Dear Mr. Biden

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen and also as a psychotherapist for over 35 years. My own book (The Human Climate, 2019) has been a quest to further an exploration about why we have been so stuck in division and denial as a culture.

Feelings trump facts, is what I have discovered. Our most vulnerable emotions can be used against us and can determine our direction in the polls as well.

Here is my story. I began my practice as a therapist in a residential treatment center. I had the best of intentions of becoming a good therapist, perhaps with something of a rescue complex. I worked with youngsters severely traumatized by abuse and neglect and their own mental illness. When I read their folders, I cried from extreme sorrow about their plights. But I knew I was sinking when my kindness and empathy, if somewhat rehearsed, were met with jeers and taunting. My nerves betrayed me and I flew into feelings of helpless rage and mean thoughts. I had to work through some of my anger, I had to admit that I had my own anger too if it was so easily provoked.

Empathy would be crucial but it was not enough. It was perceived as weakness and it did nothing to interrupt fast and furious echoes of manic-like ridicule. These kids were suffering and they had learned how to make others feel terrible as their defense; it was only through surviving the episodes of rage that one could get anywhere, ultimately to where understanding of their deeper wounds that lay hidden away.

Empathy with white supremacists is not enough unless and until a person is ready to utilize the help that is out there which can assist in the often ambivalent journey out of submission to the dangerous cults of hatred. However, when we are faced with militias and vast throngs of people embedded in hate and fear and conspiracies that label large portions of the population as pedophiles and cannibals, aided and abetted by Donald Trump no less, we cannot afford to ignore not only hate but the concomitant threats of violence.

There is a crisis, of extreme propaganda that has become mainstream thanks to Trump, that degrades the value of a free press since it denies the veracity and the value of facts. Once we have a society that calls every inconvenient truth a hoax, we lose respect for science and decide in favor of conspiracies based on hate and fear.

The more people hide their own feelings, the more they tend to project them onto other people. I can safely say that conspiracy theorists take their own unwanted storylines and emotions and concoct the wildest narratives about other people. I can also safely say that the rest of us are supremely unsafe if we do not get protection from those elements in our society. The uncertainties of our times, the histories and current events of racial injustice coming to the surface, and this awful pandemic, have all encouraged anxiety, and homegrown extremists are one effect of this turbulence.

Which brings me to the reason for my writing you at this moment in time. I am particularly worried about the presence of violence in our midst; namely the extremist elements of white supremacy, and the near aching for an immediate Armageddon at that, with QAnon dramatically among them. I feel strongly that unless you address these phenomena directly, it will be disastrous. Everybody is in a heightened emotional state, whether because of the pandemic or because of the elevated levels of social unrest. Trump’s words and actions can drown out everything, leading people into a panic which needs interruption. It needs interruption by clear messaging with leaders unafraid to face the dangers we are all sensing.

Mr. Trump, as many have noted, suffers (and alas he doesn’t do much suffering for the most part) from a malignant form of narcissism. He craves being liked and he craves winning. And the two at just about any cost. He thrives on combat and on humiliation, and my fear is that if you don’t confront the menace in his message and stick to facts only, you will lose a chance to reframe the discussion so we can focus on the fascism that threatens to come closer and closer. In a word, if you don’t find a way to deflate his narcissism, I fear he will win. We have to face and articulate the threats clearly; one is Trump’s alarming intent and attempts to dismantle the legitimacy of a free press. If journalists bring facts and thoughts that are not just doubted but constantly degraded there will be no point to facts.

We also need to learn from the past, from how Democrats have lost chances because of less than good planning and strategy. Strategy needs to matter not just when something works, but when any of us has to recover from a mistake or a perceived one. Many have said Democrats can’t win because they are too nice. They are too soft, too pleading. My take has been that there has not been enough clear and tactical management of campaigns that can resist bullying of the other side. There has not been enough capacity to access our own aggression that can in turn become assertiveness and effective strategy. The more we recognize our own aggression, which we all have, the more we can pick up danger coming from without and plan for it.

One example comes from 2004 when Howard Dean was a Presidential candidate in 2004 against George W. Bush. He was out of the game because he yelled in a burst of emotional vitality about winning the upcoming primaries on the campaign trail. He was out of the game because he wasn’t rescued by a surround sound that could show the public (as one example I had imagined at the time) visual and perhaps audio images of the faces and screams of so many who campaigned, as part of passion as opposed to madness.

Howard Dean was toppled, I thought at the time as I do now, because he agreed to be interviewed by Diane Sawyer who asked him and his wife what they argued about. I remember yelling at the television begging him not to answer, but of course he did. Dr. Dean, his wife and a pediatrician said the only time she remembered John getting mad was when she forgot to mail something. I remember distinctly talking, again to the tv, saying “You’re lying and you’re done.”

Dean’s campaign wrapped up because he was painted as a mental case, let’s say an unattractive mental case. And now he was cowering, instead of telling Miss Diane that it was none of her business, by saying they argued like all marital couples and resolved their differences. Cowering before an interviewer is a losing strategy. And the Republicans wanted him out because he could have made a credible and even formidable opponent against President Bush, himself a very controversial President. Bush and Cheney had pummeled America into a war so shameful and based on lies, but they were sneaky and they were not hysterical. They weren’t overt, and so the Democrats were toppled in the Election as well. Candidates were afraid to discuss the war, the lies, so the elephant in the room stayed just that. If you go onto Google and look Dean up, you will find the title “The scream that doomed Howard Dean”. How sad, and how scary that someone’s perspiration (Richard Nixon) or scream of enthusiasm can do so much harm.

We are at a very dangerous precipice. And I don’t think it’s a matter of “This is not who we are” because actually it has been who we are, and for more than awhile. Emotions, in the end, really do trump facts. And unresolved emotions never faced and never given the dignity of being heard and understood, lie festering waiting for a moment to come out and get back at the original antagonists or those perceived as such. It is an idea to consider the possibility of actively cultivating an increased awareness of the emotions that can otherwise run haywire.

There is a disturbing and very smart if worrisome concerning article in Medium: “This is Why it Feels Like the DemocratsAre Going to Lose”, by Umair Haque, the subtitle of which is: “Take it From Us Survivors — This isn’t How You Fight Fascism”. In it Haque states over and over again: you can’t rely on morality and odes to it, to fight fascism. He underlines the need for Biden to speak of fascism out loud as the clear and present danger that it is.

Haque points out that in fact Biden has yet to use the word “fascism” out loud. He suggests that Biden take this on full force, and that Biden say something like the following: “This is fascism. Let us tell you what fascism is. How it destroys you in the end. Let’s think about what it did across history. How it’s never once led to prosperity or peace or freedom, only to ruin, for its most ardent supporters. Is that what you really want? To live in poverty, disgrace, violence, brutality, fear? Aren’t your lives hard enough?” I endorse this and I so hope you are listening.

Towards the very end of the piece, Haque writes: “Trump is calling him {Biden} a socialist, his backers anarchists, speaking of the need for ‘law and order’ which only his secret police can restore. Meanwhile, Joe Biden still hasn’t said the word fascism.” Although morality alone will not fight fascism, the moral of the story is to talk about the elephants in the room, talk to about fascism and not let Trump pin you to the ground with labels like socialist. Besides let’s take “socialist” out of the trash can and own up to some of the best programs in America, the New Deal as but one example having inside them a socialist aspect.

Mr. Biden, many of us are in a state of dread. And as much as your campaign is enlisting support on a financial level, I hope you enlist the support you may need on important strategic levels, and on emotional levels, the emotional levels that may make or break this election and the times that come ahead of it. Some of us are out here ready to assist and eager to do so.

Mr. Biden, Joe, Sir, we know you are a good person. We know you’re capable. We know you have the experience and the good will to take this country forward. But what we need to hear, what we must hear, is that you can take on Trump. We need to know you can be the tough guy who is ready and controlled enough to interrupt Trump’s malevolence and his threats to any semblance of justice, including a respect for a free press. You need to present your level of readiness. You need to show the courage to take on the extremism that is threatening the fabric of our democracy as much as anything has in the past.

And meanwhile, please — please stop acting surprised, surprised that Trump hasn’t been a real leader during the pandemic, that he has denigrated veterans, that he has seen an admission of systemic racism as un-American. Please remember that you are the grownup here, so we also need to trust that you won’t regress to making childish threats to meet him in a locker room. We are already in the locker room.

So then, moving forward from here: May you heed the best of advice and go in fierceness, in integrity and with courage. Know that we are with you and are here to help.

A psychotherapist, a New Yorker living between Colorado and Italy (in good times) I am passionate about the role of emotions and awareness for evolving,sanity

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