Having physically been in India last week when the Trump bus video recording became news, I can personally attest to the relative ubiquity of its circulation. Around the globe, politicians, media, and laypersons traded ideas on what Trump’s obscene comments say about his view of women as well as his ability to govern. But the world may be missing the bigger message. Yes, Trump’s words were shameful and hurtful, and should be viewed along with the rest of his ensemble of insults and accomplishments as he vies for your vote. But significantly, his verses tell us more about what he thinks of himself than anything else.
In relation to the bus recording, ask yourself, “Why would anyone be so awful and denigrating toward others? Why would anyone be so disrespectful and inappropriate?” It is because he feels awful about himself. Certainly I am in no position to fully psychoanalyze another individual, let alone someone I have never actually met. But I know enough to recognize this is a person who is hurting inside; Trump is someone who lacks gentleness for himself and it manifests in his words and actions toward others. This is the essence of, “Locker-room talk.” Men (or women) do not stand in locker-rooms and say ridiculous things because it is fun, they do it because the locker-room is a very competitive place where we are extremely vulnerable and under the surface we feel tremendously insecure.
Think about it. Why would a man preach such hate toward others? Could it be because he hates himself? Why would a man want to build a wall around his country? Could it be because in not wanting to deal with his own feelings he has built a wall around his own heart? Though I do not in the least condone Trump’s often vile behavior, I do understand it. This is not an evil person, rather someone who has struggled deeply for many years with love of self.
I was fortune enough to recently spend almost a week in Dharmasala, India – the home of the Tibetan government in exile – attending lectures by the Dalai Lama. And while I am not one who subscribes to any form of religion, I was very aware of this theme during His Holiness’s talks: Our behavior represents, more than anything, how we feel about ourselves. And the Dalai Lama is not alone in preaching such an insightful message. In fact, anyone who has undergone consistent psychotherapy knows that the cyclical process of self-discovery begins by more or less venting about the world around you and ends by recognizing that your perception of the world, and therein your actions, are purely a reveal of what you see in the mirror.
Beyond rape, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) defines sexual assault as crimes that include, “attacks or attempted attacks generally involving unwanted sexual contact between victim and offender.” They further that, “Sexual assaults may or may not involve force and include such things as grabbing or fondling. It also includes verbal threats.” To that, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that an American is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Sexual assault is a crime and its victims can be permanently impacted both mentally and physically.
Part of the missed opportunity in the aftermath of Trump’s bus comments is in not drawing more awareness to this all too common offense. Insofar as Trump himself, the issue we should be focused on is his unwillingness to face his actions in the all-important process of self-reflection. You see, we can take sides and bitch and moan about Trump and Clinton, we can replay vulgar video tapes of bus conversations, and we can have televised debates that are more for our entertainment than our responsibility. Or we can instead hit “unsubscribe” and rather spend our valuable time working on ourselves. Because the true irony of the entire situation is that, like Trump, it is difficult for each of us in this world; we all struggle with loving ourselves and finding peace with the ultimate groundlessness of our existence.
We have reached an inflection point in society. It may take three years or three centuries, but our unwillingness each to admit we struggle, to admit we suffer with self-image, to admit we are scared, is one that will lead to our eventual ruin. Trump’s comments, if true, constitute sexual assault. And the video itself may disqualify him from being president. But our reaction to his behavior – our lacking empathy and compassion for an individual who has obviously spent a lot of his life hating himself – means we are not much different. As Trump uses women and Muslims to feel better about himself, we use Trump to feel better about ourselves.
When I first heard Trump’s terrible words, on CNN in my hotel in Delhi, I was in shock and angry – it is never okay to treat others so terribly, let alone potentially violate another individual. I was broadly troubled for the victims of sexual assault. And I was embarrassed to be an American traveling abroad at such a time. Yet I also understood that fundamentally we are all quite the same, driven by our fears and an unforgiving view of self. So, while anyone who does not self-reflect is indeed unfit to be president, I say that instead of turning one man’s self-loathing into our newest form of reality television, let’s realize Trump is clearly in quite a bit of self-inflicted emotional pain. Because whether Trump or Clinton, or Arab or Jew or Shiite or Sunni or your adultering spouse’s lover or even that man who took your parking spot, compassion for our enemies by learning to love ourselves must be the framework for the future. If not, our society will soon cease to exist.