On November 8, 2016, the United States elected Donald Trump as its 45th president.
When I first heard the news I was extremely angry. I went on Facebook and asked anyone who voted for Trump to please un-friend me.
This isn’t a big of a deal for me, personally. I know exactly one person in real life who voted for Trump. I have no real connection with anyone else who may have unfriended me last night. This just makes it faster to cull some of the dead weight off my friend list.
Still, some folks took it as a much bigger thing than it was. I got comments like: “Whatever happened to non-attachment and equanimity?” “How, Zen of you.” “Brad seems to have become increasingly angsty and further from the path over the years.” “The Great Way is easy if you only stop picking and choosing.” “Now we get to see Zen Masters acting like petulant teenagers.” And so forth.
The general message is that it is not properly “Buddhist” or “Buddhist Master-ly” to express anger at a moment like this one. Which is an interesting question to me. Is it? I ask that very sincerely. Here is my tentative answer.
During the Trump campaign a lot of people said they wanted him for President because “he speaks his mind.” But isn’t that precisely what we don’t want in a President? In a celebrity or artist, yes. Speaking one’s mind and being authentic is crucial. But a President is supposed to speak for a nation. A President who “speaks his mind” is a very bad thing, a very dangerous thing.
There are many who believe that the duty of a Buddhist, especially a teacher of Buddhism, is to model ideal Buddhist behavior. And a lot of those people believe they know what ideal Buddhist behavior is because they’ve seen it on TV or read about it in books. So in their view, a Buddhist ought to behave the way I believe a President ought to behave. A Buddhist needs to represent Buddhism the way the President needs to represent the country.
I wouldn’t say that is entirely wrong.
But it’s flawed. I spent a couple of years after I became a teacher trying to be a model Buddhist of the sort my commenters appear to expect. I couldn’t manage it. It gave me constant tension headaches. I was trying to be something I was not. I was trying to be something no one can possibly be.
And then I remembered that my own teachers never tried to be that thing. I realized it was more important to be honest, like an artist, not a model of abstract ideals like a politician. Now I act like a person who is trying to live up to Buddhist ideals, but who often fails. I believe my failures are as important to be clear about as the times when I succeed.
When you’re honest, people misunderstand you. But even when you keep silence people misunderstand you. Being misunderstood is unavoidable. So I try my best to speak and write clearly. After that, I just have to accept that there are those who won’t get it.
Someone asked me if Dogen has any advice for times like these, meaning times when a racist megalomaniac gets elected President of the world’s only Super Power, when a man who can’t be trusted with his own Twitter account has the codes to launch nuclear missiles. In response I posted my paraphrase of Dogen from his essay Shoaku Makusa* (“Do Not Enact Wrong-doing” aka “Don’t Be a Jerk”), “Even if the whole universe is nothing but a bunch of jerks doing all kinds of jerk-type things, there is still liberation in simply not being a jerk.”
I’m feeling a bit calmer now than last night. Donald Trump will almost certainly be a bad President. But we have had bad Presidents before. When Ronald Reagan got elected I was convinced it was over for the human race. I mean that quite literally. I was completely certain he would start a nuclear war with the USSR before the 1980s were over. I would have bet anything on it, only how would I have collected?
But the 80s came and went and we’re still here. We’re still here after W. We’ll survive President Trump too.
The thing with Trump is that nobody knows what the hell his real agenda is. My nephew follows him very closely, reads all his speeches and policy statements, has watched him near-obsessively for the entire campaign, and even he admits he has no clear idea what Trump intends to do.
And that, my friends, is where we come in.
In his acceptance speech Trump said, “I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.”
Now is the time for us to hold him to his word. Let’s make sure President Trump knows that racism is not OK with the American people, that sexism and misogyny are not OK with the American people, that we don’t want walls built around our country, that we know Global Climate Change is real and we want something to be done about it, that we don’t want women’s rights rolled back to the 1950s, that we don’t want the big banks and big corporations to control our government, that we won’t stand for bullying, that we won’t stand for being made to look like a nation of idiots.
And remember Mr Spock’s old Vulcan proverb from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “Only Nixon could go to China.” Maybe there are progressive things only a President like Trump can accomplish.
I am fucking angry and depressed right now. So I will not tell you to be positive. I will not tell you to be optimistic.
Be exactly what you are.
But anger and depression have never worked for me. I don’t think they work for anyone. If you worked for the betterment of America before, then keep on doing it now. It is entirely possible that President Trump will listen if he knows that’s what it takes to keep his job. He’s a dumbass and a fool. But maybe that’s to our advantage.
Angry as I am, at least I’m not as angry as last night. And that’s something.
I also am ready to fight for what is true.
Here is another very helpful article from David Wong.
(… and if you want a break from all this bullshit, come join us on Mt. Baldy this weekend where no news can reach you. All the info you need is right below.)
* this link will take you to a standard translation if you’re interested
November 11-13, 2016 Mt. Baldy, California (near Los Angeles) Three Day Retreat
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Check out my podcast with Pirooz Kalayeh, ONCE AGAIN ZEN!
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Every Monday at 7:30pm there’s zazen at Angel City Zen Center (NEW TIME, NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
Every Saturday at 10:00 am there’s zazen at the Angel City Zen Center (NEW PLACE!) 1407 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA, 90026 Beginners only!
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