If you’re suffering in these dark times.

ladyliberty

“Ever since he was elected, I can’t sleep, I can’t function, I cry all the time.  I can barely work. I want to ignore the news, but it’s always there, HE’s always there, always sucking me in like a black hole, and it’s destroying me.”

“Trump is destroying and dismantling everything near and dear to me.  I don’t know how much longer I can go on.  I’m back to smoking and drinking heavily because I don’t know what else I can do.  It just seems hopeless.  He has destroyed the future.” 

“Whenever I hear the stories and see the pictures of those poor migrant kids and their heartbroken families, I just want to scream.  What kind of society separates families?  What kind of society imprisons children who have done nothing wrong?   What kind of society makes it a FELONY to leave food and water for hungry, exhausted, and thirsty women and children who have walked thousands of miles to escape from certain death in their home countries?  A cruel, heartless, psychopathic society, that’s what.  I wish I could leave.” 

“I feel like I’m living in a nightmare that I can’t wake up from.”

“This isn’t my country anymore.  Women are being treated as second class citizens, or chattel.  I feel like my daughters have no future here.  We are seriously considering leaving for a country that respects women and girls instead of treating them like the Taliban treats their women.”

“I’m scared every day.  The anxiety and grief is relentless.” 

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m ashamed to be an American. 

*****

These are actual quotes from people reacting to what’s happening in America under Dictator Trump.   What struck me about these comments is how eerily reminiscent they are of the sort of comments people who grew up with narcissistic parents or are in abusive relationships make.  The dynamics are identical;  what America is experiencing is simply narcissistic abuse on a very large scale.  The main difference is, it’s a lot easier to go “No Contact” with an abusive family.  Unless we are pretty well off financially or have family or close friends in other countries to help us get resettled, most of us can’t just up and leave.

In normal, civilized, democratic societies, politics doesn’t dominate people’s everyday lives.  Before Trump, I could ignore the news.  It usually bored me.  I had other, happier, interests.  People in functioning democracies have that luxury, and can focus on their families, friends, jobs, hobbies, educations, and other interests.

In failing states, and in dictatorships, politics dominates peoples’ lives because their very survival hangs on the day to day whims of their often cruel rulers, rulers who rarely make policies that benefit them and are very likely to make policies that outright hurt them.

There are four main ways people normally react to a formerly benign government being taken over by cruel dictatorship or other malevolent regime.  I have taken the liberty of borrowing Pete Walker’s “Four F’s” of C-PTSD, because what is happening to Americans is very much akin to C-PTSD and PTSD.   Even people who support Trump and his inhumane policies are analogous to the flying monkeys in a narcissistic family.  They cope by identifying with the abuser.  Some may be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.  Trump’s confidantes and high level enablers, of course, are also flying monkeys (and Trump’s “golden children”) and are probably on the narcissistic or psychopathic spectrum themselves.   The rest of us are the scapegoats or “forgotten children.”

So, without further ado, here are the four primary ways people in failing states and impending dictatorships (and abusive families) react to the trauma (and make no mistake, it is trauma):

1.  Sell out to the political system (abusive family) and meekly succumb to whatever new laws and restrictions, no matter how draconian and cruel, are forced on them (the Fawn or Fear reaction);  

2.  Flee to another country (No Contact) if they are able (the Flight reaction);

3.  Numb the soul and mind through alcohol or drugs (there’s a reason, besides their highly addictive properties, why the opiates are a huge crisis right now: people are trying to numb their psychic pain).  It’s also why alcoholism is so high in certain failed states and dictatorships, such as Russia, Belarus, and Hungary.   Some people don’t turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, but are able to just turn off their emotions and feel nothing anymore (Freeze/dissociative reaction)

4.  Refuse to normalize what is happening, even though not doing so makes one extremely vulnerable to great suffering, and an overwhelming sense of sadness, existential grief, stark terror, and other unpleasant emotions that are part and parcel of a serious existential threat.  However, this painful awareness also leaves one open to righteous anger, a galvanizing force which can be the catalyst to changing a dangerous and toxic political system.  (the Fight reaction).

This last group are the survivors.   They are the ones who, by facing the reality of the trauma inflicted on them by their government, are most likely to create positive change starting in their communities, and finally in their state, and even on the national or world scale.   They tend to be the young, the people whose future matters the most, and whose leaders have so callously failed them in favor of their own self interest.

emmarodriguez

Emma Rodriguez, a victim of the Parkland school shooting, stands in silence for six and a half minutes, with tears rolling down her face, to protest gun violence at last year’s March for Our Lives event.  It was an extremely powerful few moments for everyone who watched.

One only need to look at the Parkland school shooting survivors (especially Emma Rodriguez) to see how great suffering can lead to great courage and eventually to change.   The same can be said about 16 year old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg  (please watch this video), who has parlayed her terror about her own and her peers’ future into worldwide activism that has galvanized young people all over Europe to demand an end to the use of fossil fuels.  Not only that, the adult lawmakers are actually listening.

gretathunberg

So, if you are feeling a lot of emotional or mental pain right now, if you are grieving the America you knew when you were young, if you find yourself feeling terrified or close to tears, or angry much of the time, please know that these reactions don’t mean there’s something wrong with you.  On the contrary, they mean something’s very right with you, and you actually have an intact soul that is uncompromised by evil.    Once you begin to normalize the “new normal,” and accept it, that’s when your soul has begun to die.

Use mindfulness techniques, visualization, prayer, or seek counseling to deal with the unpleasant and painful emotions.  Mental health professionals say their caseload is WAY up since Trump became president.  Many of them, who tend to be politically liberal, are as upset and alarmed by this regime as their clients are, so they will be able to empathize and assure you that you are not the one with the problem, but reacting in a normal way to something that is abnormal.

Every time you feel the depression, fear, or rage crop up, remind yourself this isn’t bad: it just means you have an intact soul.  You just need to know what to do with those feelings.

Write about your feelings, like I do.  Write a protest song.  Sing!  Scream!  If you’re good at organizing and are fairly social, use your rage to plan a demonstration or a march in your community.   Write letters to your representatives.  Register people to vote, or volunteer to work on the campaign of a political candidate you admire.

Don’t forget you will need to replenish every so often and do unrelated things to take your mind off the political situation.  Balance is important.   If you need a day to rest, or go to a movie, or the beach, or just sleep in, don’t feel guilty.  Your body and mind needs these breaks to replenish so you can be more effective as someone who helps bring about change.

I also recommend reading Pete Walker’s helpful and easy to read book about C-PTSD, Complex C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.   Because that’s what we’re dealing with under Trump and the sycophantic GOP.

*****

Further reading:

The Four F’s of C-PTSD

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving (book review)

12 Ways to Resist Without Losing Your Mind

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12 ways to #RESIST without losing your mind.

Womens-March-on-Washington-Man-Repeller-Feature-1

I’m not sure if this a recent photo; the fashions seem to be from the early 1970s.  But I like the photo and it still fits the spirit of this post, so I’m using it anyway.

It’s hard, I know.   The bad news just keeps coming faster than we can process.  Some days I just want to forget it all, give up, and shut out a world that seems to get meaner and more chaotic by the day.  Some days I feel so drained and hopeless I just want to crawl into bed and sleep until things change back to normal (if they ever do).

But we can’t give up.   Sliding into despair, cynicism, hopelessness, and apathy is not an option for us, because it’s exactly what our opposition wants.  It will give them even more power over us than they already have.

We are a nation at war:  it’s not a war fought with weapons (although they have been used in isolated incidents); it’s a “cold” war between those who want authoritarian rule and complete destruction of American democracy as we always knew it, and those who believe in decency and truth and progressive, democratic values.   It’s not even a war between left and right, or between Republicans and Democrats.  It’s literally a war between good and evil, truth and lies.

America is having an identity crisis.  We are so polarized now there seems no way we can find common ground, the way we have been able to do before.  For example, when 9/11 happened, Americans stood together as one nation.  It didn’t matter if we were liberal or conservative, rich or poor, or black or white.  We recognized that we were all Americans and helped each other through a terrible time and the trauma that followed the attacks.

But this time, the enemy is not coming from the outside (in spite of what some people believe and will tell you).  No, the enemy is inside our borders, and many Americans no longer seem capable of recognizing that groups of people that are not like them are their fellow Americans, not enemies.   The war they wage is against Truth, and the empathy and compassion for others that is only possible when the truth is upheld and valued, especially by our leaders.   When the truth itself is said to be a lie, there can be no justice, no goodness, no love, and no compassion.   There can only be chaos, trauma, injustice, divisiveness, dehumanization, hatred, and death.

All this sounds very dire, and it is.  But at the same time our leaders appear to be dismantling our democratic institutions and making a mockery of truth and justice,  people are waking up.  The political apathy that was a hallmark of this nation for so long (and was a factor in helping to elect a malignant narcissist for president) is disappearing, and it’s disappearing fast.

Of course, on the far right, there are people who want to wage war against anyone who feels traumatized by or dislikes this president or the things he and his sycophants and lackeys are doing.   But at the same time, there are many, many more people who are finally speaking out, fighting back — and voting!   The blue sweep across several states a couple of weeks ago proves that most of us know that sitting home is no longer an option.   More proof that the tides are turning is all the women suddenly speaking out against their sexual abusers, even after decades of remaining silent.   Think of America as a teenager, who is experiencing the turmoil and changes of adolescence.  If we do things right and keep fighting the good fight, America will pass this turbulent phase and move into peaceful adulthood.

We can’t give up now, however tempting it might be.   But it’s possible to resist without driving yourself insane.  Here are 12 ways to do that.

1. Take breaks.

If you spend 24/7 ruminating about the political situation, reading upsetting news, begging your representatives to save your healthcare (or any number of other things that are in danger under this regime), or ranting on social media, you are going to get burned out.   This is heavy, serious stuff, and you need to replenish your energy and give yourself time to emotionally decompress.  You may need to stay off the Internet or turn off the news channels for a day or two.   Because the reality-show nature of the news can be so addicting though, it’s not as easy as it sounds.   But it’s necessary for your mental health and stamina.  Take walks, exercise, cook a scrumptious meal, paint, read a novel (not a political book), listen to music, watch a movie, GO to a movie, spend time with a friend or loved one.

readingabook

2. Volunteer.

This can be a way to both take a break from all the chaos and still be doing something about it at the same time.    Volunteer at an animal shelter, a food pantry, a botanical garden, a nursing home, or a homeless shelter.  Run errands for the disabled or spend time with lonely veterans.  Join the campaign of a local political candidate you really like.  Tutor kids in math or English, or if you are bilingual, teach English as a Second Language.   If you’re religious, volunteer at your place of worship or give Bible lessons.  Spend time getting to know vulnerable people and learn their stories.   You may not feel like volunteering is making a big difference, but it’s really making a huge difference, and you might even make some new friends.

3. Realize we are watching history unfold.

It might not feel very comforting (a famous Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times“), but we are at a point of history that will be written about in books and taught to students hundreds or even a thousand years from now.   There will be villains and heroes who will be vilified or exalted by history for years to come.   It’s entirely possible that the Resistance might be as well remembered by history as the American or French Revolution.   No positive change in any society has ever come about through passive contentment, boredom, and complacency.    There’s always been bloodshed, struggle, conflict, and often war.   These are the labor pains of history, and we are going through them right now.   They are a necessary part of history unfolding.

4. Tyrants always fall.

History has shown that tyrants and dictators such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and many others always fall into disgrace or die at some point during their reigns.   Without exception, these men have been power addicted sociopathic narcissists whose own malignant narcissism leads to their own downfall.   They are essentially self destructive.  It’s true that thousands or even millions may suffer and die under their tyrannic rule,  but such a regime is by nature unsustainable, and won’t last forever.   Right now, Trump is desperately trying to hold onto the presidency in the face of growing resistance, which now includes members of his own party.    His approval ratings sink lower and lower.  He seems (and is) more dangerous because he’s so desperate.   When narcissists feel threatened, they are prone to impulsive decisions and violence.  While yes, he is very dangerous right now, and more likely than ever to something terrible to maintain his power, remember that the irony here is that it’s because he feels like he’s losing his grip on power (and in fact, he is).   If we can keep him from doing anything drastic, we win.     No matter what happens, this time in history is only temporary.  Things won’t always be like this.

5. Make new friends.

If you protest online (like I do), attend actual protests, are involved in environmental or other activist groups, attend Town Hall or Indivisible group meetings, you are going to meet a great many people who feel the same way you do about the political situation.   Chances are, you are going to find you have other things in common with the people you meet as well.   People with similar political views tend to have similar interests too.   Talk to people, and find out more about them.   Ask them what books, movies, or music they like.   Arrange to do things with them outside a political setting.  This can also be a great way to take the breaks you need, and nurture new friendships at the same time.

friends

6. Resist with love. 

It may be tempting to hate the people who like this president or what he is doing.  It’s natural to feel this way, when we are so divided and when our opposition seems so full of hatred. But vitriol and name-calling accomplish nothing.  If you are up to it and feel like you’re gifted at persuasion (I’m not), you can try to empathize with them and then present your case as to why Trump will not solve their problems, but usually this doesn’t work.  You can still try to empathize with them though.  Realize that many Trump supporters, especially working class whites, feel like they’ve been ignored and looked down on by the left.   They are not incorrect in their feelings, since many establishment Democrats do seem to care more about Muslims, immigrants, or Black Lives Matter more than they care about blue collar or rural whites.  They feel unvalued and left behind.  Trump promised them jobs and pretended to care about them and they still want to believe him.     That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, but try to see things from their point of view and keep on resisting even if they’re not buying the fact that the change you want to see is going to help them too.

7. Violence never works.

Not only is violence unproductive and can get you thrown in jail, it also makes our side look bad.   Worse, in a society that’s declining into fascism and authoritarianism, instigating violence can be an excuse for the Powers That Be to enact martial law or restrict our First Amendment (freedom of speech) rights or our freedom to peaceably assemble.

8. Protesting is fun.

I’ve only been to two actual protests, but I had a blast at both.  Protest events are a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, see creative signs, slogans and even costumes, or make your own.   Chanting and marching as a group (sometimes with a drumbeat) is an almost spiritual experience, and it’s hard to explain the solidarity you feel marching and chanting with complete strangers.  See and be seen!   There’s lots of opportunities for photo taking, and you might even get interviewed or get your picture in the paper.

Here are my posts about the two protests I attended (with photos).

Rally for the ACA (February 25, 2017)

Earth Day (April 23, 2017): March For Science

9. Pray for your enemies.

Even if you’re not religious, praying for the opposition can certainly do no harm.  At the very least, send them your good thoughts.   In my personal life, I’ve found that prayer works.  Since it works for me and my loved ones, who’s to say it won’t also work on some Trump supporter and get them to re-evaluate or even change their beliefs?  I really believe it can.  I pray for them every day.   It was hard to do that at first, but with practice, it gets easier.

Hate won the battle, but love will win the war.

 

10. Educate yourself about history, civics and government.

In high school, I used to fall asleep in civics class (I hear most high schools no longer offer it, which is a shame).   I couldn’t tell you the difference between a filibuster or a gerrymander.   I couldn’t even name the three branches of government (except maybe to pass a test).   It all seemed so dry and boring and irrelevant!   I’d stare at the clock and try not to fall asleep.   But now that our government no longer works (and the news is no longer boring), I’m learning all about how government is supposed to work, and it’s actually fascinating. It’s also far from irrelevant.   As members of the resistance, we can make so much more of a difference when we actually know what our government is supposed to be doing and the ways they are breaking laws and undermining the Constitution.    An added bonus to all this civics education is the history lessons you get. This year, I’ve learned all about past presidents and even their cabinet members, as well as other turbulent times in American history that have important lessons to tell us about events happening right now.

11. Avoid fake news.

Back in the days before the Internet, there were a limited number of outlets for the news.  You had cable news, local news, and network news, and then there were the major newspapers and news magazines.  And that was about it.   In 1987, Reagan dismantled the Fairness Doctrine, a useful FCC regulation that kept news from becoming too biased by requiring networks to include opinions from the opposite viewpoint.  The disappearance of the Fairness Doctrine led to increasing polarization and eventually, the advent of extremely partisan news outlets like Fox News.   Since then, the news has become so polarized that the stories you hear on Fox News (and other far right news outlets) bear no resemblance to stories you hear on other news outlets.   They might as well be coming from an alternate universe.

Things have continued to grow worse.  With the growth of the Internet, news websites have proliferated like wildfire.  Some of these sites are honest and try to report the news factually and include sources.  Others are less reputable, and a good many report fake news stories (some of which may even be written by Russian bots or foreign fake news mills).   Fake news isn’t something only the far right is guilty of; it exists as well on the far left.   How can you tell what news is fake and what isn’t?  Well, it can be tricky.  But a good rule of thumb is to avoid articles with sensational or emotionally manipulative sounding titles or clickbaity titles, and “factual” (as opposed to opinion) articles that cite no sources and don’t fact check their their information.   Stay with trusted and well known news sites that use actual experts in their fields and use citations and references.   Ignore what Trump and his supporters tell you is fake news. They are wrong.

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12. Share your concerns and worries with trusted friends or family, or join a support group.

Unfortunately, even longtime friends and family members have become estranged and even sometimes no longer speak to each other because of Donald Trump.   I have had to block Facebook friends because I could not abide all the pro-Trump propaganda they were posting.  I’ve never had to do such a thing until this year.  It makes me sad but I know so many other people who’ve admitted they had to do the same thing.  Even marriages have broken up over this.

While a liberal who voted for John Kerry could still be friends with a conservative who voted for George W. Bush, things have become so polarized and Trump is so threatening and traumatizing to so many of us, that it’s become almost impossible for say, a Hillary supporter and a Trump supporter to maintain a friendship.   Even if the subject of politics is avoided, the tension is still palpable and it’s hard to maintain a friendship with that kind of tension present.  But we still need to be able to talk to trusted friends and family members when we are feeling discouraged, scared, or depressed about the political situation.  Obviously, you are going to want to turn to people you trust who also share your views.  Talking it out with trusted friends who sympathize with your views can help a lot.

Even talking to friends on social media can help.   As an introvert, I don’t have many IRL friends, but I do have online friends, and in February, I even started a Facebook group (Post-Trump Trauma Support Group — click the link if you’d like to join) which now has 143 members.   It’s been very helpful to me, and others have said it helps them too, and that’s a good feeling.  If you can’t find a Facebook group you like, you can always start your own!  My friends on Twitter are a godsend too.

There are also therapists who are actually treating people for Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Although it’s not an official diagnosis and isn’t listed in the DSM, most therapists recognize it as an actual trauma related problem similar to PTSD that many people (including the therapists themselves, who tend to be liberal) are facing.

Indivisible: starting to get involved.

indivisible-goes-local

Every day, the Trump  administration’s actions get more outrageous, more boneheaded, and meaner.   They seem to have no shame in how low they will go to destroy an entire nation.  They care nothing about the American people or what they want or need; they have no respect for the Constitution, are contemptuous of basic human or civil rights,  they are without a shred of empathy or kindness, and seem intent on bringing what’s left of our system crashing down and leaving everyone who isn’t part of the 1% (or white) without a voice, without freedom, without healthcare, without education, without clean air or water, but heavily controlled, deceived, and policed instead.  They seem to be fostering ignorance, intolerance, divisiveness, and hatred.   Every day it seems to get worse.  This administration has not done one thing that benefits the vast majority of Americans, and every decision they have made has been stupid, or evil, and usually both.

According to experts, we no longer even qualify as a democracy; in fact, the other day I read an article saying that  we have dropped to 21st in the Democracy Index, between Italy and Japan.  As of 2016, we are categorized now as a “flawed democracy” but I’d say even that’s way too generous.   Since Trump took office, I would say by now we have sunk even lower that that.    The next category down is “hybrid regime” (common in much of Eastern Europe, and some African and South American countries), and then “authoritarian”  (Russia, China, North Korea, much of Africa, and most of the Middle East).  We seem to be emulating Russia, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world — and we have a president who may well have committed treason by involving Russia in the election.   We are becoming one of the most hated countries in the world, if not the most hated.  Trump’s actions against immigration are not making us safer; they are actually making us far more vulnerable to attack, not only by angering other countries, but by alienating us from our allies (such as Mexico) so they may refuse to step in and help if we need them.

I know lately I’ve been writing a lot about the political situation because it’s everywhere — and has taken over my mind.     The other day, TIME Magazine had an article about a PTSD-like condition that has become epidemic ever since Trump was elected.   Here is another article I found (there are many others):

Psychologists Say Stress Caused By Trump Administration Poses Threat to Public Health

I remember asking my therapist if there was something wrong with me because I was getting so depressed and obsessing so much over the political situation.  In fact, he said that most of his clients are very upset and some are finding it difficult to function.  Our mental health really is is suffering, especially those of us already suffering from PTSD, C-PTSD and other trauma based conditions.

Rather than just writing about it all the time,  I’m finally getting involved.  Besides attending the March for Science on Earth Day (April 22), I’m attending an ACA (Obamacare) Rally here in my city on February 25th.     I’ve become a member of the Indivisible Movement, a movement that is growing as fast or faster than the Tea Party did.   It seems better organized and more focused than Occupy and doesn’t seem like it will fizzle out or be silenced anytime soon, or at all.   Joining the Resistance makes me feel better; it makes me feel like I’m making a difference and my voice is being heard.

I urge everyone who agrees that this administration is evil and cares nothing about anything but stripping away everything good this country once stood for to join the Indivisible movement and attend any rallies or Town Hall Meetings in your area.  It costs nothing to get involved.

Here is their website, where you can download their guide or ask questions.

https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

Millennials are our only real hope for change.

Protestors sit in the street and demonst

Millennials, like all recent young-adult generations, have been demonized and denigrated by older generations. They have been called useless, dependent, entitled hipsters, and much worse.

But Millennials aren’t the first young adult generation to be regarded badly by their elders. Before them, back in the ’80s and ’90s (while Millennials were being born), Gen-Xers were dismissed by older generations as lazy, nihilistic, materialistic, uninvolved slackers. Before them, back in the ’60s and ’70s, Boomers were regarded as rebellious, hedonistic, disobedient troublemakers and “dirty hippies” who only cared about getting high and railing against the establishment.

Even the Silents, though largely ignored by older generations (because they tended to conform and obey when young, at least outwardly), were criticized for their “horrible and immoral music” (early rock ‘n roll) and the dancing that went with it.   But there were rebellious outliers even among young Silents:  the blue-collar “greasers” and college-educated Beatniks of the late 1950s and very early ’60s.

Returning to the Millennials, they have been called narcissistic, entitled, spoiled, and dependent on the parents who raised them well into their 20s and even 30s.

Let me correct a few things here.

Taking selfies is not narcissism. It’s a trend. In fact, studies have shown that true narcissists are less likely than others to post pictures of themselves online. Taking selfies may have something to do with vanity, but vanity doesn’t equal narcissism, although it may be a part of it.

Millennials are not entitled or spoiled. They are a generation that has not had the opportunities to achieve full adulthood, even if they attended college. Because of the dearth of good jobs for recent college graduates, or any decent jobs for high school graduates, many Millennials are forced to work at low paying McJobs that do not pay the rent and sometimes have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet. For this reason, they often still live at home with their parents well into their 20s and sometimes even 30s.

Like all scapegoats, they are then blamed for their misfortunes, rather than the real culprit, which is a political system and an economy that will not allow them to get ahead in life. They look up at older generations, who had better opportunities in a nation where things were still affordable and where good jobs were still plentiful, and understandably, see how unfair it is.

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Millennials are called entitled and spoiled because they have taken to protesting and activism as a way to deal with what they correctly perceive as unjust, unfair, and outrageous. There is no reason why a college-, or even a high-school educated person should work harder and harder and still not be able to make a living wage. There is no reason why they should have to spend the better part of their adulthood paying back exorbitant student loans when all they can get is a job at a gas station or a fast food joint that barely pays enough to afford them the gas to get back and forth to said menial jobs. There is no reason why, like my son, they should be denied full-time hours just so their employer doesn’t have to pay them health insurance–and then be forced to take a second job to make the difference and still not be able to get health insurance because both are part-time.

It is outrageous. If they didn’t protest and take to the streets I’d be worried about them. They are not backing down though; they refuse to be victimized by this sick system.

In 2011, we saw the first obvious indications that this generation was not going to be a bunch of fearful sheep and just put up with the status quo. With the Occupy Wall Street movement which spread like wildfire across the nation for a few short months until it was silenced by the Powers That Be, Millennials showed clear signs of heeding the words of Dylan Thomas instead:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We saw it again in their almost rabid support of Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate who represented those things that have been missing in American politics now for decades: empathy and generosity for all, a social safety net, a living wage, higher taxes for the wealthy and powerful, care and compassion for the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Sanders went surprisingly far in the primaries, nearly making it into the final two.

The first Millennials are thought to have been born in 1982 (though some sources put them as early as 1979).  The last Millennials were born in either 2000 or 2004 (depending on whose theories you believe), so not all of them were of voting age in this election. I believe if they had been, Sanders would have been the Democratic candidate instead of Hillary. Without the Millennial vote (and as a generation they are very likely to exercise that right, much more so than the Xers before them), I doubt that a candidate who proudly calls himself a democratic socialist (we need to get over the idea that “socialism” is a dirty word: it’s not communism and is a whole lot better than unbridled capitalism) would have gone as far as he did.

millennial_voting
How Millennials voted in this election.

 

Although Sanders ultimately lost out to Hillary, he still made a huge impact on not only the Millennial generation, but on the national zeitgeist in general. He did this mainly by making savvy use of social media, Twitter in particular. The overwhelming support for Sanders innoculated us all to the idea that it’s still possible that a true liberal (in the pre-1980s sense of the word) has a chance.

Now that Trump won the election, Millennials are rightfully outraged. They are not standing by idly wringing their hands and weeping, or cynically shrugging their shoulders as they say, “well, there’s nothing that I can do anyway.” No, instead, Millennials are protesting this election’s outcome. Trump is a man who can ruin their lives, and they have their whole lives in front of them. They are not going to just stand by and take it. They’re out on the streets protesting already, and are showing signs of the heroic generation they potentially are.

http://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000004715520/millennials-protest-against-trump.html

Way back in 1997, two Baby Boomers named William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book called The Fourth Turning.   I won’t describe the book in detail here; you will have to read it for yourself.  But it changed my entire outlook on history and on generations.   One of their theories is that history is not linear.   Generations (and history itself–historical “turnings”–as they are called) are cyclical.    The four generational “archetypes” and the four turnings repeat themselves approximately every 80 years, or the same length of time of a long human lifespan.   They correctly predicted that the Millennials would be a civically-involved, activist generation, even if what they envisioned was a slightly more conformist and conservative version of what they turned out to be.

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Credit: Millennials Rising, Strauss and Howe, © 2000.

The four generational archetypes are Prophets, Nomads, Artists, and Heroes.     The most recent Prophet generation is the Boomers (their predecessors were the Missionaries), who are born in a First Turning (a time of prosperity and conformity).    The current Nomads are the Gen-Xers (who correspond with the Lost Generation), who are born during a Second Turning (the most recent was the Consciousness Revolution, which took place in the ’60s and ’70s).   Artists would be the Silents, who are always born during a Crisis, or a Fourth Turning (the new Artists are still being born now).   The current Crisis began either in 2001 with 9/11, or 2008 with the housing crisis (the jury is still out on the start date).  Finally, Heroes are born during a Third Turning (the most recent one being the Culture Wars of the ’80s and ’90s), when individualism is high but institutions built during the First Turning are beginning to unravel.   The last generation of Heroes were the GI Generation, also fondly known as The Greatest Generation, who are remembered as our WWII heroes and the builders of the prosperous America of the midcentury.    Almost all of them have died off by now.  They have been replaced by the Millennials.

This may sound like hocus-pocus, but it’s not.   The overall character of each of the four generational archetypes is influenced by the turnings in which they were raised and came of age in, and the parenting styles of that particular turning.   In turn, the generational character combined with the life stages they happen to be occupying at a given time (what S&H calls “generational constellations”) both foments and influences each of the four turnings themselves.

Here’s how that works:

Generational Archetypes.

Prophets, born in a time of prosperity, conformity, and increasingly indulgent parenting, become self confident but by adolescence, they begin to rebel against the stultifying conformity, and set off an Awakening (Second Turning).  During young adulthood, they are experimental idealists.   As they rise to power during midlife, they have become vocal, highly opinionated, and passionate about whatever values they have adopted, leading us into a Third Turning (culture wars mentality).  They tend to be judgmental and engage in black and white thinking, convinced that only their way is the right one.  Prophets’ parents are usually Heroes or Artists.

Nomads, born in a time of questioning traditional values and changing social mores, are often neglected by their self involved parents who seem more interested in their own personal growth instead of them.  In reaction, they become self sufficient early on (latchkey kids), but become cynical and reach adulthood with collective low self-esteem.  They tend to distrust the system, which they regard as having failed them and of all generations, they are both the most conservative and least likely to be politically involved.  They care more about pragmatism and “just getting things done” than about values and ideals.   Their parents are usually Artists or Prophets.

Heroes, born in a time of institutional failure but increasing choices and the beginning of the cultural polarization of a nation,  are increasingly protected by their stressed-out parents (who perceive the world as more dangerous), and are encouraged to achieve great things but also tend to be micro-managed and overly controlled.   As they rise into adulthood, they realize the things promised them are not going to materialize, and take matters into their own hands to change the system to one that will work for them.  Their parents tend to be Prophets or Nomads.

Artists, born during a national Crisis, are overprotected (“helicopter parenting”) and strictly disciplined.    They are the children most likely to be told to be quiet, stay out of the way and not bother the adults, who are trying to deal with a dangerous world.   Artists tend to be obedient conformists until midlife, when they finally begin to rebel, often spurred on by the Prophets born right after them.   But caught between two more powerful archetypes (Prophets and Heroes), they tend to never take one side or the other, and learn to be sensitive peacemakers instead, concerned with checks and balances, and “reasonable”and “fair” policies that don’t make waves. They attempt to bring people together.  Their parents are Nomads and Heroes.

It’s interesting to note that no Artist has become President during the Millennial Cycle (the 80-year historical period we are currently still in), but Bernie Sanders, a textbook example of the Artist archetype, came awfully close.

It’s also interesting that a Crisis forms just as peacemaking Artists are at their lowest point of influence–when they are in early childhood and very old age.

Turnings.

The four turnings are approximately 20 year time periods encompassing a particular national mood, which is shaped by the generational attitudes and the age brackets they happen to be in at the time.   Whatever generation happens to be in their prime adult years (midlife) and in the most important leadership roles, tends to set the overall tone for the turning in question.

Thus,

A First Turning, with Heroes in midlife (and Artists as their helpmates), is concerned with institutional building, scientific advancement, prosperity for all, family life, and indulgent parenting.   There is a narrowing of the gap between the richest and the poorest.  Sex roles seem to be at their least ambiguous.  A first turning tends to be unconcerned with matters of a religious or spiritual nature, idealistic values, or social change.  The last First Turning we experienced were the prosperous post-war years, until Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.   We are due to enter a new First Turning within 5-15 years, or whenever (and if) the current Crisis is resolved.

A Second Turning, with peacemaking Artists in midlife (and idealistic Prophets in rising adulthood), is a time of great social upheaval and a greater focus on matters of a religious, spiritual, or social nature.   Less value is placed on institution building, bureaucracy, and scientific advancement in favor of things of a more esoteric nature, such as civil or womens’ rights.   There is a great deal of experimentation with different lifestyle choices, but children born during this time tend to be dismissed as burdensome to self-development.  The most recent Second Turning was the Consciousness Revolution, which started with the first campus protests and the civil rights movement, and ended with either Reagan’s election in 1980 or his “Morning in America” speech when he was re-elected in 1984.

A Third Turning, with impassioned and judgmental Prophets in midlife (but with Artist checks and balances still in place and disaffected Nomads just trying to get by), is in some ways a continuation of a Second Turning, except that the pendulum begins to swing back to greater social conservatism and more law and order.  The left and right tends to become polarized, with both sides thinking only they are right and setting off ugly culture wars.  Institutions, which still thrived in the Second Turning (though they may have stopped being built) begin to atrophy and unravel.   Distrust abounds, especially toward government, which seems to take a backseat to shallow entertainment and “bread and circuses.”  Escapism into shallow entertainment continues into the Fourth Turning (the reality shows that have been popular since the ’90s are the modern equivalent of the circus freak shows, vaudeville acts, and dance marathons of the 1920s and 1930s.)  Sex roles are at their most ambiguous during this time,  and the gap between the wealthy and less wealthy widens.   The most recent Third Turning started with Reagan’s presidency in the early 1980s and ended sometime in the first decade of the new millennium (the most likely dates are 2001 or 2008).

A Fourth Turning, with pragmatic Nomads in midlife (and Prophets in high level leadership roles as early elders) is a national crisis, with no Artists to keep things in check. No matter what the Crisis itself is, things tend to go awry and quickly go out of control.   Children are overprotected and adults just try to get by as best they can, but have little trust in their government or the people who run it.  But it’s also during the Crisis that the seeds are sown for the new cycle that will begin with the First Turning: renewed community spirit and people in crisis helping each other.  This could be seen during the Great Depression and WWII.   What worries me is that so little of that is seen during this Crisis.

On crises that don’t end well.

If a Crisis ends very badly, it could spell the end of or the fracturing of that particular society, or even–in a very bad case scenario–the end of modernity or even civilization as we know it.    If a Crisis ends well, it will lead to a First Turning and a brand new historical cycle (we are currently in the Millennial Cycle, and have been since 1946).     If the Millennials are thwarted in their efforts to rebuild society to one that will work for them (and for everyone), we could fall into a Dark Age or a banana-republic-like dystopia with an accompanying loss of progress, or even of modernity.  In the very worst case scenario (should humanity survive), we could even revert to barbarism and the complete loss of technological and scientific progress.

As a nation, we need to take a lesson from history:  The Roman Empire had many of the same qualities as the United States does today.  The ancient Romans had impressive technology and scientific achievement for their time.  They were regarded as the reigning world power and other nations looked to Rome for guidance.  But ancient Rome, like the United States today,  was was  also bloated with hubris, greed, and narcissism–and an accompanying loss of compassion and mercy for those who were vulnerable or differed from what was deemed acceptable, and we all know what happened.

Following the fall of Rome, all of Europe fell into a thousand-year long dark age (what we know as the Middle Ages), where historical turnings came to a screeching halt and none to very little progress was made from one generation to the next, and where violence and harsh punishments were used to deal with minor infractions, where daily life was ruled by fear and superstition, and where lives were brutal, painful, and short.  Due to the great advances made in technology that have the potential to destroy the planet, if things go badly this time around, things could get even worse than the Middle Ages.

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Credit: Millennials Rising, Strauss and Howe, © 2000

We remember generations only by their most recent deeds, not by their earlier ones.  In their youth, GIs, too, were regarded as spoiled troublemakers with shallow values.  Youthful GIs protested during the Depression and were at the helm of the riots of the 1930s.    Franklin D. Roosevelt, though not a GI (he was a Missionary), was their Bernie Sanders, and the prosperous America to come following the war would not have been possible without his New Deal, Social Security, the GI bill, and other programs that offered relief to the victims of the Depression and made it possible for even working class Americans to own their own homes and have a good life.   Now we are in grave danger of losing those things we gained during his presidency.

The Millennials, as a Heroic generation, are the current incarnation of the GIs and we need to give them a chance.  We need to stop treating them as if they are a useless, selfish generation of shallow hipsters, troublemakers, and losers.    If allowed to protest and mobilize against the very unfair policies that have been foisted upon them, as they grow a bit older, we are going to see them do great things.   Hero generations are civic-minded and very good at working together to build things instead of tearing them down (Prophet generations are better at tearing things down, although that is necessary too).

If this generation is not held back from doing what comes naturally to all Hero generatons, they can and will rebuild our society (or build a new and better one from scratch) that will take into account all the progress we made during the Consciousness Revolution and incorporate that into a new society where there will be peace, progress, compassion, and order.  It may be a little conformist and seem a bit culturally sterile, but it will be much better than what we have now. Millennials are the generation that will guide is into the new First Turning, if we only allow them to.

So please don’t hate on Millennials.  Look up to them as our only real hope for positive change.