Official White House photo.

Before the presidential election, I assumed the cult of Trumpism could be explained by people being racist or stupid or both. But after so many of us voted, I realized, my explanation was too simplistic. There were too many of “them,” and they didn’t all fit into neat categories. I wondered what held them together considering Trump’s meanness, the distortion, and so many obvious lies. 

I have a vague feeling that the answer is more complex, less rational, and maybe involves even me, a progressive, or to use an outdated word, a liberal. I don’t buy that theory about the existence of two separate realities, depending on where you get your news. 

This is what’s real: Biden won the election. And the United States, the richest and most powerful country in the world, is doing the worst in the world with COVID by every metric.

I heard an interview on National Public Radio with a nurse from a rural area. She had COVID. She has recovered, and she’s working again. She’s also mourning the loss of her patients. At the end of the interview, she slipped in the fact that her husband, a welder, thought that the virus was no big deal. As a psychotherapist, I have two comments: 

  1. His level of denial amounts to a disease, and;
  2. Their marriage is in trouble.

Allow me to apply the body metaphor to the body politic. The cult of Trumpism looks like a symptom of disease to me. Conversely, to a Trump supporter, my ideas may look like a symptom of disease. That’s OK. The metaphor works both ways. Fortunately, a disease can be diagnosed, treated, and sometimes cured. A disease calls out for healing, not punishment. 

I am as tempted as anyone to attack those who adhere to the cult of Trumpism. But, what if, instead of blame, guilt-induced hypocrisy, and hopelessness, we looked at this huge gap between our ideals and our realities as symptoms of disease? 

A symptom sends the body an important warning or message. We ignore it at our own peril. We wouldn’t blame the lung for growing a tumor if its body had smoked cigarettes for years. We wouldn’t even blame the body for enshrining poison from a silver holder, sucking it in because it made the body feel sophisticated, sexy and relaxed. Sometimes, the body and the mind don’t know any better.

As I read the Bible, the part about all of us being one body strikes me, not as a literary metaphor, but as an ecological truth. We are connected with each other and with all of creation. No one is saved alone. 

But if we are truly all one body — a sobering thought — we have to figure out a way to compassionately acknowledge the symptoms and effectively treat this lethal disease. We must ask, “Am I complicit in its cause? Is there anything I need to do or stop doing?”

We Americans came up with the brilliant, idealistic notion of an enlightened democracy. We even put it into inspirational words. That was quite an accomplishment. Yet we went right on enslaving people, murdering Native Americans, and denying women the right to vote. When we got to the point where we couldn’t stomach certain policies and practices anymore, we tried various work arounds like lynching, mass incarceration, voter suppression, and the destruction of the earth and each other by unfettered power and greed glossed over as capitalism. 

I am one of the many Americans who considers herself a Christian, which means that I aspire to think and act like Christ. He was the archetype of a revolutionary, caring for the least of us.  So, the question for all of us is, “What can I do in order to bring the body politic back into a healthy balance?” The good news, in spite of corporate money and addiction, is that we’ve come to trust the science. And that’s amazing!

Orissa Arend is a mediator and psychotherapist in private practice in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a journalist, who has written for The Louisiana Weekly, The New Orleans Tribune, and the Times-Picayune. She’s the author of “Showdown in Desire: The Black Panthers Take a Stand in New Orleans.”