Is U.S. Democracy Mentally Ill?


Mental Illness in America

Given that Americans suffer more mental illness than any other people on the planet, it makes sense that our political system has fallen mentally ill too.

The list of our mental illnesses is almost as long as the list of our chronic diseases. Americans suffer from schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, dysthymia; anxiety disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia, agoraphobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); substance abuse; and impulse control disorders like attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. On top of all that, we suffer alarming rates of dementia—whether general dementia, Alzheimer’s dementia, or Parkinson’s dementia.

The pharmaceutical industry has responded to the mental illness epidemic as an opportunity for market expansion for psychopharmacological drugs, and so has not only tolerated it, but also helped to engineer it by funneling resources to diagnoses and treatments, rather than prevention. Now, one long delay after another, we are experiencing the ill consequences of treating symptoms without healing causes for decades and decades. In politics, in homes, in schools, mental illness has come home to roost. Is anyone really surprised? Did we think we could tolerate, and even profit from, an epidemic of mental illnesses without creating real consequences that would affect our longterm sustainability as a society, and as a culture? 

Our health care system is chronically sick. The divorced American family is ailing. Why should anyone be surprised that our political body has become ill as well. America is going off the deep end because Americans are going off the deep end.

Including our President.

Dementia in the White House

The not-too-distant memory of Ronald Reagan should remind all of us that it’s entirely possible for a man with early signs of dementia to be President of the United States of America. President Reagan had early stages of Alzheimer’s disease while in the oval office. It happened before. It could certainly happen again. However, what’s more interesting than dementia showing up in the White House (why wouldn’t it, it’s showing up everywhere else) is the fact that it doesn’t seem to matter that the President is showing signs of losing his mental faculties, as far as being President matters in our political system. Both President Reagan and President Trump had popular backing. That may reveal something telling about the way Americans have learned to tolerate and normalize neurological disorders. Even in our political leaders.

President Trump arrived in the White House with poor impulse control, insomnia, challenges solving problems, confusion, loss of language skills and memory loss. Trump came into the White House as the oldest President at 72, and his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He himself is a symptom of a chronic condition Americans have lived with for a long time. I’m talking about the loss of healthy neurobiology. And the inability to see the Truth of our mental decline when it is staring us in the face. The same way we’ve lost our ability to recognize signs of our own chronic mental illnesses before they become critical, and wait on doctors to deliver a diagnosis instead, we seem to collectively have lost the ability to discern dementia in our elected officials during elections.

When it comes to chronic degenerative neurological illnesses, avoiding and delaying the inevitable healing crisis doesn’t help. It only makes things worse. President Trump, unlike Reagan, is a demagogue—a political leader who appeals to popular desires and prejudices rather than rational argument, making false claims and promises in order to gain power, while appearing to champion the cause of the common people. And like most demagogues, President Trump understands how to use the media to garner power and confuse the public, by taking to Twitter and TV to tweet and broadcast illogical ideas and half-baked impulses into public discourse about the most urgent political issues of our time.

What can sane Americans do about a president who is losing possession of his mind? Do what you have to do to be well. Because the problem isn’t just that Americans have a president with signs of dementia, again. The problem is that millions of Americans are losing their grip on reality as they become more and more mentally and physically ill. Because they’re both connected. There’s only one real longterm fix to our problem. That’s to culture more mental and physical health and wellbeing. Starting with better Care of the Self—from your emotional body to your physical body and, yes, to your mental body and the political body too.

If not, we risk catastrophe. And then, a new generation of uranium mining, nuclear weapons and power plants won’t save us. A wall won’t save us. Drones and lethal autonomous weapons won’t save us. Closing our borders won’t save us. Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord won’t save us. More fracking and oil pipelines won’t save us. And killing bear cubs and wolf pups in their dens in Alaska won’t save us. Because our problem is within us, not outside of us. Our problem is right here at home in the United States.

Make America Healthy Again

To make America healthy again, we would do well to empower citizens over corporations, and value public health and wellbeing over health insurance, pharmaceutical and medical industry profits.

It’s crazy to game democracy like it’s a reality TV show, video game or hedge fund short sale. American democracy is a living political ecosystem that reflects the state of our collective neurobiology. Democracy is a living intelligence—a network of affective responses to environmental changes and a system of delicate neurochemical checks and balances that has to be sustained. It has to be nurtured and cared for. As such, it can’t be bullied. It can’t be hedged. And it can’t be lied to and manipulated with green-washed marketing campaigns and another about-to-burst bubble and banking scandal (this time with Russian banks). In other words, it can’t be insane—lost in paranoid fantasies, demented illusions, megalomaniacal narcissism, manic aggrandizements and schizoid breaks with reality.

Because democracy only works if it’s sane. And to be sane, we have to be healthy.

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