When Political Vitriol Awakens the Sleeping Psyche

The political brain is an emotional brain. It is not a dispassionate calculating machine… The partisans in our study were… bright, educated, and politically aware… And yet they thought with their guts.
Psychoanalyst Drew Westen

As I’ve made no secret about, I am supporting Senator Sanders in the primaries. This is not because I think Secretary Clinton is some Faustian villain, or I’m feeling misogynistic these days. It’s simply, if I look at the two candidates, I believe Senator Sanders ideas are more in line with my own thinking. There’s no doubt Secretary Clinton is a smart, tough, experienced politician. And if she wins the nomination, I will have no problem pulling the lever for her.

But, at least from what I’ve seen of the two candidates, Secretary Clinton is just a little too corporate and hawkish for me to support at this point. Not that I’m blind to Senator Sanders shortcomings, either. His record on gun control doesn’t thrill me. I get that, in this, he was, more than likely, pandering to the rather large hunting base in Vermont. Nevertheless, if one is going to be fair (and smart) in making decisions, one has to at least try and look at the entire picture. Unfortunately, when emotions get in the way, things can get a little nasty.

The apparent contradiction of many liberals is they’re illiberal when it comes to people who disagree with them. But this is a seeming inconsistency only on the surface for, as Dr. Westen and other brain researchers understand, when it comes to politics, emotion always supersedes — trumps, if you’ll pardon the expression — logic and intellectual processes. And for the record, I don’t exempt myself from that.

The result of the venom and vitriol I’ve seen pointed by Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, whoever — at each other, over the past few days, was a miserably sleepless night. And when I did finally manage to drift off at one point, I had horrible nightmares. As I snapped awake at four yesterday morning, disoriented and breathing heavily, two gut-wrenching memories — long suppressed — surfaced. To say they smacked me in the face is to minimize their impact. More appropriately, the feeling was one of being grabbed, metaphorically, by the balls, in a way I could never have anticipated.

The first memory was an incident that occurred early in my junior year of high school. I was part of a newly-established, experimental school within our mainstream public school (it was actually called School Within A School, or SWAS). SWAS was created and oriented for more independently-minded students, looking for new pathways to learning. Thus, especially as it was 1971, the SWAS student-body was primarily made up of liberal, hippie types (among which I counted myself).

The student body and our “Co-Learners” (a pretentious term created for the teachers involved in the program) held a Town Meeting every Friday to discuss, deal with, and hammer out, issues. One of the initial issues we dealt with was the method by which credit toward graduation was to be granted to students working, as many of us were, independently. As the conversation bogged down, some insisted their fellow students document what they had learned or justify what they had been doing. I stood up and asked (I’m paraphrasing here), ‘why are we trying to mimic the workings of an educational system we’ve opted out of? Why is everybody so concerned with how credit is doled out to others? Shouldn’t we be focused on the education itself, the projects, rather than fretting about ‘proving’ ourselves to third parties?’

By the response, you’d think I’d just said: “Richard Nixon is the best and most moral President, ever!” For the next 25 minutes (which felt more like hours), I sat there in shock as I was verbally attacked, insulted, lambasted, threatened and ostracized for voicing my opinion. Not one person — including the adult Co-Learners — came to my defense, or even suggested enough was enough. The meeting broke up and I sat there, shaking uncontrollably, exerting every effort not to break down completely. As my fellow SWASies departed the room, one girl came up to me and said, “I thought you were absolutely right.” If I’d possessed the ability to speak at that point, I would have asked, “why were you silent while I was being attacked?” The traumatic lesson of that event was the realization that fear, hatred, hypocrisy, intolerance and cruelty were not exclusive to so-called conservatives.

As for the second suppressed memory…so very suppressed… This is something I had never told another living soul until I shared it with my wife yesterday morning — I hadn’t even admitted it to myself, or allowed it to surface for half a century! But, it’s important to give voice to it now because I believe it informs much of who I am, most especially the rage I feel toward those who pick on the poor, the innocent and the helpless. It also speaks, quite profoundly I believe, to what’s occurring now.

Robin_Hill_Day_CampI was five when my parents hocked everything they could, borrowing from family and friends, in order to buy a house in the beautiful NYC suburb of Larchmont. They wanted to give their children the kind of idyllic childhood they’d never had, sacrificing much to do so.

When we moved there in 1960, the Village of Larchmont was in something of a transitional phase. While a few Jewish families (Joan Rivers, whose father was a doctor, grew up in Larchmont) had been living there for a number of years, when my family arrived, the Village was primarily made up of Protestant and Catholic families. My parents were part of an influx — an exodus, if you will — of Jewish families graduating from the five boroughs of NYC, something that didn’t sit well with many of Larchmont’s earlier, more established residents.

To the right of us lived a stolid Protestant family. The father, a doctor, was a member of the John Birch Society, an extreme right-wing organization with anti-Semitic tendencies. Directly across the street lived a Catholic family of German extraction, with 12 kids. The parents of that family, as well, made no bones about their feelings that the neighborhood was going to the dogs (read: the Jews).

Each of these two families had a son a year or two older than me. As a new kid on the block, I was thrilled when these two older neighbors allowed me to play with them. However, when they got me alone, my new “friends” informed me I was a “Christ Killer,” and, as such, had to show them the proof of my crime — my circumcision. I had no idea who or what a Christ was, although I was certain I hadn’t killed anyone. And, as my pants and underpants were pulled down, I was certainly not prepared for the molestation that occurred because of my “sin,” especially at the hands of the two neighbor boys. While the son of the Catholic family watched, his buddy — the son of the John Bircher — fondled and continuously played with my five-year-old genitals.

These “sessions” continued, off and on, for several years, by which time I’d made actual friends, and could avoid the bastard from next door (the other participant from the first time, whether out of conscience or fear, did not participate again. And I never told a soul, suppressing these memories in a place I could not, or would not access again until this week.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence I woke up with these two traumatic and painful memories rising from the depths of my unconscious. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a trauma I’d managed to suppress for more than 50 years, surfaced with a vengeance.

The venom and vitriol I have observed and experienced over the past couple of days, is unlike anything I have ever seen. Democrats have spent the past year or two gleefully watching the Republicans implode from within, failing to realize the same thing was happening within their own party — and maybe worse.

The unbridled anger on the part of supporters of both Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton toward each other, is threatening to create a rift that could, quite literally, tear the party asunder — ironic at a time many are calling for unity. It also puts the outcome of the coming election in jeopardy. And unlike some on my side of the political fence, I have to admit, the thought of an irresponsible megalomaniacal sociopath like Donald Trump in the White House, scares me more than does a Democratic Socialist like Bernie Sanders, or a more centrist member of the status quo, like Hillary Clinton.

The animosity and seeming hatred between supporters of these two people who, if one looks objectively at their voting records, are not all that far apart, is disheartening, and downright frightening. Support who you support. believe what you believe. But at the end of the day, try to remember, most of us pretty much want the same things. And the one thing we’d better want more than anything, is to keep a sick bastard like Donald Trump, the spiritual son of the late, political fixer, con man and crook, Roy Cohn, out of the Oval Office.

In the meantime, dealing with the pain of my newly reopened wounds, has led me to decide it’s time for me to opt out of the conversation. The spiritual injury of watching people who should be working together, reacting so hatefully toward each other — with not only a complete lack of respect for differing thought and opinions, but vile name-calling and the hurling of accusations — has opened a door to my own traumatic and painful memories. It’s time I deal with those. Perhaps by focusing on my own healing, I can bring a measure of therapeutic benefit to a process that has devolved into a bitter partisan struggle.

Footnote — After posting this blog, I was dealing with a flood of suppressed memories which threatened to overwhelm me. I wondered if I had imagined it all, and none of it ever happened. In my mind, what happened to me at the hands of the two bastards I’d trusted, was not sexual molestation, or about power — it had been about anti-semitism. I buried myself in so many questions, until I received a call from someone whose anonymity I wish to protect. What I learned in the course of this phone call was, while anti-semitism may have played a part in what happened to me, the leader of this “party,” had also molested two little girls in the neighborhood we all lived in (the extent of what we know) — the caller had been witness to both these incidents. I was so immersed in dealing with my own painful memories, it had never occurred to me this son of a bitch was a sexual predator, and as such, might have had god knows how many other victims, over who knows how many years. As the events in the trial of the Stanford RAPIST, as well as the now trending unbelievably light sentence given the billionaire scion of the Johnson & Johnson corporation, for consistently molesting his 12-year-old step-daughter over a period of years demonstrate quite clearly, this country needs to wake the fuck up to ALL forms of this kind of abuse, and do whatever it takes to stop this on-going criminal epidemic.