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Magnificent Obsession: a plea to Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren to support Joe Biden

Protesters
Photo: BuzzfeedNews.com, August 19, 2017

Hear me out. Please.

If there’s one thing Americans can agree on it’s how divided we are. Theories abound as to why, mostly in the form of finger-pointing. Solutions from government officials, media consultants and civic leaders are bantered about like intellectual sport. The anger is palpable. 

I’m no politician but, as a former Army Behavioral Health Officer with 25 years clinical experience, I do know people. Every day I help them turn their lives around, replacing self-defeating choices with productive solutions. I know what this country needs and it’s not another heated election. 

Published in 1929, Lloyd C. Douglas’ book, Magnificent Obsession, heralds selflessness and charity as divine pursuits. Inspired by the Gospel of Matthew, it is a story of personal redemption through private sacrifice. There is no greater passion than the kind that needs no audience to matter. I thought about this as I worked through my weariness and fear.¹

I don’t need to remind you what’s at stake. We have already seen an erosion of independence in Congress, the Justice Department, State Department and Department of Defense. For the first time since the Civil War our democracy is in peril.

Think about someone important in your life, someone for whom you’d take a bullet: a child; spouse; parent; sibling. Suppose I could guarantee, if you took that bullet, you’d survive, but, if you chose not to, there was a possibility your loved one would die. What would you do?

None of the Democratic Presidential candidates can guarantee a win in November, but there is a way to ensure a Trump defeat – if you’re willing to take the bullet. I ask you: after months of accusing Republicans of being self-serving, are you  prepared to put the needs of the country before ambition. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suspended his 2016 presidential campaign, he urged fellow candidates to rally around one opponent in order to beat Donald Trump. Unfortunately, they were too selfish to heed his advice.

What I’m proposing is a collaborative campaign. The Democratic candidates would make a joint announcement they’re suspending their presidential bids to campaign for Joe Biden. In exchange, Biden would agree to serve one term. The group would establish a unified platform and policy agenda. Proposed Cabinet positions would also be a group decision. Imagine the boost this would have on our collective malaise: politicians defying expectations of cynicism and distrust to heal the nation. A grand gesture of unprecedented selflessness! I think the country’s worth it. Don’t you?

I make this plea not as a voter, but as a mental health professional. While some characterize a Biden presidency as going backwards, I see it as a return to normalcy, a coming home after an odyssey of Ulysses proportions. While some resent efforts to court voters who’ve been unfaithful to the Democratic Party, we would be no better than Republicans if we chose indignation over forgiveness.

Biden has established relationships with Members of Congress and foreign leaders. He is competitive in states Donald Trump needs to win. His personal history is one-part everyman and one-part inspiration. If Joe can overcome such personal adversities, so can we.² He is also deeply religious and can speak credibly to Christian Americans who are equally so. Despite Biden’s various titles, there’s a reason Americans still call him “Joe.” It’s a testament to his approachability, empathy and candidness.

Joe is everything Donald Trump isn’t: thoughtful where Trump is impulsive; seasoned where Trump is naïve; healing where Trump is incendiary; and, most importantly, beloved in a way Trump will never be. In this regard, Joe Biden has already won. He doesn’t need to prove himself. He’s running because the circumstances call for it and many of us beseeched him to. It’s as though Joe’s entire life – the accomplishments and the tragedies – have prepared him for this moment.

Yes, you’ve promised unity by the August convention, but that’s too little too late. There’s no magnanimity in resigning to defeat. A Soldier who joins the Army after war is over is appreciated but not admired. No, the sooner you commit to one candidate, the greater the sacrifice, the more powerful the message. 

No doubt Republicans will continue to engage in fear-mongering and division. Meanwhile, you’ll have won the hearts and minds of the American people. They can choose hate. We choose love. In the process, we’ll remake history. 

¹ Douglas, Lloyd C. Magnificent obsession. New York, Willett, Clark & company, 1929.

² https://www.cnn.com/2015/05/31/politics/joe-biden-beau-biden-tragedy/index.html

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The Most Dangerous Man in America: It’s Not Who You Think

Some readers may remember Congresswoman Connie Morella. I grew up in her district. I used to quip she was a “Republican in name only.” She even voted against impeaching President Bill Clinton. Morella served eight terms before being defeated by then-State Senator Chris Van Hollen. While I understood the Democratic Party’s desire to bolster its caucus, I thought it wholly unfair that a Representative who consistently put the needs of her constituents above party politics be penalized for having an R by her name.

You might say, “That’s politics.” But is this what the Framers had in mind – that a Member of Congress who reaches across the aisle would still be treated as partisan? Shouldn’t voters – not party leaders or political pundits – decide when they’re dissatisfied with their elected representatives?

Of course, Americans do cross party lines, which takes us back to the Morella scenerio.  While now-Senator Chris Van Hollen is doing a great job, his campaign to unseat Morella goes against everything the Founding Fathers intended. The system they created was working, but Maryland Democrats were hell-bent on going around it. This was the first time I voted for a Republican. 

Lawmakers have become so dependent on winning as a means of governing, there’s barely a distinction between them. Perhaps there’s no better example of this dynamic than gerrymandering. Regardless of party, it is entirely wrong. The point of democratic elections is to hold legislators accountable. When politicians exploit democracy to ensure reelection, they are putting their needs above the needs of the American people. 

Democracy is more than a system of government. Its a way of life, a road map for coexistence, guided by the principles of mutual respect and fairness. But it’s meaningless if not internalized. Democratic norms are not something you follow only when it’s to your benefit. Nor is it something to manipulate to your advantage. This mindset, “my way or the highway” breeds distrust and resentment, making it that much harder to work together toward a common good. 

This cynical approach has been largely fueled by one person: Senator Mitch McConnell. There’s never been a more divisive figure in modern politics. His actions are, simply stated, undemocratic. His recent move to prevent witnesses in the Senate trial is classic McConnell. 

I’ve heard McConnell cares about one thing: remaining Senate Majority Leader. Despite being labeled the “do nothing Dems” by President Trump, the House has passed hundreds of bills, including ones on background checks for firearms, equal pay, immigration reform, climate change, and domestic violence. As Senate Majority Leader, McConnell unilaterally blocked them from even reaching the senate floor for a vote.¹ Meanwhile, the Senator oversaw the appointment of 102 conservative federal judges in 2019 alone, more than twice the annual average over the past three decades.² 

Consider the premise behind Congress. Senator McConnell represents one perspective in one state. His colleagues have been elected to represent other perspectives in other states. If for no other reason, McConnell’s Democratic colleagues deserve consideration because they are advocating for the wants and needs of fellow Americans. As legislators rely more and more on conquering rather than compromise, is it any wonder money has corrupted the process of running for office and voters are abandoning both parties? 

Democracy was never meant to be practiced this way. Compromise, not winning elections, makes policy. As a psychotherapist for 25 years, I have come to appreciate how complicated but imperative good communication is. To give you an idea of it’s complexity, when I work with families, I teach 15 “principals” to communication. It is a skill, like driving, and must be learned and practiced. 

Obviously, lawmakers appreciate the power of communication. Otherwise they wouldn’t use it so often. Unfortunately, it’s one-dimensional: all defensive. They’re either justifying their actions or trying to persuade others. This is not communicating. In fact, it’s a roadblock to communication.

I have an expression: Same scene, different script. The content of a discussion may change (i.e., gun reform; reproductive health; immigration) but the underlying dynamics – that is, how Members of the two parties interact – stays the same. They repeat the same dysfunctional patterns that cause division. In Mitch McConnell’s case, the underlying dynamic involves demonizing his Democratic colleagues to gain power. 

How hard can it be to lead this way? What kind of human being regards success as getting his way rather than building alliances? In reality, it takes more skill to seek common ground and build coalitions. Rather than being guided by democratic norms, McConnell treats them as tools he can take or leave. He blocks or selectively enforces regular order to suit his purposes. 

Whether legislators like it or not, they have to want to work together more than winning. This may sound idealistic, but it’s actually quite practical. As Abraham Lincoln wisely said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Since the Civil War, I can’t think of a more existentially perilous time for our country than now.

To demonstrate my point, I’ve included a video of Dr. Fiona Hill, an expert in Russian and European affairs. It is a brilliant example of diplomacy, the art of negotiating while maintaining good will. You have to admire the delicate word choice, empathy, trust, and self-control it took to respond as Ms. Hill did to this Congressman – even though he tried to stop her from speaking.  

These are the skills Senator McConnell lacks, and the country is suffering greatly for it. Clearly, McConnell doesn’t understand the power that comes with trust, empathy and good will. Nor does he care about the strain his limited skill-set puts on his colleagues and the country. I know this because, if McConnell did, he’d  be putting these skills to use. 

America, take heed: changing the power differential will never be enough. The problems plaguing our country – war, climate change, healthcare costs, gun violence, opioid epidemic, suicide, poverty, declining education, unpaid leave for child/eldercare, loss of manufacturing jobs, election interference, illegal immigration and so on – will not improve until Congress fundamentally changes its discourse. Unfortunately, that will never happen while Mitch McConnell is Senate Majority Leader. He’s welcome to prove me wrong. 

¹https://www.vox.com/2019/11/29/20977735/how-many-bills-passed-house-democrats-trump

²https://apnews.com/875e9a5e1e19e9754bfcc7c63cc747c4

 

Impeachment: Right Idea, Wrong Remedy

I started writing this article back in July, 2019, right after Donald Trump “approved military strikes on Iran, then pulled back…”  According to the New York Times (and other media outlets), “planes were in the air and ships were in position but no missiles had been fired…”¹ At the time, I wrote, “This breaking news, if true, should terrify everyone.”

So, its with chilling irony and tragic predictability Trump may have embroiled us in an asymmetrical war with the government of Iran and it’s supporters. Anyone naive enough or with enough hubris to think otherwise need only imagine if Iran had bombed the US, killing our Vice President. Whether it’s justified or not is beside the point. Arguing to people they shouldn’t be angry – no matter how good our intentions, rational our argument, or justified our actions – never works. As Benjamin Franklin in the musical, “1776” remarks, “A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as ‘our rebellion.’ It is only in the third person – ‘their rebellion’ – that it becomes illegal.”² That is how Iranians will see it.

Less than three months prior to the drone strike in Iran, Trump unilaterally withdrew US troops from northern Syria, allowing for the reconstitution of ISIS and the continuation of Turkey’s “ethnic cleansing” campaign (including Christians). This, in turn, served the agenda of our enemies, Russia and Syria. (BTW, an “enemy,” is not an innocuous entity. These are countries systematically trying to destroy the US. Just don’t expect them to forecast or admit it.)

In coming to his decision, Trump did not consult with his Secretary of State, Director of National Security or Defense Intelligence, military leaders or allies. Rather, he made this decision unilaterally and impulsively, after one phone conversation with Turkish dictator, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Three days later, Trump naively tried to back-track by sending a letter to Erdogan warning him not to “be a tough guy” and go through with the invasion.³ Needless to say, it had no effect. 

As a psychotherapist, I’m not surprised by Trump’s erratic and impulsive foreign policy. In fact, a group of 27 mental health experts accurately predicted the threat of a Trump presidency in their book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. Since its initial release, in October, 2017, ten more experts have authored essays. Some of the book’s architects also established the World Mental Health Coalition to educate and protect the public. 

Imagine sitting in a stadium full of people. Everyone has blinders on but you. Suddenly, you all smell smoke but only you can see the fire. You repeatedly warn the others that the fire’s spreading, but they ignore your warnings because they don’t see it. That’s what the last three years have felt like for mental health professionals. Despite repeated appeals, Congress and the media continue to ignore the “elephant in the room,” largely because they regard it as politically irrelevant. 

The 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, is supposed to address Presidential incapacity. While it specifically lays out procedures for unseating a President, it vaguely describes the criterion as “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”4  In an article for Time, Jon Meacham recounts that the amendment’s chief author, Indiana Senator Birch Bayh addressed mental fitness: “It is conceivable that a President might be able to walk… and thus, by the definition of some people, might be physically able, but at the same time he might not possess the mental capacity to make a decision and perform the powers and duties of his office.” Representative Richard H. Poff of Virginia envisioned a scenario, “When the President, by reason of mental debility, is unable or unwilling to make any rational decision, including particularly the decision to stand aside.”5  Unfortunately, how a lawmaker defines “mental capacity” or “mental debility” can depend on his or her political agenda.

Even if the 25th amendment is a political impossibility, it is still a conversation worth having. There are measures Congress can pass based on Trump’s psychological dangerousness. On March 19th, 2019, the World Mental Health Coalition convened a panel of experts in mental health, law, economics, politics, and national security at the National Press Club. On July 25th, Trump made the now-infamous phone call, pressuring the Ukrainian President to interfere in the US 2020 Presidential election. On October 3rd, the Coalition submitted a letter to Congress urging limits on Trump’s ability to make war or launch military options. On October 13th, Trump ordered the withdrawal of US troops in Syria. On December 5th, the Coalition petitioned the US House Judiciary Committee to place constraints on Trump’s potentially dangerous impulses in response to impeachment. On January 3rd, Trump ordered the drone strike in Iran. On January 8th, the Coalition sent an “Urgent Communication to Congress RE: The Psychological Dangerousness of Donald J. Trump.6 Will this, too, go unheeded by Congress and the media?

If we continue to avoid talking about Trump’s mental and emotional instability, the country is also at greater risk of reelecting him. In my article, “How Our Ignorance of Mental Health Helped Elect Donald Trump,” I discuss the costs to a nation illiterate about mental health. (For a brief explanation of Trump’s behavior, I encourage you to read it.) Critics say it’s professionally irresponsible to apply a clinical diagnoses to Trump’s behavior. I think it’s irresponsible to normalize it.  

What has become abundantly clear over the past three years is that democracy is only as strong as the integrity of its practitioners. And no matter how many laws are enacted, they will be ineffective if not equally enforced. They can be manipulated as easy as words and justified as easy as thoughts. But that’s the point: not everything can be solved through laws and physical barriers.

When a patient has been wronged and files a civil lawsuit, I caution him not to expect it to resolve his emotional wounds. We can lock people up for their crimes but that isn’t teaching them how to function in a civil society. These may be easy fixes that take away our anger and emotional pain, but it’s at our own peril we ignore the complexity of our personal and social ills.

No, the remedy for Donald Trump is not our legal system anymore than Donald Trump is the remedy for our grievances. It’s our mindset – all of us – not just the ones you hate or disagree with, that must dig us out of this mess, just as it dug us into it. But we have to want to find compromise more than we want to vent anger, win an argument, exact revenge, or get someone to change. This is the only way we will thrive. As I tell my patients, “You can win the battle, but lose the war.” Is there any doubt which direction we’re currently heading? 

¹ https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/us/politics/trump-iran-attack.html

² https://www.quotes.net/movies/1776_109517

³ https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/trump-call-turkish-leader-led-u-s-pullout-syria-n950886

4  https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27#toc-amendment-xxv

5 https://time.com/5098402/could-the-25th-amendment-be-trumps-downfall/

6 https://dangerouscase.org/

 

 

Ditch Your Inner Bully

SelfBullying2.jpg

You’ve just left a meeting or an evening out with friends. As you’re walking away, you feel a rush of anxiety. Then it shows up: that voice in your head – rehashing what happened, second-guessing your actions, mind-reading what others were thinking, anticipating the fall-out and calling you names. Sound familiar?

You may be surprised to learn you’re not alone. This is particularly the case with women. That’s the irony: each woman thinks she’s the problem. Why is this? Well, I have two explanations.

First of all, women tend to be relationship oriented. In her groundbreaking book, In a Different Voice, research psychologist, Carol Gilligan, introduced two moral viewpoints: the logical, individualistic perspective – which makes decisions based on people’s rights and the rule of law – and the care perspective – which places more emphasis on protecting interpersonal relationships and taking care of other people. Dr. Gilligan referred to the two perspectives as the “masculine voice” and “feminine voice.” She even observed these differences watching how boys play together versus how girls play together. ⌈¹⌉⌊²⌉

Your inner bully is a coping strategy you use to protect your relationships. It’s just not a healthy coping strategy. For one thing, the inner bully uses up a lot of mental energy. All that ruminating – analyzing the past and dreading the future – is exhausting. The inner bully also interferes with your concentration and your ability to be “present.” If you’re trying to impress your boss, the least helpful strategy would be to take your mind off your work. If the entire time you’re on vacation, you’re thinking about work, you won’t feel like you had a vacation. It probably comes as no surprise that the inner bully also causes anxiety and depression. Imagine if you, literally, had someone following you around everywhere, criticizing you and second-guessing you’re every move. That can’t feel good. But that’s exactly what your inner bully is doing to you!

The second reason why women self-bully stems, I believe, from social/cultural expectations and limitations. Over my 25 years of practice, I’ve been struck by how many of my female patients report feeling inadequate and undeserving. It appears almost universal! My colleagues report this, too… women from all “walks of life,” regardless of their accomplishments. This can’t be an accident. Women frequently tell themselves, “If I don’t bully myself, I’ll end up alone and a failure. I’m inherently inadequate… I can’t just be myself ! If I don’t rehash my conversations… If I don’t mind-read… If I don’t anticipate people’s needs and put them before my own… If I’m not hard on myself, I’ll really screw up.”

Would you ever talk to your child or a good friend this way? Which advice would you find helpful: “You’re stupid, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t deserve to be here” or “It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s look at what you did well and what needs improving?” Every single time I ask a female patient these questions, I get the same response: “I would never talk to someone else this way.” They know it’s not only unhelpful, it doesn’t even reflect their values. You know how to encourage and help others. You just need to apply it to yourself. I call this “being your own best friend.”

You don’t need to bully yourself to avoid rejection or failure. That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes or rub some people the wrong way but, rather than trying to be all things to all people, start holding others accountable. In this age of social media, where people constantly compare themselves and judge each other, it’s easy to forget we’re all flawed. We can all be more tolerant. Ask yourself, “How would I behave in this situation? What would I’d say?” And there’s your answer. Those are your instincts. Trust them. Stop looking for validation from others. You have the power to give that to yourself. Stop anticipating problems. If other’s are upset, hold them accountable for speaking up. And no matter how angry, annoyed, frustrated, hurt, etc someone is, they are responsible – not you – for how they control and express their feelings. This is what you’d want your daughter, niece, mother, girlfriend to do.

The inner bully is like an addiction. As soon as you feel that anxiety, you’ll be tempted to analyze the situation and second-guess yourself. Remind yourself, “I know I’m doing this because I’m afraid of rejection or failure, but the solution is not to bully myself.” Think about what you would tell your son or daughter, friend or coworker. Use your relationship skills – your ability to nurture, encourage, validate and problem-solve – on yourself. Rely on your inner cheerleader instead.

¹Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press, 2016

²”Carol Gilligan”. (November 23, 2019). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 1, 2019 from https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Gilligan

Green, Penelope. “Carefully Smash the Patriarchy: Carol Gilligan, author of the feminist classic, ‘In a Different Voice,’ reminds us that we’re all humans.” New York Times, March 18, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/style/carol-gilligan.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap

All the President’s Men: in order to impeach Donald Trump, hold his inner circle accountable

All the Presidents MenIn our media-driven culture of 24-hour news and rapidly breaking headlines, some say House Democrats are running out of time to make the case for impeachment. This is exacerbated – falsely, I think – by the looming Presidential election.  One factor, however, political observers agree on is this: if held today, House Republicans would vote against impeachment. The same is predicted in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

As a psychotherapist, I’ve learned people rarely change they’re minds via rational argument, no matter how potentially destructive the consequences. If you have to repeat yourself, like House Democrats and legal analysts have been doing, that’s a sign no one is listening. It has become increasingly apparent no argument or evidence will sway Congressional Republicans. Donald Trump has remained in office because of an insidious campaign by Republican lawmakers, Party officials and right-wing media outlets to keep him there.

It was no different during Nixon’s impeachment. As James Robenalt recalls in a piece for The Washington Post, “although the timeline gets compressed in our collective memory, the ‘drip, drip, drip’ of revelations about Watergate came over a full two years.” In fact, “Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote relentlessly about the scandal [but] Americans were largely unmoved.”¹

As someone who has grown up her entire life in the DC Metro Area, I forget not everyone is as intrigued as I by politics. Over the past two weeks, every moment I wasn’t with a patient, I was riveted by the testimony of LTC Alexander Vindman, Ambs Marie Yovanovitch and William B. Taylor, Jr, Diplomats George Kent and David Holmes, and Russia expert, Fiona Hill. Beyond the evidence, no honest person could be anything but impressed by their professionalism and moved by their patriotism.

So if evidence of bribery, risks to our national security, and appeals to patriotism don’t sway Republicans, what will? The answer may be in recent reports implicating the President’s inner circle. I always say people have good reasons for making bad decisions. Clearly, what drives all the President’s men, is not ideology, policy or patriotism. It’s fear over their own political survival. Make no mistake, when it is no longer politically (and criminally) expedient to protect the President, Republicans will turn on him, just like they’ve turned on the country. 

If House Democrats allow themselves to be pressured by the upcoming election, then they’re as guilty as Republicans of succumbing to politics. The President and his inner circle, Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, former Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, and former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, are on the defensive, and rightly so. They have a lot to answer for. Let them.

If Republicans want to drag out the impeachment process, so be it. It is easier to run against a President who is under investigation than one who’s acquitted. Republicans are trying to make Democrats the bad guys for holding Donald Trump accountable. Don’t let them. If the country is tired of scandals, tired of hearings and investigations, tired of the lies and the tweets, tired of seeing Members of Congress bicker like children, the obvious answer is to get rid of Trump.

Americans are suffering from scandal overload. Democrats offer a return to normalcy.  In less than a year, House Democrats passed bills on healthcare, gun control, climate change, voter protection, income equality, citizenship for “dreamers,” domestic violence and internet neutrality. Meanwhile Senator Mitch McConnell has buried each and every one.

The “problem,” as it were, is that Democrats tend to struggle with creating a message voters can relate to. We are the substantive Party, the nuts and bolts Party, the Party that tends to argue policy rather than ideology. While “inside the beltway” nerds, like myself, eat this stuff up. Apparently, the majority of Americans do not.

Over the last two weeks, I asked some of my patients if they were watching the hearings. Some did not even know they were on. Those that did were not paying close attention. The Republicans would like to frame this as evidence the country doesn’t care. But since when did most voters pay close attention to the machinations of government? In fact, the country has been more engaged than ever. The ratings jump for mainstream news is testament to this. The problem is there’s just so much of it!

Unlike a trial in a court of law, the purpose of an impeachment inquiry is, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated, “to take the case to the American people.” While the hearings proved that President Trump bribed Ukraine, Congressional Republicans and the right-wing media continue to deny, deflect and distract from this fact. It is no wonder the country is divided on impeachment. Just imagine if Republicans showed leadership and honored their oath of office. Imagine if Congress stood united against this rogue President. Does anyone doubt the polls for impeachment would increase?

So, I urge Democrats to be patient. Be guided by fact, not politics. Continue to gather evidence (with the help of the press and advocacy groups) and take it “back to the forest.” Americans may not follow all the intricacies of diplomacy, but I doubt they want a President who thinks he’s above the law.

¹https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/why-these-tv-impeachment-hearings-wont-matter-as-much-as-watergates/2019/11/15/266350d2-0729-11ea-ac12-3325d49eacaa_story.html

Morning (Joe) in America

I’ve been watching Joe and Mika for years. Accusations of favoritism toward Trump are inaccurate. Yes, they were initially friendly toward Trump but so was the rest of mainstream media. They also repeatedly criticized Trump for his inappropriate remarks on the campaign trail, only to discover – like the rest of us – this just fueled his popularity.

It’s a quandary the media is still struggling with: how to report the news without enabling Trump’s infatuation with attention. Keep in mind, the media responds to audience demand. Ratings have sky-rocketed under a Trump administration. We may criticize media outlets for covering him, but we keep watching and posting on social media.

It is also inaccurate to accuse Joe and Mika of admonishing the crowd for booing Trump. They were not criticizing the sentiment, just the way it was conveyed. To put it simply, two wrongs don’t make a right. What was and still is fundamentally wrong with the chant, “Lock her up!” is the assumption of guilt before due-process. Simply booing to express public outrage is one thing. Condemning someone – even in the face of apparently compelling evidence – is antithetical to democracy.

As someone who watches Morning Joe regularly, Joe and Mika are as astonished and frustrated as the rest of us over Trumps political endurance. And don’t confuse insight with acceptance. Mika publicly predicted Trump’s rise in popularity but this was to her own dismay.

There’s a reason the symbol for justice is wearing a blindfold. We are a nation of laws, and objectivity is a cornerstone of the law. In fact, it takes a true patriot to stand up for democratic principles even in the face of criticism. Something Republican members of Congress would do well to remember.

Stop Worrying FOREVER!

If you struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s rampant. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States, ages 18 and older, every year. Although anxiety is highly treatable, only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.¹

One of the biggest misconceptions about anxiety is that it’s interchangeable with worry. Not so. Anxiety is an emotion. Worrying is a thought process. Anxiety is a normal reaction to feeling out of control. Worrying is a coping strategy, albeit an ineffective one. Anxiety is unavoidable. Worrying is a choice.

It saddens me that so many struggle with incessant worrying, interfering with sleep, disrupting their productivity, making them depressed. It’s so unnecessary! You probably don’t believe me. You probably think I’m selling you “a bill of goods.” But I have conquered worrying and teach others everyday how to do the same.

You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. The sensation you know as anxiety is your body revving up to protect you from a threatening situation. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but so is touching a hot stove. It’s there for a reason. It’s how most people cope with anxiety that is problematic.

Anytime we feel out of control, we experience anxiety. This is particularly true when we’re emotionally invested in the outcome. For example, if you’re going on a job interview, you would likely feel anxious about making a good impression. If you start getting severe headaches, you would likely feel anxious until you got answers from your doctor. If you’re going on a first date, you would likely feel anxious until you got past the awkward introductions.

Through my years of practice, I have found anxiety is the result of three fears: harm to self or a loved one; rejection; and failure. Most people worry because they mistakenly believe it gives them some measure of control. By anticipating the worst, they are more likely to avoid it and less likely to be disappointed. But if you lay in bed worrying all night what are you accomplishing? You’re not doing anything to fix the problem.

In order to avoid whatever you’re anxious about, you have to identify what’s in your control and then follow through. Once you’ve done everything in your control, worrying serves no productive purpose but to make you miserable.

Furthermore, when we worry, we’re either anticipating something bad happening or rehashing something that’s already happened. In other words, our minds are preoccupied and not focused on what we’re doing in the moment. So not only is worrying a waste of energy, it also interferes with our productivity, potentially creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lastly, worrying undermines your happiness – because you can’t be happy if you can’t be present.

¹ Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Facts& Statistics https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statisticsaww

What an American Superhero Looks Like

Spiderman

At 5yo, I vividly recall sitting on the floor in front of our living room TV watching Spiderman. I can still recite the theme song. And even though the TV was black-and-white, I remember the show in color. Perhaps this says something about a child’s imagination or revisionist history, but I’ve always wondered why this particular memory?

It may have something to do with our culture. The American ideal of the omnipotent and indestructible “superhero” dates back to the era of the Depression and WWII. It should come as no surprise that classic superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain America came out of the minds of children of Jewish immigrants escaping war-torn Europe – artists like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Jerry Siegel. Who else would hold such high ideals of America than people deprived of them?

But as movie technology has made superheroes into a huge entertainment industry, they have become increasingly unrecognizable from their quaint origins. I wonder what impact these depictions have on our ability to recognize hero powers among us. For who would recognize themselves among these fantastical depictions?

I thought about this as I watched the Mueller hearings yesterday. One common theme among superheroes is their secrecy. They loathe attention. They don’t care about accolades. Their reward is knowing they are making a difference. (As a therapist, I can definitely relate to this!)

Superheroes have special abilities (or supernatural powers), but they never use them for their own benefit, only to help others. This makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation or destruction by those with selfish intentions.

When not helping others, superheroes are unrecognizable from everyone else. Even though they have remarkable skills, they are otherwise like you and me. They experience the same feelings, struggle with the same personal issues and have some of the same vulnerabilities. This may be disillusioning for some and an excuse for others to question their abilities, but they don’t feel a need to prove themselves.

Superheroes have a set of values that never falter – no matter how much they are criticized or how hard others try to stop them. Their mission is not based on what is popular or easy, but what is the right thing to do. It doesn’t change under peer pressure or fear of failure. And it is bewildering to them how a person could behave any other way.

Superheroes are not as elusive as you think. Despite appearances, be assured they are among us today. Just don’t expect them to tell you.

For additional information on the history of superheroes, see: https://www.humanities.org/blog/how-american-history-created-the-american-superhero/

 

A Letter to Mitch

Dear Mitch,

I’m not Black. I don’t know how it feels to be Black. But I am Jewish. And no matter how much time elapses between past and present, Jews will hold Germany responsible for the Holocaust. No matter how many generations pass, my family will feel a kinship with my Polish grandfather, who lost his family during the Holocaust.

America is not just a geographic location. It’s an identity. We are “Americans.” Your wife is a Chinese immigrant and she’s an American. You can’t point to a specific flag in the Capitol and say, “This flag on this pole is the American flag” because it’s a symbol.

You and I will die one day but America will still be responsible for slavery. I don’t know if your justification against reparations stems from ignorance, racism or political convenience, but there’s no excuse.

Most Germans living today did not participate in the extermination of 6 million Jews, but their country did. In his article for John Hopkins Magazine, Greg Rienzi describes the history and conditions of Germany’s ongoing reparations for World War II. According to his report, an estimated $1.1 billion in compensations is made every year. Of course, there are economic and political advantages for Germany to do so, but Jews would expect it regardless.

The culture of slavery and its predecessors are gone, but it’s legacy lives on. “Who would reparations go to?” you facetiously ask. How about places where racism has been institutionalized: e.g; public schools; law enforcement agencies; the justice system; housing; education; and healthcare?

While we’re at it, voters should “clean house” of relics like you who ignore slavery’s stain on the country.

Greg Rienzi’s article, Other Nations Could Learn from Germany’s Efforts to Reconcile After World War II, can be found here:

https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2015/summer/germany-japan-reconciliation

The Debate Myth: Advice from a therapist

2020 presidential debate

Attention Democratic Presidential Candidates:

You’ve studied the issues, honed your policy proposals, reviewed videos, consulted political experts, prepared remarks and practiced with surrogates. But have you talked to a psychotherapist?

Naturally, you will be anxious. Any time you feel emotionally invested in something (eg.; a job interview; medical diagnosis; first date) and you don’t have complete control over the outcome – which is pretty much always – it’s human nature. Don’t even try to talk yourself out of it. However, anxiety can be compounded by unrealistic expectations.

Which brings me to the point of this article. Hyping up the “2020 Presidential Campaign Debates” makes for good ratings, but puts unnecessary pressure on candidates, particularly with ten competing at once for air time. Debates should be about informing the public and contrasting ideas, but they’ve morphed into political theatre. The media is fixated on performance and tussles between candidates. It reminds me of reality TV, creating conditions destined to cause drama.

Some of you (like me) are old enough to remember when Party conventions were more than pageants. They served a practical purpose. Platform policies were leveraged in exchange for votes from delegates. The position of Vice-President was a prize for working hard and galvanizing a lot of voters. Being a “political insider” was not a dirty word. Although way too homogeneous, at least they had expertise and a familiarity with the candidates. I can’t think of a single Presidential candidate who survived that process who didn’t at least have a command of the issues and experience governing. And, because the candidates had insider support, they actually did have “all the best people” wanting to work in their administration. Under this process, I have a hard time believing the GOP establishment would have nominated Donald Trump.

The idea that a good debate performance has bearing on who makes a good president is ludicrous! So stop accepting their exaggerated relevance! You are enabling a process that is harmful to our country.

I know you want to win, but it should never be at the country’s expense. Yet, that’s exactly where we are. Politicians are so fixated on winning, they start wars, misappropriate funds, twist laws and circumvent democratic procedures to do so. This idea that you have to be in-charge to implement change, is why Congress is so dysfunctional. It also explains how the Office of the President has accrued so much executive power.

If you go along with this charade, you’re as responsible as the Republicans for our dysfunctional government.

So take advice from a psychotherapist: be honest with the American people. Tell them “soundbites, zingers and ‘gotcha’ moments are superficial and unimportant.” (They’re also a lazy way to pick a president, but I know you can’t say that.) Hold Americans responsible for learning more about you. Remind them debates are one of many steps to choosing a candidate.

Since I have no faith the media will frame debates this way, it’s up to you. Push back on efforts to label and simplify complex issues. Challenge reporters who ask about theatrics when they should be asking about policy. Wait until you’re one of three or four candidates before debating. Tell the networks, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to debates, “but I’m happy to do a town hall.”