With local theaters still shuttered, I tuned in the first presidential debate, searching for Hope and Change. I don’t listen to Ol’ 45 much, but I’ve heard him say how charismatic, inspiring, and smart he is. Based partly on his angry clap-back to Vice President Biden, saying he’d have to get “a lot smarter, a lot quicker,” Ol’ 45 clearly takes pride in his intellect.
Like many viewers, my stomach turned and blood pressure skyrocketed during the performance. My blood pressure has finally come down. Saying “President Obama” aloud for a few days helped soothe the soul. Even repeating, “Dubya, Dubya,” a few times had a strangely calming effect.
But in the days since the debatacle (debate + debacle), I’ve found that Ol’ 45 unexpectedly inspired me. I thank him for the inspiration.
The first thing I did after listening to the cacophony of Ol’ 45’s offbeat riffs was practice scales on the piano and plunk out the simple harmonies of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Public school music education programs have been cut since the Reagan era. Head-banging power chords replaced the harmonies of “All You Need is Love.” In our complex, high-conflict world a deeper understanding of harmony is desperately needed. Ol’ 45’s ignorance of harmony inspired me to value my musicianship, (limited as it is), practice scales, and advocate for funding music programs at every level.
“What profit is there in poetry? What reason is there is rhyme?”
Ol’ 45 also inspired me to continue to advocate for the restoration of much-maligned classical liberal arts education. Broad, deep, and disciplined liberal arts education has moved society forward since the Enlightenment. Expose students to philosophy, true experimental theater, and comedy improv, not Rush Limbaugh, Reality TV, and 1st person shooter games. Literature, not tweetstorms. After listening to Ol’ 45’s disregard for history, political philosophy, even the pretense of ethics, it seems clear that slashing funding for liberal arts has not merely been a mistake, it will be death of us. Education that focuses exclusively on developing marketable skills that maximize profit turns people into “human capital” or “brands” and will be suicide for our collective soul. Today, we have a “brand” in the White House that gloats over having paid only $750.00 on billions of dollars of speculated earnings. Perhaps Ol’ 45 will inspire business schools such as Wharton School that he is so proud to have attended to include ongoing intensive training and mentoring in ethics in their curricula.
The president also inspired me to appreciate my essential occupation as a psychologist. Psychology may be a so-called soft science, but it is a science. We don’t rely exclusively on gut feelings, intuitions, or what we heard on FOX and Friends. We engage in a disciplined process of experimentation. No scientific discipline stops its rigorous process at gut feelings about climate change, systemic racism, wearing a mask during a pandemic, or developing a vaccine. Science disciplines our instincts and intuitions and patiently seeks to find out what actually works.
Scientists and the scientifically literate have a fundamentally different view than Ol’ 45 about the chances of negotiating a deal with “the people at Johnson & Johnson” to discover a safe and effective vaccine before the election, or using the raw power of the presidency to distribute a vaccine to three hundred million Americans in weeks. Science doesn’t work that way.
Ol’ 45’s desperation to be acknowledged as smart inspires me to continue to cultivate humility and compassion. I somehow earned a Ph.D. in psychology, but that doesn’t make me smart. For me, a Ph.D. means, “Pretty Humble Dude.” My mentors, Chris and Art Nezu modeled academic rigor, humility, and compassion. They instilled a respect for the vastness of what we don’t know. Ol’ 45’s performance as president has been an advertisement for psychology programs everywhere and for the constant cultivation of humility and compassion. Instead of developing video games, learning to write code, or going to business school, our best and brightest students should apply to psychology programs. Clearly, there is a vastness we don’t know. If you really want to be seen as smart, whatever your essential job may be, cultivate humility and compassion.
Finally, although I won’t be voting for him, Ol’ 45 inspired me to VOTE!