The Psychology of No!
It’s been almost 130 days. Waves of horse shit fly from every imaginable source. We’re all covered in it. Fake news? How do you discern it? Try using common sense. This is not a witch hunt folks. It’s a sink hole that will, with cosmic providence, swallow every last person with stained fingers and pitcher’s elbow. If our congress would only recognize they could land the sweetest punch on the face of injustice, corruption and demagoguery, the USA would rightfully earn the title “Leader of the Free World”.
Instead there’s a tweet war. Waiting for canaries to emerge from the bottomless morass, we’re witness to a prize brawl with no one on site to break it up. All the while our Tweeter in Chief choreographs his own missteps with the former reliability of the evening news. The cast of performers, a cabinet built from nepotism and sycophancy, stands in awe of the muck that they have generated. In the toxic glow of their making– Jared, Ivanka, Melania, Donald and Kellyanne are remarkably still well groomed and coiffed. How thin the comfort of tattered polyester will be when the veils are all finally stripped from the stage. Its a poignant moment I’ve captured in my painting Who’s Fired? You’re Fired!
Have you given up? Resigned to eating your popcorn as the contest continues. Wait, there’s more. Remember the promise to make America great again by running it like a successful business? In April Jared, the Apprentice in Chief, was handed a portfolio that included working on Middle East peace, preparing for a state visit by President Xi Jinping of China and overseeing a broad effort to reorganize the federal government. It’s beyond imaginable that a politically inexperienced, real estate prince could even begin to tackle world problems of this scale. If you think a fresh perspective from the world beyond Washington will clear things up, think again. Ask the “The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville’” if they would agree? Being a slum lord should disqualify anyone from participating in politics, let alone cleaning up THE Swamp of Bureaucracy. When reporter Alec MacGillis revealed to Danny Jackson who his landlord was, he exclaimed “That Jared Kushner? Oh, my God. And I thought he was the good one.”
And what about Ivanka, the Princess in Chief? She travels the world, whispering moderation into the pickled ear of her father, determined to make everyone see Donald as a “tremendous champion of supporting families”. Her role as unpaid advisor offers a false glimmer of hope that something is NOT rotten in the State of the Union. The self professed feminist, and historically liberal democrat claims, “If being complicit is wanting to be a force for good … then I’m complicit”. While she was rightfully booed at the Women’s Summit in Germany in April, a Chinese government office quietly granted her company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, four additional trademarks. She has 32 pending, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the new approvals. US law prohibits government officials from handling government matters that could enrich their business. Handing her company over to in-laws does not prevent Ivanka from directly benefitting from diplomacy brokered under the guise of helping American and Chinese citizens. How does this support her claim that she is the champion of Women Who Work? Remember when we thought the First Lady of the United States being replaced by the Daughter in Chief was bad?
How long will it take for the average person to see through the obvious lies that are being told? To compare the current administration to a toxic waste site doesn’t completely reveal the complex psychology of demagoguery. Appeal based on fear and prejudice will only go so far, we hope. This negative psychology, however, has very deep roots in American culture. The Party of No gained momentum in a slow burning wild fire set on the stubble of racism, economic injustice and class division. Social media caters to fickle fingers conditioned by the BUY NOW yellow buttons of immediate gratification. Those clicks isolate people into groups based on impulse. One impulse reaction leads to another in search histories designed to funnel information that further deepens psychological and emotional ruts. As a result, it’s almost impossible to access any information that would challenge past choices. Neither side is given the entire picture if individuals only rely on information that only reflects those choices. We become prisoners of opinions formed while contemplating the right kind of trash bags to buy on amazon.
Imagine a world where you are imprisoned by a momentary choice. Let’s say you pressed the GREEN button instead of the ORANGE one, because GREEN begins with G just like the word GOOD. Now you will only ever be able to wear GREEN clothes, eat GREEN food, and drive GREEN cars. This is not because you only like the color GREEN, but because that one choice put you in a group more likely to choose GREEN. Because we are increasingly reduced to a world of MOST LIKELY CHOICES, it’s getting harder to see all the colors. A similar thing happened to me recently. Like many worried Americans, I’ve been calling my representatives- those in DC and in Virginia. I made a phone call to Dave LaRock’s office one day to ask him to vote NO to legislation with which I did not agree. I was asked for my phone number. I’m not sure what possessed me to share this, but I did. I also shared that I was concerned about a family member who would lose healthcare if the ACA were repealed and medicaid was not extended. Now I get about five automated phone calls each week from various companies, not just health insurance companies. The conversation always starts the same way– “Are you afraid?”
I don’t think of myself as a scared woman. I started my own business. I became a parent in the twenty-first century. I paint unflattering pictures of powerful people. Occasionally I wear a pink hat and carry around a sign stating my beliefs. I am not afraid, but I also recognize I have certain privileges that allow me to be NOT SCARED. I am an educated, first-generation Italian-American woman with resources that allowed me to get an advanced degree, build a home and work flexible hours. What if I did not have those resources? There’s a threshold of fear for each person, and if they fall bellow that threshold it’s a negative sum game. A world that lowers that threshold for more and more people each day will eventually make us all scared with nothing to gain or lose. This is the picture of America that Donald Trump projected in his campaign, and ONLY HE could fix it. As more people are pushed into extreme decisions based on a few intense fears, our choices as a society will be diminished.
My painting Les Demoiselles de la Maison Blanche is based on Picasso’s famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Painted in 1907, the artist kept it in his studio for almost nine years before it was first publicly displayed. How did Picasso know that his painting would be hard for people to look at, much less accept? It was not the naked ladies, but the fundamental rules that were broken. Picasso abandoned traditional western ideals of grace and beauty. He replaced them with a primitivism that flattened a group of women into abstract objects. I would argue that prostitution and pornography does the same by reducing people to the service of a most basic human need–sexual desire. The way that Donald Trump describes women reduces them to a series of binary attributes: skinny or fat, sexy or not, smart or dumb, sane or crazy. All of these choices are based on his thumb up or thumb down.
If we were to reduce Donald Trump to the same binary attributes, he would not pass the desirability test. This is why he surrounds himself with people who have the qualities he champions. One of those people is Ivanka. Tall, blonde, beautiful, rich, ambitious, driven and with a high IQ– his daughter possesses all the qualities he esteems. Donald Trump continues to behave more erratically, impulse tweeting outrageous statements rather than projecting an image of a thoughtful, self-possessed leader. Each day he becomes a more extreme version of himself. Fewer and fewer people are able to make excuses for his poor choices as he becomes more isolated by his fears, the same fears he projected onto the American people during his campaign. The irony is that the more he tries to exert control, the less powerful he seems. It will take a while for his image to completely fade, especially for those who are counting on him to fix their problems. They too will be increasingly isolated by their fears with only very extreme choices left to make.
Unless someone decides to stand up to this nonsense, we are all going to be reduced to the same narrow world. What if Melania were to stare Donald straight in the face and say “No!” She suggested she was capable of this on the First Family’s ambitious nine-day, five-country tour that included meetings with Pope Francis and NATO leaders. When the couple landed in Tel Aviv, Melania batted Donald’s hand away as they walked away from the airplane. But then, like a dutiful wife, she held his hand coming off the plane in Italy. When she wore a black dress and a black veil to the Vatican, was she mourning the loss of her brief self-assertion? The American People are not Melania Trump. We have much better options. I recommend voting for them in your next local election.