…and create the conditions necessary for a transpartisan future.
by John T. Kesler
Donald Trump demonstrated a genius for generating an American populist movement by supporting traditional conservative and religious values while also tapping into the fears and frustrations of many Americans together with being pro-business. In the process he transformed the Republican Party into being more populist than it has ever been. This populism emerged through Trump contaminated by a constellation of qualities that undermine a healthy democratic republic.
These virulent qualities are all consistent with contemporary neo-fascism. Common attributes of the highly diverse national manifestations of contemporary neo-fascism are contempt for democratic values and the rule of law, demagoguery, racism, incitements to mob violence, attacks on the press and the establishment, and exploitation of scapegoats1. Following are features of Trumpism which are each consistent with neo-fascism and are antithetical to a constitutional republic and our American traditions.
The Fascist Features of Trumpism
The Big Lie and Violence
A central element of fascism is hostility to the peaceful transfer of power, which has been the hallmark of American democracy since John Adams succeeded George Washington as president. Just as he did when running against Hillary Clinton, during the recent campaign against Joe Biden, Trump repeatedly asserted that the only way he could lose would be if there were overwhelming voter fraud. In the months leading up to the November 2020 presidential election, he escalated claims of such fraud.
Party and elected Republican leaders overwhelmingly echoed this Big Lie, which was amplified by right leaning broadcasters and social media. Endlessly repeating The Big Lie that Germany’s defeat in World War I was falsified and, in any event, caused by the Jews, was famously utilized by Hitler in coming to power under the theme of making Germany great again. When Trump lost the election, he claimed that it was stolen, consistent with the groundwork he had laid so carefully. Once the post-election version of the Big Lie was asserted, Trump tried every means at hand to cement the Lie, including filing over 60 fruitless lawsuits challenging the election as well as making multiple efforts to persuade election officials and state legislators to illegally change election results – all without success.
It speaks to the strength and integrity of America’s leadership and institutions that all these efforts failed, because they were all based on lies. It is the consensus of both Republican and Democrat election officials across the nation and confirmed by the heads of the four US intelligence agencies and the US Department of Justice, that there was no significant corruption or fraud in the presidential election, confirming that Joe Biden won in a free and fair election.
To further assert that he had won, and that the Democrats had committed overwhelming election fraud, and, in an effort, to overturn the certification of Joe Biden as president, Trump marshalled his followers from across the nation to convene in Washington D.C. on January 6 to protest a “stolen election.” Once the crowd was assembled, Trump and his co-instigators incited them to engage in the tragic and seditious attack on the Capitol.
Even after this insurrection, most Republican congressmen challenged Biden’s certification as President, knowing full well that the claim of a fraudulent election was a Big Lie. Immediately following Joe Biden’s inauguration, most Republicans in America still believed the Big Lie. Even after the most bipartisan vote against Trump in the history of presidential Senate impeachment trials, most republicans still support Trump. He continues to assert the Big Lie.
Other Lies, Attacks on the Press and Media Manipulation
Is has been well documented that when he was president, Trump was a serial liar, repeatedly making misleading claims2. He would often assert that any reporting contrary to his own claims was “fake news,” another central Big Lie. Trump disparaged mainstream media and attacked reporters and media outlets who caught him in his lies. He was successful in casting doubt on the mainstream media, with many right leaning media outlets and social media spreading his false claims. He also used Twitter to directly sway millions of people with his lies. In this and so many other ways, he labeled and demonized others for doing what he was actually doing: constantly lying. Frankly, the real enemy was a projection of himself on his enemies. Yet he fooled half the country. Such lying and media manipulation are standard fascist practices.
Myths, Conspiracy Theories and Racial Resentments
Even before he became president, Trump gained notoriety in his rise to political prominence by repeatedly claiming that President Obama was not born in the United States, contrary to definitive evidence to the contrary. He has continued to promote or not disassociate himself from conspiracy theories that served his interests, such as QAnon, which labels Democrats and those in “the deep state” as evil pedophiles, drinking children’s blood and cannibalizing them. This is a revived version of the myth that the Nazis used about Jews drinking the blood of children.
Trump supports groups which are purveyors of the myths of the far right, particularly including those which reflect racial and cultural prejudice and resentments. For example, rather than condemning the Proud Boys, an all-male neo-fascist group, in a presidential debate with Joe Biden, he told them to “stand back and stand by.” In this and so many other ways, such as his failure to condemn the white supremacists’ role in their Unite the Right rally and riots in 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump firmed up his support by far-right extremists. Eventually he called them all and his other supporters to step up and attack the Capitol. Fascism has always been grounded in pre-rational myths, conspiracy theories and racial and cultural resentments.
Dehumanizing, Demeaning and Scapegoating Others
After taking office, Trump called African countries “hell holes”; categorized Muslims as terrorists and banned travel from Muslim countries; labeled people coming across the Mexican border as rapists and murders; and separated immigrant children from their parents and put them in cages. Dehumanizing the “Other” is characteristic of fascist regimes.
As millions of Americans across the country and people globally protested following the murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement took hold, Trump alleged that this phenomenon amounted to leftist antifa and black violence from which he was going protect white America. This strategy successfully turned a broad-based call for racial respect and justice into a source of fear and suspicion for millions of people, scapegoating blacks who were leading the call for justice. Trump and many republican leaders were also effective in labeling democrats as anti-democracy socialists and communists. Although a small minority of democratic elected officials are socialists, they are representative of Western European democratic socialism which has for instance resulted in the European Nordic countries becoming some of the most stable and prosperous democracies and flourishing societies in the world. This insidious racist and scapegoating undercurrent of Trumpism is central to fascism.
Threatening Political Opponents
Trump’s behavior toward his political opponents is disrespectful, demeaning, and bullying. His outrageous performance in the first presidential debated against Joe Biden, was a demonstration of this. He labels those he considers political enemies – such as Barak Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton – as criminals who should be imprisoned. Chants of “lock her up” aimed at Hillary Clinton that Trump encouraged at his rallies were not harmless, were not a joke. Just like the Big Lie about any election he might lose would be stolen, this horrendous lie – that his political opponents are, by definition, criminals – is deeply alarming and dangerous. We should realize that Trump means what he says in this regard. Criminalizing political opponents is typical of fascists and other totalitarian leaders.
Undermining the Law and American Institutions and Traditions
Trump has shown little respect for the law or the traditions and institutions of American governance. For example, he frequently attempted to compromise the long-established independence of the Justice Department, which is intended to be solely in service of the American people. Under attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr, and acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, Trump demanded that his interests contrary to the public interest be pursued including deflecting his own culpability in the Russia/Ukraine investigation and undermining results of the presidential election. If Trump had been re-elected, he certainly would have continued such egregious behavior.
Note how in the last days of his presidency, Trump inserted young incompetent loyalists in key positions in intelligence and defense positions, obviously with the intent of compromising those institutions. Trump’s undermining of the law and our institutions and attacking those he branded as the establishment, is classic behavior of fascist demagogues. Such behavior was a fulfillment of Steve Bannon’s “deconstructing” strategies.
During the COVID pandemic, public health professionals have been unanimous in urging that we all wear masks in public, socially distance, wash our hands, and avoid large gatherings. President Trump set the opposite example: disparaging the advice of epidemiologists and other health specialists, mocking people who wear masks, and organizing large, packed rallies and other gatherings which were “super spreader” events.
Due in large part to Trump’s refusal to take medical science seriously or to lead on the federal level, the number of U.S. Covid-19 infections and deaths exploded in the United States. Because of his arrogant refusal to lead, he is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths that might have been averted, and he influenced untold numbers of Americans as a matter of political identification to selfishly expose others to the danger of severe illness and perhaps death. This disaster and much of the resulting economic instability were grounded in prejudice and the rejection of rationality, truth, and science – all characteristic of fascism.
All these anti-democracy fascist attributes permeate Trumpism, even as Trump enticed over seventy-four million Americans to vote for him in 2020. There are some excuses for the many millions of Americans who have been seduced by Trump’s gifts of narcissistic manipulation and the complicity of his political and media enablers. However, many Republican leaders, including most Republican members of Congress, with full knowledge of Trump’s lies and insidious fascist tactics, have promoted, or have been complicitly silent regarding these aspects of Trump leadership.
On all points, Trump qualifies as a neo-fascist leader, who has given birth to a massive American neo-fascist movement.
The Great American Regression
From the perspective of human development, these Trumpian fascist characteristics reflect lower cognitive and moral development than those which are consistent with the universal (“Modern”) principles upon which the United States Constitution is based. It is for this reason they are pathological in the public sector and in civil society and why each one of them undermines the American democratic republic (“American Republic”).
Healthy development from infancy to adulthood reflects emerging from being self-centered as a toddler, to group-centric or ethno-centric as a child and then world-centric as an adult. A normal toddler learns to say “No” and “Mine” as he/she is first developing a sense of identity. A self-centered adult narcissist, such as Trump, on the other hand is severely stunted, and is by definition a dangerous leader because every decision of a narcissists tend to be based primarily on what is best for optimizing their power and control. Learning to slowly identify with increasingly larger collectives, for example from families to friend groups to grade schools to middle schools to high schools to racial and ethnic identifications is necessary and healthy, but getting stuck in identifying solely with one’s group, school, race, ethnicity or even nation to the exclusion of the “Other”, is not sufficient for competent citizenship in the United States. The American educational enterprise has been committed to supporting not only academic learning on a Modern level but also supporting our youth in growing into responsible citizens which includes inculcating the Modern universal principles upon which the Constitution is based.
Healthy development from infancy to adulthood reflects emerging from being self-centered as a toddler, to group-centric or ethno-centric as a child and then world-centric as an adult.
A mature American citizen is world-centric in the sense that one feels obligated to support the universal principles of the United States Constitution which holds that all people are created equal and deserve equal access to freedom and justice. We have the duty as citizens to support and sustain these principles within the scope of our national boundaries. In addition, commitment to the universal nature of these principles which arises from this Modern level of maturity naturally prompts us to support freedom and justice for all people in the world. Trump did his best to abandon such global commitments as he also pursued a pathological sub-Modern, ethno-centric agenda at home where the “Other”, that is, those who are not white or Christian, are somehow less human and should be feared.
In this context we can see that America experienced an historic regression by submitting to the sub-Modern pathologies of a leader who systematically debased the American Republic. America almost succumbed a second time in November 2020 when Trump came close to winning the presidential election by utilizing all these neo-fascistic pathologies. If he had been elected president again, he would have undoubtedly further undermined our Republic. This is so historically significant and alarming, that it can appropriately be referred to as “The Great American Regression”.
Trump has led about half the Nation on a regressive trajectory which if successfully pursued over many years by Trump and/or others will likely lead to the American Republic being deeply and perhaps fatally compromised by primitive ethno-centric pathologies.
Why has the Great American Regression occurred?
There are several interconnected developmental factors which have led to America becoming vulnerable to destructive sub-Modern influences. First, American political institutions and political processes grounded in Modernist theory and 18th century realities have been increasingly dysfunctional and failing to meet the complex challenges of twenty first century realities. Most Americans are disappointed in our government institutions, and a significant percentage of the American citizenry feel particularly left behind and underserved. Those in control (i.e., the establishment – sometimes pejoratively referred to as the “deep state”) often appear that they are benefiting themselves at the expense of others. When there is a lack of trust, there is a tendency among those who feel most threatened to pull in the boundaries of their scope of concerns into a more constricted and self-protective mode, less aligned with Modern universal principles and more reflective of pre-Modern ethno-centric commitments.
Contributing to the dysfunctionality of Governmental institutions has been the phenomenon over the past few decades of Americans electing representatives who align with these more constricted concerns of their constituents. Such representatives tend to be fairly black and white in how they see the world and are not very inclined to work out solutions with those across the aisle. Those leaders have in turn controlled the narrative and amplified the polarization. Those who feel that there is something wrong with those who hold views other than their own and are unwilling to compromise to get things done are less cognitively and morally mature that than those who can see both sides of an issue, can stand in other’s shoes, and work out ways to get something accomplished. That is the essence of what leaders do in a successful democratic republic. In other words, Americans have increasingly been electing some of the least mature among us to be our leaders with both major political parties becoming even more ideological and polarized than the American citizenry which elected them. As dysfunctionality has increased and the nation has become even more polarized, a candidate such as Trump with exceptional manipulative skills and fascistic tendencies had an opportunity to exploit the situation and lead us into The Great American Regression.
As Trump intuitively understood, when people regress into an ethno-centric protective mode, this paradoxically creates a greater vulnerability to their being manipulated by those who play on their fears. They also tend to be more open to those influencers who traffic in sub-Modern conspiracies and racist narratives. In the process extremists, who have a more permanently ethno-centric center of gravity and who have previously been marginalized, become more acceptable and integrated into association with the more mainstream people and groups who have regressed to or otherwise support sub-Modern sensibilities. The certainty of the extremists and the simplicity of their cultic, mythic, racist, and conspiratorial worldviews are temping to those who are afraid and have a need for greater certainty in their lives. They are also susceptible to the purported strongman leader (a hallmark of sub-Modern societies) who will take charge on their behalf. Many others who may not have regressed in this way but nevertheless benefited from Trump’s policies, such as many who are culturally and religiously conservative, the wealthy, and/or in the business community have been willing to look the other way. Many of them have underestimated or simply do not care about the destructive impact of an unprincipled leader who would stop at nothing to gain power, stay in power, and regain power as long as he supports some of their key policy issues.
Most people who have developed beyond Modernism are in the first immature sub-stage of the next full stage of human development, which will be referred to as “Integral.3” Many of these early stage Integral individuals who are often referred to as pluralists or post-modernists (“Pluralists”) are progressives. Pluralists tend to lack the higher level integrating capacities, which manifest more fully in people who have developed into the full maturity of the Integral stage of development. As such they often sow distrust and even chaos. In contradiction to their own inclusive narrative, Pluralists are often patronizing and sometimes even hostile towards those who are Modern or traditional in orientation, which adds to the polarization and conflict.
In summary, from a developmental perspective America is in the middle of a perfect storm of disarray, disorientation, and vulnerability.
What can we do to overcome The Great American Regression?
It is important to remember that our American institutions and culture are grounded in Modernism and that most American adults have a Modern developmental center of gravity or higher. As such, a reasonably rapid recovery from this regressive sub-Modern moment is possible, and in the coming years we can move on to greater heights of national and global resilience and flourishing than we have ever attained. Following are five categories of proposals grounded in developmental perspectives, which could be pursued to help overcome the Great American Regression and lay the groundwork for such further transformation.
These proposals are by no means definitive or exhaustive, but from a developmental perspective, they are representative of what must be done to create and maintain the minimal conditions whereby a transpartisan future might even be possible.
First, we should bring greater clarity and coherence to how we describe sub-Modern political pathologies.
Clarifying such sub-Modern political pathologies from a developmental perspective and how they are undermining the American Republic could go a long way towards helping many people wake up and pull back from devastating pathological political commitments.
It would be advisable not to overuse the term “neo-fascism” in describing these Trumpist political pathologies even though they are collectively the essence of neo-fascism. The term “fascism” with its many sub-variations – such as neofascism – creates confusion and carries so much controversial baggage related to its ultra-violent mid-twentieth century origins. The worst actors in the political arena will endlessly whip up their supporters to deny that they are fascists and in Trumpian fashion label their opponents as fascists. In any event the point is not to count how many pathological sub-Modern qualities it takes to call people fascists. Rather it is critical for every American to appreciate that each one of these pathologies manifesting in the public square and the public sector is destructive to any constitutional democratic republic and should be called out and condemned.
It is critical for every American to appreciate that each one of these pathologies manifesting in the public square and the public sector is destructive to any constitutional democratic republic.
Each of them could be referred to as an “Anti-Republic Pathology.” (“ARP”). These ARPs can be grouped in four general categories: cognitive, cultural, institutional, and behavioral. Each of these four categories is set forth below together with three specific ARPs in each category. The categories and each of these ARPs are framed in a developmental context for better clarity, coherence, and interconnection.
Underlying assumptions of our Modern constitutional republic are that citizens have the cognitive and moral maturity to govern themselves through fact based reason in the context of universal constitutional principles, and that they and their representatives can and should agree upon basic facts as a foundation for their deliberations on important societal matters. When these assumptions are systematically compromised by Anti-Republic Pathologies, a democratic republic is seriously compromised
At an ethno-centric level of development or state of regression, people will tend to accept as true what an authority figure tells them or what the mythical simplicity of a conspiracy theory suggests. Any adult who exhibits an even more primal self-centric orientation will promote any position as true which will serve their interests. Trump is clearly a self-centric narcissist leading a pathological ethno-centric political movement posturing as a world centric democratic alternative.
Constitutional democracies are not viable if most of us cannot agree on what the facts are on important issues due to ARP manipulations. One can only wonder how many people would have voted for Trump for President in 2020 if they had realized that the allegation of massive voter fraud was a Big Trump Lie and that overwhelmingly “fake news” was coming from mainstream media was for the most part another Big Trump Lie. It is nothing short of terrifying that tens of millions of Americans with Modern cognitive and moral capacities have been manipulated with lies and other ARP tactics into supporting the undermining of their own cherished republic.
Sub-Modern rationality is the source of mythical narratives and conspiracy theories, often racist in nature, which simply do not reflect reality. We need to realize that facts hardly ever matter to the relatively small percentage of adults who are deeply sub-Modern in their cognitive capacities and/or moral commitments. We just must accept that factor and do better at meeting their needs in the democratic process without allowing their ARP perspectives to dominate the public discourse as it did during the Trump presidency. It is important to remember how vulnerable many people are in a time of crisis and resulting personal regression to be seduced by sub-Modern narratives.
Huge numbers of people being opposed to consensus conclusions of mainstream science such as the seriousness of the COVID pandemic and the personal behavior and strategies necessary to best combat it as well as denying the need for urgent action on climate change have enormous implications. An ARP strategy is to question and politicize the consensus conclusions of science rather than accepting them as a shared foundation for determining a way forward. Again, you already start with a small minority of adults who because of developmental challenges tend never to be persuaded by rational arguments, and a better job must be done of educating and persuading the rest. The repercussions of ARPs politicizing the pandemic so that millions of people have ignored the dangers have likely cost many tens of thousands of lives. The politicization of climate change through ARP strategies has put the future of mankind and life on earth at much greater risk.
Modernism represented a universalization of the Golden Rule where everyone should be treated as oneself through the exercise of Conscience, Civility, Care and Compassion – the universalization of the ultimate worth of each man, woman, and child. This generates the constitutional framing of the universalization of Freedom and Justice for all grounded in this dignity of all human beings. Less developed societies have always been grounded in the perspective of “Us” versus “Them” – the tribal or cultural or even national “in group” versus the “Other”. Constitutional republics like the United States endlessly struggle to move closer to the ideals of this universalization of the Golden Rule. The sub-Modern cultural outlook results in the dehumanization of the “Other” in the following three cultural Pathologies:
Racial and Cultural Discrimination
One might say that the “original sin” of America is that in a country grounded in Modern universal principles, it also accommodated the genocide of Native Americans and the slavery of Blacks. Even after the abolition of slavery, America has continued to allow systemic racial and cultural discrimination in all its forms. Fortunately, with the universal principles of the Constitution as an attractor, the “arc of justice” has moved ever so slowly in a very uneven trajectory toward the realization of the universal application of the Golden Rule as Martin Luther King taught. The pre-Modern ethno-centric core of Trumpism represents a powerful pushback against that trajectory.
If we can dehumanize people who do not look like ourselves or perhaps do not have the same cultural background or faith, we can more easily blame them for our problems. It is the simple, pathological solution. In Nazi Germany, they scapegoated the Jews in this regard. Trump blamed for instance the “rapist” Latins trying to get into our country whom we needed to build a wall against and the Muslims that we should ban from traveling to our country. Trump has demanded that three Congresswomen of color should “go back to where they came from”. Trump and his ilk use the moniker of “AOC” (for congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez) as a rallying cry to oppose imagined communist conspiracies, putting her safety as risk. The ARP strategy of scapegoating amounts to taking the ethos of the school yard bully into the adult public arena, which will inevitably lead to tragic consequences if not stopped.
Variations of dehumanizing others are endless, from mocking people with disabilities to men treating women as objects. It is critical to appreciate that the proper patriotism in the United States of America is the patriotism grounded in our Universal principles and sharing those principles with the world. The patriotism of a pathological ethno-centric culture is grounded in “us versus them”. Beware of Trump’s proposed Patriot Party or anything like it which would be based on an “us versus them” patriotism, which is a defilement of principled American patriotism. Beware of the aggressive “flag waivers,” who stand for us versus them. That is why the confederate flag fits so naturally in crowds of aggressive flag waivers including the mob that attacked the Capitol using flag poles as weapons and violently brought the Confederate flag into the Capitol building for the first time in our Nation’s history.
The Institutions and processes and traditions of the America republic are all dedicated to honoring and sustaining the universal principles of the American constitutional Republic, that is, designed to promote freedom and justice for all. Anything which undermines these institutions is an institutional Anti-Republic Pathology
It is essential to an ARP movement to undermine the institutions which support universal and impartial principles. When government institutions are compromised, the survival of a constitutional democracy is in grave danger. In addition to Trump’s active campaign to undermine the integrity of the Justice Department mentioned above, among other things he made efforts to compromise the scientific independence and integrity of the CDC and any institution that oversaw the COVID pandemic; he hollowed out the State Department leadership; and he did seemingly everything in his power to compromise the intelligence agencies of the United States Government, which he subordinated to input and opinions from the Vladimir Putin.
It was foundational to the framers of the United States Constitution that America must move beyond the ethno-centric monarchial traditions of the Old World where rulers and many in the ruling class acted at will above the law and imposed law on others without their consent. The United States Constitution stands perhaps first and foremost for the rule of law and due process in American society.
Trump went out of his way to claim that the President is essentially monarchial and dictatorial; that he was above the law; and that there was nothing he could do for which he would be held accountable. He threatened and even attempted to get his political opponents incarcerated, acting as though they were outside the protection of the law. This is ARP at its most threatening which does not recognize that all of us are under the law and that the laws are continually tested in the courts to determine if they are constitutionally aligned. In this moment of The Great American Regression, the judicial branch has been the only branch of government that has not yet become deeply compromised. Even his own judicial appointments in the federal courts and the Supreme Court held firm to the rule of law. This speaks so profoundly to the integrity of the American legal system.
Traditions of American Democracy
There are mores and traditions which support the American Democratic Republic, often without the force of law, but they strengthen the cultural fabric of our republic. It is tragic when they are intentionally undermined and debased. There are so many examples of where Trump trampled on cherished American traditions. It was so dismal for instance to see him avoid visiting those severely injured in combat and not attending ceremonies honoring deceased soldiers, which he considered “suckers” for their sacrifices. The failure of Trump and his family to graciously welcome his presidential successor and his family to the White House or to attend the inauguration of President Biden because of his refusal to accept defeat or allow the peaceful transfer of power is a cause for profound sadness.
The Founders were deeply concerned about unscrupulous, power hungry leaders. For instance, in first Federalist Paper Alexander Hamilton warned that “of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues and ending tyrants”. Authoritarian tyrants use all means including threats of violence and violence itself to achieve their ends. This is the history of pre-modern societies and failed republics. George Washington stunned the world and even many of his countrymen when he stepped away from personal aggrandizement at the end of his second term as president in honor of the principles of the Constitution as did every other president of the United States until Trump.
The sub-Modern leader tends to be authoritarian in his orientation. He wants to rule and control without limit, and in turn to the extent possible repress constitutionally proscribed checks and balances, which would restrain his lawlessness. People who have regressed into a self-protective mode often look for a strongman leader to defend their most precious ethno-centric concerns. Trump was as authoritarian as he could get away with, and clearly aspired to be like the authoritarian leaders he was so drawn to such as Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. Those who have regressed to wanting a strongman leader, often do not perceive that a dominating leader who shows up, may be completely self-centric – such as Trump – who do not care much for the values of the ethno-centric constituency, manipulating them as needed by parroting their values.
Demagoguery is defined as activities or practices of a leader which seek support by appealing to the emotions, passions, and prejudices of people rather than using rational argument4. That without question is the essence of Trumpism. Trump is particularly brilliant at compromising the Modern reasoning and moral capacities of people, who fall prey to his manipulation of their passions and prejudices.
Inciting and Using Violence
Inciting violence and using violence is a primal expression of ethnocentrism and the antithesis of the dynamics of a healthy democratic republic, which is governed by the rule of law, due process, and institutionalized procedures. A common theme for Trump was suggesting acts of violence against those he disliked such as members of the press or protestors against his ARP approaches. Using violence against peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors nearby the White House so that he could walk across a square with an entourage including the top American military leader and hold up a bible in front of a Church is a perfect example of how utterly wrong this is, not to speak of the historic January 6 coup attempt at the Capitol.
Second, promote, and use an Anti-Republic Pathology scale (“ARP Scale”)
We can assess the minimum worthiness of a political candidate or leader or group by informally adding up the number of Anti-Republic Pathologies which are reflected in their narratives, policies, and actions. This would be somewhat subjective, but it should be fairly evident which individuals, groups, and movements have a high score (“Political Pathology Score”) on the ARP Scale comprised of the 12 ARPs listed above. The higher the Political Pathology Score (“PPS”) the more dangerous the leader or group. For instance, Donald Trump scores 12 out of 12. The point is that any candidate or leader who scores significantly at all on the ARP Scale should be rejected out of hand.
In Utah where I reside, our Republican US Senator, Mitt Romney, and our newly elected Republican Governor, Spencer Cox, have probably close to a zero PPS. On the other hand, the newly elected Republican Utah Congressman for Utah’s 4th Congressional district, Burgess Owens, has supported and promoted many ARPs, while the PPS of the Democratic incumbent whom he defeated in the 2020 congressional election, Ben McAdams, would score close to 0. The Political Pathology Score of public leaders matters much more than if they are left or right leaning politically, because a person with a high PPS is fundamentally hostile to the very principles upon which the American Republic is based and should never be supported in holding an office of public trust.
Third, take dramatic steps to better ensure that there can be general agreement on the facts relating to important issues.
The threshold element in having a functioning democratic republic at all, is having general agreement on what the facts are. Trump proved that through constantly telling lies supported by political allies together with media organizations and social media enablers, tens of millions of people with a Modern or higher developmental center of gravity can be deceived as to the facts and manipulated into supporting Anti-Republic Pathologies which damage our American Republic. Following are two proposals
Establish permanent consensus fact commissions (CFCs) – one or more for national issues and one or more for state and local issues in each state. These CFCs would be comprised of respected and trusted people representing the political spectrum from the public sector and trusted diverse individuals from the non-profit, and private sectors. People who support Anti-Republic Pathologies would not be invited to be on a CFC. These CFCs should be well funded with competent support staff and full access to needed technical resources and expertise. The task of the CFCs would be to achieve a consensus statement of the relevant facts on important selected public policy issues. For instance, the consensus of mainstream scientists and/or competent researchers on a relevant issue would be accepted by a CFC. Consensus facts would then be the foundation for relevant public policy debate. CFCs could be supplemental bodies to already existing institutions such as the Center for Disease Control. The Trump administration did its best to undermine, corrupt and discredit the CDC because scientific truth and the CDC’s commitment to the protection of human lives were inconsistent with Trump’s political agenda of denying the massive proportions and danger of the COVID pandemic crisis.
Establish a high-level national commission to address how to prohibit media outlets and social media platforms from undermining truth in the public square on important public issues and to generate public policy recommendations and other consistent proposals. We should never forget that multiple media sources continually amplified lies and specious conspiracies that almost resulted in the toppling of the American Republic, and they are still at it. There is no area of public policy that has any greater urgency than getting our arms around the unrestricted deluge of disinformation on important matters. Even though there are sensitive First Amendment and other important legal considerations that must be addressed, America’s very survival as a constitutional republic may very well depend on prompt and successful action in this area.
There should be well-funded efforts to provide education as to the insidious nature of all the Anti-Republic Pathologies and their devastating impact on the American Republic. Each one of them undermines our American Republic, and the more of them that are at play, the more destructive the impact. Following are two proposals.
Educate the public. Most citizens who voted for Trump are thoughtful, principled people, as are most Americans. One must assume that the large majority of Trump voters would view Trump and his enablers very differently if they had a clearer sense of the insidious nature of the Anti-Republic Pathologies and that all the ARPs were and are being practiced by Trump and his political and media allies to deceive and manipulate millions of people. There should be educational programs to clarify the danger of ARPs promoted through public, private, and non-profit organizations, particularly including educational institutions and responsible media organizations.
Most citizens who voted for Trump are thoughtful, principled people, as are most Americans.
Educate our youth and young adults. One of the main reasons for establishing public education at the inception of the American Republic was that our children should be trained to become competent and responsible citizens. That element of public education has too often become minimized or eliminated in recent decades. It is time once again to raise up a new generation of competent and committed citizens with a significant part of that education highlighting the danger of the Anti-Republic Pathologies to the very survival of the American Republic. We should also include the importance of ethics across all educational disciplines to emphasize that all our personal, professional, and political activities have ethical implications for which each of us should be responsible5. In the context of character education and service learning we should also teach and inculcate consensus principles of virtuous behavior, especially the Golden Rule and the related qualities of Conscience, Civility, Care, and Compassion, which underlie the universal reciprocity principles of Freedom and Justice for all, as reflected in the United States Constitution and all state constitutions.
Fifth, support leaders who have positive attributes from a developmental perspective
Whether a candidate is left or the right leaning we should give priority to electing and supporting leaders for public office who are wise and mature in terms of virtuous character and leadership capacity. As James Madison noted in Federalist No. 57: “The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men [and of course now also women] who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society.” Following are two proposals.
Support leaders with mature virtuous character. Perhaps virtuous character – a traditionally conservative priority value – should be valued more than anything else in a public leader. There are many virtuous traits that could be highlighted but perhaps the most important is that a leader’s scope of loving care and concern extends to all people. Beyond that, in terms of moral maturity a profoundly morally mature person has a sense of care beyond all people to care and have a sense of stewardship for all living things. The most mature people will therefore be environmentalists as well as agents of universal compassion. It is critical to understand in a developmental sense that some people are profoundly virtuous, but their scope of care and concern is ethno-centric, limited to “Us” and not to the “Other” – hence not virtuous in a mature sense. Such pre-Modern virtue is not adequate for a leader who has a public stewardship. The disaster of Trumpism could have been predicted solely from the fact that Donald Trump is a person who has very few of what could be called virtuous character traits.
Whether a candidate is left or the right leaning we should give priority to electing and supporting leaders for public office who are wise and mature in terms of virtuous character and leadership capacity.
Support leaders with mature leadership capacity. From a developmental perspective, Modern leadership approaches and capacities reflect one stage of human development. Each higher stage of development among other things increases a person’s capacities to handle greater complexity and to deal well with greater diversity. For most public leadership positions, a person with mature Modern leadership qualities and capacities is ideal. However, the twenty first century world is extraordinarily complex and has moved beyond Modern capacities to handle it well, which is reflected in the dysfunctionality of American political and governmental systems. For public positions which have major responsibilities, such as state and federal executive and legislative positions, we should gravitate toward leaders with mature Integral capacities as they become increasingly present and available in the coming years.
Mature Integral capacities and resulting Mature Integral leadership are essentially the qualities of transpartisanship and transpartisan leadership, which reflect that the transpartisan movement developmentally represent the next step in the evolution of American and world civilization.
Transpartisan leaders have the capacity to work with complex systems, and to weave back together in a higher synthesis those things that Pluralists sometimes tend to deconstruct and frequently disparage. Perhaps even more important, the transpartisan leader not only sees the ultimate value of each human being but also connects with everyone where they are culturally and developmentally better than people at any prior stage of development. The transpartisan leader can weave together superior solutions in our highly diverse society that address the concerns of virtually everyone.
Transpartisan leaders can design processes and institutions which generate inclusive, collaborative, and higher quality approaches to policies and solutions. The evidence of their impact is becoming pervasive in the developed world. In every state in the Union there are new and creative, transpartisan informed approaches to democratic cultural, institutional and process transformation, which have been emerging over the past few decades6. The transpartisan seeds are planted, and amazing things will unfold in the coming years which reflect such transpartisan informed influences – if the American Republic does not collapse in the meantime.
Transpartisan leaders may be right or left leaning in terms of general emphasis, but they are deeply perceptive regarding the importance of all well held points of view across the political spectrum. They can see that some circumstances call for instance for greater conservative discipline and responsibility, and others call for more fully embracing liberal justice and compassion for the marginalized, or textured combinations of all sorts of variations of these orientations.
Transpartisan leaders who are using their skills in the political arena are still rare but are increasingly emerging in all dimensions of public service. One national liberal leader who manifests such capacities is US Transportation Secretary Peter Buttagieg. For instance, he has frequently appeared on Fox News with a disarming ability to communicate effectively and empathetically with conservatives. A new republican governor who shows similar qualities is Spencer Cox in Utah. He made national and international news during the 2020 campaign when he and his democratic rival for the governorship of Utah, did a joint announcement about the importance of being civil and mutually respectful when vigorously debating their policy differences. When Cox was Utah Lieutenant Governor, he and similarly transpartisan informed Democratic Mayor and later Utah Congressman, Ben McAdams, would engage and together model how to be inclusive, collaborative, synergistic and effective in getting things done for the public good and had fun doing it. Each of these Transpartisan Leaders is younger than 50, which is symptomatic of more people with these mature capacities arising in each new generation.
Sixth, let us begin with ourselves
To move forward in a healthy and productive way, each of us should begin by looking at ourselves and working to further develop the characteristics of mature, responsible citizenship, including a commitment to our own highest values and the nation’s universal principles and highest ideals. We should make this same commitment in all groups and communities of which we are a part. This includes each of us opposing all Anti-Republic Pathologies in civic and public arenas. We should all take advantage of the many programs and initiatives that are available to help us learn how to reach out to connect more meaningfully with those who are different than ourselves and in the process bridge and heal divides7. Many of us could learn and grow into integral or transpartisan capacities and leadership8, and all of us should support mature and virtuous leaders.
It may seem to many that America is on the cusp of moving beyond its prime as a Nation and losing any semblance of American exceptionalism. However, America may be just broken open enough from the political and health crises of the past few years to allow new possibilities to emerge that might have otherwise been repressed. For instance, the murder of George Floyd in 2020 triggered a response among millions of people, particularly in the younger generations, that had not happened before on this scale, calling for greater commitment to overcoming systemic racism in America.
It may take a decade or more to sort out what might unfold from this moment of extraordinary national regression. Much long term damage has already been done. Trump and his ilk are moving ahead through utilizing all the dangerous Anti-Republic Pathologies with millions of Americans pledging their allegiance.
Paying attention to developmental considerations including the types of proposals set forth in this article will be critical to overcoming The Great American Regression and to achieving a next stage emergence of American transpartisan exceptionalism.
(Additional editing and images by Andy Fluke.)
3In ego development theory there are two sub-stages in an integral “fourth person perspective” – 4.0 and 4.5 – and many fewer people who have achieved the latter sub-stage than the former. For instance, see the work of leading adult development researchers and scholars, Susanne Cooke Greuter, PhD through the Vertical Development Academy, www.verticledevelopment.com and Terri O’Fallon PhD through Stages International, www.stagesinternational.com. The qualities of the mature integral stage are consistent with transpartisan orientations, attitudes and capacities as further described in this article.
5The importance of this perspective is reflected through the work of The Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum, www.seac-online.org
6See for instance an article by the author: “Transpartisan Maturity in Utah”, www.transpartisanreview.org/transpartisan-maturity-in Utah. June 21019
7There are a multitude of effective organizations that support people in learning how to communicate civilly and effectively across their differences, such as Living Room Conversations, www.livingroomconversations.org and networks of bridging organizations such as the Bridge Alliance, www.bridgealliance.us.
8The YOUnify initiative, which the author co-founded and chairs, includes both working on reducing polarization of all kinds as well as accelerating progress on solution to the key challenges to our time utilizing transpartisan informed strategies and leadership training, www.YOUnify.org. One of many “solutions labs” which YOUnify sponsors is dedicated to networking among and highlighting the work of individuals and organizations which are pursuing integral/transpartisan approaches to leadership, politics, and societal flourishing. Other organizations work with cohorts of people in supporting them in growing into integral/ transpartisan and beyond personal and leadership capacities such as, Pacific Integral, www.pacificintegral.com and Lower Lights School of Wisdom, www.lowerlightswisdom.org or support more generally the science based evolution of consciousness and society such as Integral Life, https://integrallife.com and the Institute for Cultural Evolution, www.culturalevolution.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Kesler is a practicing attorney who received his law degree from Columbia University Law School. He is trained and certified in the Stages Model of human development, which builds on the theory of ego development first developed by Jane Loevinger. He is certified to evaluate the developmental center of gravity of adults and mentor them with regard to higher stages of adult development.
John has worked in the area of applying developmental consideration to societal issues for over 20 years and stresses the importance of integral and transpartisan approaches. He was a founding member of the politics section of the Integral Institute. John co-founded and currently chairs the YOUnify initiative, grounded in transpartisan perspective, which works on overcoming polarization of all sorts and making progress on the pressing issues of our time www.younify.org.
John also developed and teaches a meditation and life practice called integral polarity practice. IPP supports people in becoming more centered, fully integrated and prepared to continue to grow developmentally throughout their adult life and in applying their capacities and gifts in service of the greater good www.theippinstitute.com.
- Flag at Half Mast by George Sheldon from Dreamstime.com.
- President Trump by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.
- Qanon Supporter by TheUnseen011101, Public Domain.
- Justice Department by Sebmol, CC BY-SA 3.0.
- Covid Virus from the FDA (no attribution).
- Dodo-Elephant by Andy Fluke.
- My Trusty Gavel by Brian Turner, CC BY 2.0.
- Utah Futures PSA: Lt. Gov Spencer Cox from YouTube, CC BY 3.0.
- Transpartisan Gyroscope by Andy Fluke.
- George Floyd by Id-iom, CC BY-NC 2.0.
- Photo of author provided by author.