We have all been bombarded with news coverage (including through Canadian media) of the situation of our neighbours to the south occurring over the last few years, months and of the recent election. I’m hopeful that we are now on the verge of a better future for the US, Canada and the world. Although it appears that the seeming decline of democracy into autocracy in the US has been paused for now, the political divide there is as wide as ever and is very worrisome. A nagging question keeps surfacing. How could almost half of those who voted be so devoted to a leader whose words and actions constantly demeaned and hurt them?
Recently, I read an article that suggests a plausible and chilling explanation. The author of the article, Dr. Bandy X. Lee, is an American psychiatrist at Yale University who has been vocal about her views on the deleterious societal effects of the US president’s mental state (primarily his narcissism). She and many other health professionals are urging the nation to think about the fascination with his behaviour as a mental health problem rather than just a political one. She believes that he suffers from a mental disorder that has supported manipulative and exploitative behaviour, which combined with his position of power as president, has been potently persuasive. In his followers, the disorder manifests itself as a decrease in the awareness that something is wrong. Rational thought is overridden. When higher functions are impaired, an individual taps more easily into the “primitive brain” which is irrational but very powerful, as it is survival driven. Dr. Lee suggests that these followers are vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation and are very loyal to the person sending the message. Under these emotional bonds, his followers often experience any threat to his position as a threat to themselves as they have been conditioned to believe. Although these bonds will dissipate when exposure to the “protector” is decreased, hearing the same messages over and over, especially on unrestricted social media can perpetuate the disorder into the future. Please email me if you would like me to forward Dr. Lee’s article.
Why am I going on about the US situation? Because I think there are lessons to be learned by Canadians. I keep hearing a new word in the political vocabulary, “tribalism”, which means having unconditional loyalty to one group and viewing others as enemies. It combines a disagreement with a deeply held grievance. The fact is, that a malaise already exists in society, both in the US and Canada. Political diatribe, economic disparities, fear of the future, feelings of isolation and helplessness result in deeply felt grievances and trigger strong emotions such as anger and even explosions of violence. Think of how domestic violence has exploded since the stress of pandemic lockdowns started. As I understand it, if an authoritarian figure is charismatic enough, the sources of information limited and the message constant for a long enough time, and everyday stresses result in grievances deep enough, mental disorder can happen anywhere and contribute to a widening gap of support between governing parties.
Aretha van Herk, a Calgary author, wrote an opinion piece for the CBC in late October in which she said “Partisanship is crippling leadership, a real peril when the best way forward is to unite…we cannot afford a complacent sense of superiority. We are just as susceptible to disinformation as our American cousins.” Each new government tries to tear down the work of the previous one. Racism and violence against women are examples of cultural tribalism which are on the rise here in Canada. I feel that, as women, as individuals, we must advocate for compromise and tolerance. Perpetuating the notion that disagreements are the preserve of enemies could spread our divides as wide as those south of the border. Taking to heart the T-shirt message “Be Kind” is more important than ever.
On a related note, November 25th is the start of the annual international campaign “Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence”. See the November 6th edition of CFUW National’s “Club Action Newsletter” for advocacy suggestions. I plan to wear orange until December 10th as a reminder that December 6th is the 31st anniversary of the horrific “Montreal Massacre”. Finally, one of our newer members, Elizabeth Fraser, has followed her passion and teamed up with the Ontario Council Status of Women and Human Rights Chair, Sandra Shaw to propose two Resolutions to stop Human Trafficking. You can read the results of her research in this newsletter. After a likely editing process of the wording, these Resolutions, introduced and supported by our St. Catharines Club, will be voted on at the May Ontario AGM.
I look forward to seeing you at our fun December 8th General Meeting which will be capped off with a virtual wine tasting activity.