What you can do about Trump
The election and subsequent actions of President Trump have dominated the world’s news and attention for the past year, and have people all over the world spinning out wildly. I mean, people are really freaking out about this. And justifiably so. With the world’s sole superpower being led by such an individual – and, even if you support him, you must concede the guy is a dick – the future seems more uncertain than ever. So people find themselves wondering, “What is going to happen? And what can I do about it?”
Here’s the thing. Trump is a symptom and symbol of the situation we are in. He didn’t create it on his own. He’s just one guy.
We all created this mess together.
So when I talk about what you can do about “Trump”, it really means what you can do about the whole mess the modern world is in, whatever you consider that mess to be. In these divided times, the one thing people agree on is that things are a mess. The general litany is clear, whatever your take on them: climate change, resource shortages, inequality, racial tensions, and so on. But Trump is such a focal point for everything that is going on right now, that we can just call it “Trump” as shorthand.
I’ve been watching waves of nausea and fear ripple through an internet hooked on every daft tweet, ignorant statement, and incompetent action from Trump. And it all feels a bit misguided. A waste of energy and attention, for little gain.
In crisis lies opportunity. All that is needed is a change of perspective.
As a life coach, and writer about consciousness, I feel I can help with shifting that perspective. (This perspective is explicitly one from outside America – how strangely easy it is to forget in the echo chambers of the internet that the world is in fact the world – but it also has relevance to those within America.)
So. What can you do about Trump?
Well, what can you do about anything? What can you actually do? Let’s start there.
The trouble is we usually don’t. We look at everything wrong with the world and try to take it on our shoulders. But the fate of the whole world is too big for one person to carry. If we try to take that on, we get squashed instantly. Even thinking on that scale swiftly paralyses us. With “everything”, where do we start? We cannot get a grip or gain traction. We cannot see how to do anything effective. And so we despair. And do nothing. Nothing useful, anyway.
This helps nothing and no one.
So, what can you do?
On one level, this is different for everyone. We each have different abilities, resources, and circumstances. You will have to figure out for yourself what you can do. But whoever we are we can maximise what we can do within those limits, and expand them. And the principles behind that are the same for all of us.
Whatever our potential is, we can live up to it more fully when we are feeling well. When we are healthy and strong in the body, calm and present in the emotions, and curious and focused in our thoughts, we can take on the world. In contrast, when we are lethargic, low energy, anxious, and unfocused, we can do little. We are in survival mode only, just getting through the day.
The things which we can do to increase our wellbeing are much the same for all of us. When we are well, our capacity to do things massively increases. So the first step in doing something about “Trump” is to look after ourselves and increase our wellbeing. We have to do this first, otherwise whatever we attempt to do will most likely fail, and the attempt itself could even be harmful to us.
Let’s start with the basics of looking after ourselves – what I like to call our primary context, or everything within our skin – our body, mind and emotions.
We all have a body. The best response to “Trump” – or any large stress – is to look after our body. The better we feed and exercise our body, and the better quality of sleep we get, the better we feel and the more we can do. We become more resilient, and better able to cope with stresses. This is essential to doing anything about “Trump.”
Looking after our body is absolutely within our power. Our body is with us each moment. We choose what we do with it and how. We can prepare and eat good food. We can get some exercise. In my experience, the more I do physically, the better I feel. How you go about it is just whatever suits you best. Just do something, and do it regularly. That’s the part that matters.
The body is the basic level. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, eating good, and getting some exercise, sort that out first. Honestly, 80% of our problems are dealt with by this. And the feeling good benefits will put a serious dent in the Trump-fear-paralysis-nausea.
Anything that is still an issue after we have sorted this is something real that needs dealing with.
Next, our minds. Creating calm space to reflect is essential to our wellbeing. Practices such as journalling first thing in the morning allow us to get thoughts out of our heads. And many high performing people meditate first thing in the morning. There’s a mass of empirical data on the benefits of meditation, so we ignore it, because just stopping and breathing for a while seems so absurd when there is so much to be stressing and panicking about.
Making the space to meditate, or even just stop and breathe deeply for a few minutes each day, has a huge impact on our lives. In principle this is very simple and easy to do – we are breathing the whole time, we just don’t give it any attention – but like anything, doing it regularly is more challenging.
Our minds respond to whatever input we give them. We are very suggestible. That’s why advertising exists. So, what input are you giving your mind? Are you online all day every day? Do you have a device beeping for your attention every few minutes? Is the information you are getting improving your mood or stressing you out further? Is it information you can do anything about, or does it upset you without giving you an outlet for action? Recently I came across this great rule of thumb: “Enjoy content. Not too much. Mostly paid.” When you think about it, if something is genuinely worth our attention, it is worth paying for. But we will click endlessly on quite worthless “content” that happens to be free. And the day passes.
One of the best things we can do for our minds is restrict our time on the internet and our smartphones. We don’t actually need to keep up with every outraging detail of an unfolding disaster that is outside our ability to directly influence, but our technology makes it very easy to do that. More importantly, when we turn them off, we set a boundary, and regain some autonomy over our minds and attention. We reconnect to ourselves. Who are we? What are we doing?
Smartphones are an incredible technology, but they are best used consciously as a tool. I leave my phone on airplane mode most of the time, only turning it on when I choose to be contactable, or choose to access the internet. The peace this brings is surprising, but it shouldn’t be. Smartphones are a relatively new invention. We can live without them, as we did for millenia before their existence.
The other big thing in our minds is our beliefs about the world. That is a huge topic that is beyond the scope of this piece. But, in short, we are responsible for what we believe about the world, and how we act as a result of those beliefs.
Finally, our emotional life. We all have emotions, and how well we deal with them, or not, has a huge impact on our wellbeing.
Being balanced in our emotions is tricky. The tendency is to either shut down and disconnect from them entirely, or, at the other extreme, to be so caught up in them that we are swept away from all reason.
The key is to just feel what we are feeling, fully and completely, acknowledge it, and let it pass through. Again, simple to say, harder to do.
We cannot know ourselves, or be true to ourselves, without feeling our emotions fully and acknowledging them. When we own our emotions in this way, we can own our truth, and communicate it with integrity.
Emotions are a powerful ally. They can give powerful insights and prompt us to action. Recognising what our emotions are telling us, and acting accordingly, may involve having difficult conversations with people. These conversations are better had than avoided, but we often avoid them as long as we can.
Conversations like, ‘What are we going to do about “Trump”?’
We must have these conversations, because we can’t, and don’t have to, do this alone.
Once we have taken responsibility for our body, mind and emotions – everything that is inside our skin, which I sometimes call primary context – we can deal with everything that is here and now, outside our skin – our secondary context – much better.
Let’s turn to that now.
Secondary context has many levels. Everything that exists is here, now – the most distant stars exert their gravity faintly on us – but some things are much closer. There is our personal context – what we carry with us wherever we go. There is our immediate context – the place we happen to be right now. There is our local context – the places that we go, the community in which we live, our town or city. There is our regional context – the level of our state, or country – our society. There is the global context – how all the other contexts relate to the whole planet. There is the cosmic context – how our planet relates to the solar system, and galaxies, and so on. But let’s keep it to Earth for now.
Fig 1. Nested Contexts
This is quite a lot to think about – everything is everything for a reason – but we can make it manageable.
How? There’s a simple rule of thumb which applies at each level of context. We already explored it for primary context without naming it. Let’s name it now: taking responsibility.
First we must take responsibility for our body, mind, and emotions. From this foundation we can more effectively take responsibility for the layers of our secondary context.
We are not responsible for everything. All we can do at each level of our context is what we can do. But until we sort our shit on the level of primary context we are not going to be much use to anyone. So we have to start there.
So, what are we responsible for at each level of context?
Let’s take them in turn.
* What are we responsible for in our personal context (what we carry with us wherever we go)?
What is closest to our skin? What do we take with us wherever we go? What we wear. Indispensable tools for engaging with the world. Our attitudes. Our energy.
While the world is set up by and for capitalism, which cares only for profit and not ethics, we still make decisions about our clothes and the products we buy. And, like it or not, we are responsible for our decisions and their effects. Our modern convenience and luxury is based on a global system that oppresses many. Would we change places with the people making our clothes in sweatshops, or mining the cobalt used in our phones? Ethical choices for products exist; they just tend to be more expensive and harder to find. But by seeking them out, we help positive change elsewhere in the system of the world.
* What are we responsible for in our immediate context?
Our immediate context is where we happen to be right now. Wherever we are, we are responsible for our conduct, words, and actions. How we interact with the space we are in, and the condition we leave it in for those who come after us. How we interact with those who are also where we are right now – our relationships – which really comes down to not being a dick. The easy rule of thumb for how to tell if you are being a dick or not is to ask if you would like it if others treated you the way you are treating them.
The keys here are self knowledge, integrity, and good communication. These grow naturally out of taking responsibility for our body, mind, and emotions.
* What are we responsible for in our local context (the places that we go, the community in which we live, our town or city)?
The immediate contexts we pass through during the day combine to create our local context.
There is a popular idea that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. This is true for the people we spend time with, too. Our level of being contributes to their average.
What this means is as we change what we are doing, it has an influence on those around us. Birds fly in giant flocks by paying attention to the six birds around them – above, below, front, back, and each side. When one of those birds changes what it is doing, it creates a change in the nearest birds. Small changes ripple through the whole flock.
It is the same with people. We are suggestible. We keep up with the Jones’s.
What we do has an influence on those around us, whether we like it or not, whether we notice it or not.
The example we set in our relationships, and how we contribute or not to our community, transform the people around us and our community, both indirectly and directly.
The strength of a community is measured in the connections between its members. The connections between members are a result of the relationships individuals have with each other. We are responsible for the quality of these relationships.
A strong and resilient community is an integrated community. Do we know our neighbours? Do we participate in our community?
A resilent community is sustainable, in the most basic sense of being able to provide food, water, power and shelter for its members. Is food grown locally, and power and water sourced locally? Are there community gardens? Is there enough quality housing? How are recycling and waste handled?
Do we allow environmental damage, or damage to people, in the name of the economy? Are we engaged in our local politics? The strangest thing about democracy is that so few participate, yet everyone complains.
Society is just a collection of a large number of local contexts. We have power over our local contexts. That’s where we are, with the people we know and love. We can make our local contexts awesome and operate the way we want them to. After all, we are the ones there making them what they are. When we do that, what difference does it make who is in charge?
By now it is obvious that we aren’t personally responsible for the global context. We can only do what we can do. And what we can do is mostly on the level of our primary context, and the personal, immediate and local levels of secondary context.
But what we can do is ours to do.
There are always and everywhere in each moment choices we can make. The point is to make them responsibly, and consciously.
Make those decisions awesome. That is what you can do about Trump. If everyone does that, suddenly the whole thing is awesome, regardless of what Trump is doing.
Living well is the best revenge. Ironically, the best response to Trump from within America is to make America great again.
But whose idea of great?
Your idea. And the idea of those you love and trust. Those around you in your personal and local context.
That is what you can do. Start there.
This is true wherever you live in the world.
Start with yourself. Then your relationships with others, and your local context. That is what you can do. And hope that everyone else does the same. Because the whole is just the combination of what everyone is doing.
This is of course just how things work, and how they have always worked. We just lose sight of this when we freak out. The media narrative is doing everything it can to freak us out. But, by telling us it is all about Trump, when it has always been about us, the media narrative is a false narrative. If things in America are getting better on some measures while Trump is President, that is the result of millions of Americans doing stuff, not one guy.
The real fake news is that we have no power. The truth is that “Trump” only has power when we give ours away. And we give our power away when we refuse to take responsibility for our decisions in each moment, which, together, make the world.
And here’s the real truth. Even when President Trump is gone, “Trump” will remain. The same big picture problems will still be there. The same systems which perpetuate them and fail to respond will still be there. But instead of despairing, there is a solution.
And that solution? Exactly what we have just been talking about. By making things awesome, and taking responsibility for ourselves and our local contexts, we will transform the world. This is what we need to do. This is what we can do. And what we can do, is ours to do.
If you liked this essay, and would like to hear more from me, or explore the concepts of primary and secondary context further, I am writing a book about these and related ideas at the moment. Enter your email here to go on the mailing list for updates when that is ready, or to be first to receive more articles.
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