By now, most of us have heard about the fake news stories sliming their way through social media and the Internet. Most of us are savvy enough to spot them, but too many of us are not. The most egregious lie, which erupted days before the election, claimed that the Clinton Foundation was a front for a larger Democratic Party child sex-trafficking ring. This week we saw the result: a North Carolina gunman—believing the conspiracy theory—armed himself with a military-style assault rifle and shot up the pizzeria that, supposedly, harbored Hillary Clinton’s sex-trafficking operation.
Now, Alex Jones—chief propagator of conspiracy theories—is on the rise. Jones has claimed that the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job, that Sandy Hook was a hoax, and that President Obama had planned to round up American citizens and put them in concentration camps. Jones’s radio show is carried on 160 radio stations, his YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers, and one of his fans is the now-infamous North Carolina gunman. Jones also appears to have Donald Trump’s ear.
Combine Jones with Michael Flynn—Trump’s new national security advisor, who promotes conspiracy theories online—and with Steve Bannon—Trump’s White Supremacist chief strategist and senior counselor, who peddles bigoted, misogynistic conspiracy theories from his perch at Breitbart media—and again combine all of this with Trump’s egotistical, conscience-free, pathological need to lie and manipulate people, and we’re in for a four-year, alt-right, conspiracy-theory-driven fiasco.
This election has taught me a lot. First: Our country is much more divided than I had realized; hatred for others—for those who are different from us—motivates far too many of us. Second: Fear is driving this nation. September 11, 2001, terrorism, ISIS, even illegal immigration: We feel unsafe, vulnerable, open to attack—we’re suffering from national post-traumatic stress. Even worse: We’ve internalized this fear, causing us to shut down our intuition, our connection to our higher selves, moving us so far away from our moral center that we have placed a dangerous demagogue in the Oval Office.
Fear is a blinding power. It causes us to rationalize, to ignore truth and believe lies. Those lies feed our fears, creating a toxic circle. And oddly, we want to hear the lies, we want to believe because, subconsciously, we enjoy being angry and afraid. It gives us a sense of purpose—something to fight for, something larger than our mundane lives. The fight makes us feel bigger than ourselves. It’s the reason we choose sides at a football game; it’s why we feel more excitement when we’ve got a horse in the race. We feed on the tension, the not knowing, the fear of losing; and when our “side” wins, we feel empowered, as if we had made that winning touchdown or crossed the finish line. Sports sublimates man’s inclination for war: We build arenas for that impulse—temples to worship violence. And that has now spilled into our politics, with Americans battling a deeply divided, ideological war.
Trump lost this election by nearly three million votes, which means the majority of our country is not motivated by fear and hatred, and that gives me hope. But we cannot ignore those who voted for Trump: Good people, loving people, moral people, patriotic people—some of them my own family and friends. When Trump first entered the political race, they said he was a disgrace and swore to never vote for him. But in the end, they did . . . because they allowed fear to drive them. They listened to the conspiracy theories, to the lies, and never questioned the source, never realized how Trump and his conspiracy-theory media machine had manipulated them. They see Trump as a kind of Savior, sent by “God,” to rescue our nation from ISIS and illegal immigrants and a changing world they do not understand. They voted against their morals and conscience—against everything they believed—because they allowed fear to win. And now Ignorance and Intolerance have taken center stage.
What we’ll witness in the next four years—what we are already witnessing—is the result of making decisions from a place of fear. Learn the lesson; apply it to your own life: Fear should never influence your decisions. Listen to your intuition. Listen to your moral center. Listen to the dharma. Make decisions from your personal center of knowing. Center your life in Love and Compassion.
During these uncertain times, as love battles hate in our national arena, we must stand up “for the most basic of human principles, for moral action and the prevention of harm.” We must stand up for Truth, no matter what. We must embody the Dharma, the Soul of the World. As Gandhi said, “Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics do not know what spirituality really means.” Even the Buddha fought against oppression.
I consider myself to be a spiritually aware person, but I admit this election has thrown me off-balance. Next month, the Trump regime begins. So now is the time to get centered. Now we must prepare. Zen-master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat remained calm and centered, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”
In the face of such powerful odds, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. How can we effect positive change when the Trump regime will incite bullying and violence, when the Trump regime will threaten and destroy our rights; how can we help? First, we must center ourselves in our intuitive understanding, in the dharma, in compassion and love. If the Right Action is not clear, remain open—it will come, and you will know what to do. We can protect those who will suffer under this administration, offering food, shelter, or simply listening to those in need and being a friend. We can become an ally for those targeted by hate and prejudice. We can stand up for the environment. We can expose lies and manipulation by educating ourselves and becoming centered in truth. We can stand up and speak out, in peacefulness and with respect. Together, we can remain the calm center of this coming storm.
These next four years will test us. What will we choose as our moral compass? Who will we become as individuals, as communities, and as a nation? Stand firm in Love and Compassion. Be Strong in your convictions. Arm yourself with Peace. Be the Calm. Speak Truth. And know that we are in this Together.