed to make him fail. Being bigger people, Hillary and Obama committed to help you succeed. Who is more patriotic? More mature? Your leadership requires convincing your angry “lock her up” and “worst president in history” followers to shift gears. Best-case scenario is the three of you acting as co-therapists for our healing.
The overarching message is that if you do the right thing, most will support you wholeheartedly. If you do not, they will fight you like hell.
My blueprint for greatness offers useful psychological principles, ways to address subgroups, and recommendations for healing and transcendence.
Some useful psychological principles:
* People are more dangerous when afraid, as are we. Calm fears and reasons for fears.
* The way to be secure is to make your enemy more secure.
* People can be more violent when humiliated and morally outraged.
* “Law of opposites.” Action provokes reaction. What you suppress, you make stronger. Attacking identity makes it stronger.
* Right – left thinking is problematic, producing dualistic, us – them, right – wrong, zero sum tactics. We will oscillate between right and left or transcend the opposites. Hegel’s dialectic, states that tension between thesis and antithesis is resolved by synthesis, which C. J. Jung called the “transcendent function.”
* Using common sense, being right, righteous and reasonable usually makes things worse. Use uncommon sense. What works may be counterintuitive.
* Tension reduction – Rhetoric, actions, and policies that increase tension increase volatility and potential for violence. Reducing tension reduces potential for violence and opens space for dialogue, new thinking, and creative solutions.
* “Wiser than tough™” – There is a false, immature belief in toughness, strength, power, domination, coercion, threat, punishment, sanctions and isolation. We need you to be “Wiser than tough.™” Use maturity, diplomacy, positive inducements, confidence building measures, tension reduction, and face-saving ways out. Satisfy basic human needs, legitimate goals, and just grievances.
* Teddy Roosevelt got it right – “Talk softly and carry a big stick” All know we have a big stick. Don’t stick it in their face. Keep it in the background. Lead with the positive.
* Eliminating terrorists does not eliminate terrorism. It increases it. “Counter terrorism” can’t simply defeat terrorism and ISIS. Conquering ISIS territory provokes attacks abroad. Root causes are misunderstood. Asymmetric power dynamics, fear, perceptions of domination, US policies, military actions, presence of US bases in Muslim countries, marginalization, humiliation, and grievances provoke asymmetric “warfare of the weak.” The “Global War on Terror” has multiplied, decentralized, magnified and morphed terrorism into a global movement with offshoots. In 2002 my colleagues and I warned this was inevitable if we invaded Iraq.
* “Terror reduction™”, what I call “Cheaper Deeper Security™” addresses causes – basic needs – including identity, dignity, and sovereignty, legitimate goals and just grievances, reducing tension and fear.
* Oppression is not sustainable. No people will tolerate it. We didn’t. That’s how we became the US.
* Negativity dominance – negatives are far more powerful than positives. Negative talk and actions do infinitely more harm, undermine trust and political capital than positive actions can gain.
* Unintended consequences – Policies driven by emotions, psychological ignorance, and superficial, concrete thinking produce “blowback,” unintended consequences that are predictable and preventable.
* Know the enemy. Have empathy for their perspective. Secretary of Defense Robert MacNamara said our biggest mistake in Viet Nam was that we did not know the enemy.
* Acting on the right/wrong axis, you can always be right but things will get worse. Find creative win-win, outside the box strategies.
Ways to address Subgroups – “Different stokes for different folks”
* The Forgotten Ones who shall be “forgotten no more” – These Supporters feel vindicated, and relieved. You have given them voice, reducing humiliation. Your leadership is deeply meaningful to them. There is new empathy for their pain. Use your clout as their hero and father figure to model respect and offer programs, rhetoric and attitudes that dignify them.
* Those who have taken a “license to be mean”- take your victory as legitimacy and permission to avenge the humiliations they have sadly suffered, with taunts, insults, and attacks. They have been incited. Beyond saying “Stop it” on 60 Minutes, they need empathy and guidance. Rebuke will reinforce feelings of humiliation. Their reaction is understandable but will impede your success. Acknowledge that the campaign was ugly and we now need to be respectful. Model dignity.
* The terrified ones– LGBTQs, Muslims, immigrants, Blacks, and Jews are terrified. Provide credible reassurance to each group. Children fear losing parents, causing psychological harm. Create more paths to citizenship. Entrust NGOs, faith communities, etc. to help integrate them into society.
* The safety pin crowd – Your have provoked so much fear that people are vowing to protect the vulnerable from dangers they anticipate. Safety pins became a symbol for protection. Reassure by words and policies.
* Bewildered Millennials and Others – This is their first political shock. A George Washington University student in front of the White House on election night said this was the worst day of his life. Many were in tears. Protect the climate – a true existential fear for them. Make appointments and polices that assuage their fears.
* People who are praying for you – many who opposed you are praying for you. Honor their prayers and intentions. Be touched by people all around the world praying for you.
* Protesters who say you are not their president – Protests are a spontaneous, overwhelmingly nonviolent outpouring heightened by the element of shock. Dismissing, suppressing, and falsely accusing them of being paid professional protesters – a fake news lie – will backfire. Reassure with words and deeds. Protests were predicted had you won.
* Those giving you a chance – Openness is 100% conditional. Fragile faith in you must be earned and sustained by evidence that your rhetoric, appointments and policies will be humane and just. Disappointments will be experienced as betrayal and provoke a groundswell against you.
* Healing and Reconciliation movement -There have been peaceful candlelight vigils, prayer services for peace, healing and reconciliation. Some hold a spiritual attitude but share protesters’ concerns and will join them if warranted. Build on their healing attitude, social media organization, far reach and “Emotional intelligence” to help you heal the divide.
* Democratic establishment, is soul-searching and regrouping. Collaborate with them. Work with Hillary and Obama. Treat Hillary respectfully. Explore with her any creative role she might play. You were once a Democrat. Access those values. Preserve any beneficial accomplishments you can.
* Republicans – Those who opposed you, delighted you got them congress, are falling in line. Those committed to making Obama fail obstructed progress, acting against US interests. Be grateful the Democrats are not doing that to you (yet). Discourage spiteful attitudes. Challenge undeserved insults to Obama and Hillary. Be your own man, outside the box. Place country above party. Don’t cave to either side. Blaze a trail for a “third way.”
* The Alt Right – associated with white nationalism, supremacy, Islamophobia, antifeminism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and right wing populism, are fueled by your election. They stir up hatred, destroy your credibility and will undermine your success. Denounce and marginalize them.
* Nature lovers and Michele lovers – Please don’t rip up Michele’s garden. It would offend many and be immature. Maybe Melania and your children can plant Slovenian or other family favorites. Make it your own.
Some Sample Recommendations – You have to earn the confidence of up to 3/4 of the country who didn’t vote for you. As a former Democrat and unconventional Republican, you can break the mold. You have freedom to transcend party by including and transcending the opposites. Pull“Nixon to China” moves. You may ironically be the perfect one to do this.
* Lead us into an era of civility, dignity, and empathy. Model respectful disagreement. Render humiliation and insults newly unacceptable social norms. Jared can tell you it is against Jewish law to shame, humiliate and embarrass, especially in public – like a crime, sin, or killing, like soul murder. It can make people suicidal or violent. Melania’s anti bullying platform is perfect and can go beyond social media and schools. Promote dialogue groups, educational programs and media that promote mutual understanding.
* Acknowledge the campaign was ugly, bringing out the worst in many. Apologize for your part. We need a symbolic, collective shower.
* Promote civics education in schools.
* Make appointments that appeal to all America. Appoint Democrats and Independents. Appointments of controversial, hostile and unqualified people undermine your credibility. Create new positions for unity.
* Design policies to be therapeutic.
* Make your own Supreme Court appointment, but interview Merrick Garland to understand the intent of his choice and principles of reducing controversy. Find nominees with maximum appeal to avoid an ugly confirmation.
* Learn about climate chaos. Meet with scientists. Get past propaganda manipulated by the fossil fuel industry for the sake of your lineage. You will deal with droughts, fires, floods and hurricanes. Anyone in denial of global warming has a thought disorder. Don’t let Republicans remain a source of world ridicule. Evolve or momentum will rise against you and your historical reputation.
* Your infrastructure package can transform our country. Hire Van Jones to promote green jobs, to address poverty, racism, carbon footprint, pollution, and waste. Do a full court press to repair Flint, Michigan’s water system quickly, like Japan can do. Identify and clean all toxic sites. It is moral and economic to have healthy, productive contributors rather than poisoned burdens on society.
* Promote businesses and incentives that reduce carbon and methane footprint. Convert and retrain people like coal miners for cleaner jobs.
* Chris Hayes suggested you meet with the Kahn family. That would quell fears of American Muslims.
* Recognize that Obama’s greatest successes employed diplomacy and his greatest failures were wars.
* Do not base your policies on emotions – yours or the public’s. Coercive policies may produce unintended consequences that are not sustainable. Rely on “evidence based” knowledge of what works, not what appeals to hunger for aggressive actions that feel good but increase potential for violence against us.
* Know that torture and water boarding are proven effective in producing false information, and that sophisticated, rapport-building, good cop – bad cop techniques practiced by highly trained practitioners are far better in producing actionable intelligence.
* You said you would negotiate with Palestinians, who, like all human beings need sovereignty, and dignity – non-negotiable human rights without which there can never be peace. It will benefit Israel and the entire Middle East. Please go down in history as the one who ended the occupation.
* It is good to improve our relationship with Putin and Russia, if you use it wisely.
* Following Iran Nuclear Deal more moderates won elections. Iran honored their commitments. Many Iranians, 2/3 under 35, want to join humanity and not be pariahs. Many are entrepreneurial. We sold them Boeing and Air Bus planes which will increase worldliness. Tearing up the Deal will empower hardliners who don’t like it. Cooperation can improve relations and create great business opportunities. Things can be very different in 15 years.
* Nuclear deterrence is a flawed theory. Acts to deter others motivate them to deter us, provoking escalation, as in “spiral theory.” If North Korea tests to deter us, we unwittingly misperceive their intentions and escalate, a response opposite that which we intend. Psychologist Ralph K. White claimed deterrence works when accompanied by “drastic tension reduction” or it can break down with catastrophic consequences.
* There is a simplistic belief in sanctions, which fail most of the time. Coercive, punitive sanctions provoke defiance, self-reliance and a drive towards our adversaries. There is a body of knowledge on conditions under which sanctions are more or less effective.
* Create a Department of Conflict Transformation and Violence Prevention. Apply best practices that reverse cycles of violence and retaliation and produce enduring security. Use approaches that offer more solutions than superficial, coercive frameworks that backfire. Employ professionals from conflict analysis, psychology and social sciences to figure out causes, what parties want, identify legitimate goals and develop creative, win-win solutions that transform conflicts. Replace war with more sophisticated, peaceful solution – oriented strategies.
* Integrate emerging practices of Restorative, Transitional and Rehabilitative Justice to replace punitive, retributive approaches when possible so more can turn their lives around, do community service, support their families, and contribute to society – becoming the solution rather than the problem. This will help the economy.
* Engage in dialogue and negotiation to reduce dangerous misperceptions rampant in foreign and domestic relations. Lack of communication, groupthink, and threats allow misperceptions and projection.
* A Paradigm Shift is possible and necessary for our survival and making America and the world greater.
“The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap….”― Zhuangzi
You got the fish. Now you can forget the trap. What you did to capture the presidency, you can let go of. It will take an impeccable integrity, strong will and wise appointments for you to “make America great(er).”
You have stirred up very powerful energies. These forces are evolving whichever way you go. The path will be smoother and quicker if you act wisely, with a win-win for you, the US, the world, and our descendants.
Diane Perlman, Ph.D. is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and a Visiting Scholar, George Mason University School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.consciouspolitics.org