Happy Thanksgiving, Maslow Said

By the time you read this, you will most likely have done all the shopping and planning you need to do to celebrate Thanksgiving. Comes now the assembling of family and friends around a table to share the holiday meal. Today is a day we come together to give thanks.

For what?, you ask, in this most bruising of electoral seasons.

All votes have yet to be counted nationwide, but this much seems obvious: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote; Donald Trump won the electoral vote. Next month, electors will assemble to cast their ballot. Donald Trump is all but certain to become the next president of the United States.

His ascension is, depending on your vote, either a welcome sign or a portent of the apocalypse. Many a holiday meal will grow tense as family members rehearse political arguments.

A word to the winners: Don’t gloat.

A word to the losers: Don’t whine.

For the first time in a long time, join hands in simple acts of thanks and, as corny as it sounds, be grateful for the relative peace and harmony we share. 

Come January, there will be a peaceful transition from one administration to another. Our institutions are strong. And while economic inequality grips the land, there is still abundance enough to make us the envy of most of the world.

I’ve been scratching my head over this year’s election. What accounts for the popularity of outsiders, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump? How is it that woman with a resume tailor-made for the job was not elected president?

Discontent is in the wind. We’ve lost the ability to speak to one another.

How to address this whirling cacophony?

Perhaps Abraham Maslow can teach a thing or two. You may recall hearing of his hierarchy of needs, a pyramid that ranks human need from most basic to most sublime. It takes the form of a pyramid.

Maslow was one of the 20th century’s most influential psychologists. In 1943, he published a paper that has come to be one of the most famous scholarly publications of all time. It portrayed his hierarchy of human needs.

The most basic need, and therefore the need at the base of the pyramid, is what we share with other animals: the needs for food, water, sleep, protection from nature’s most severe privations. Satisfy these, and a person can aspire for more.

Safety is the next tier in the pyramid. By safety Maslow meant security for one’s family, employment, health and property. Stay alive first, and then worry about quality of life.

A person enjoying satisfaction of physiological and safety needs is then free to seek the consolations of love and belonging. Once freed from the tyranny of necessity, we can chose friends, cherish family, and nurture bonds of intimacy.

There’s more, Maslow says, a fourth level of higher order needs, as in the need for esteem or respect from others, and from one self. We are such stuff as our associations with others make us, all of us mirrors, reflecting what we see back upon ourselves and on to others.

At the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy is what he called self-actualization. I suspect he meant more than what advertisers market. Maslow was no vulgarian seeking to have each live lives of self-satisfaction, regardless of what satisfies. He sought healthy people, people capable of setting realistic goals, of engaging in purposeful conduct, of living together in communities of mutual self-respect.

I’m not sure the lines separating the five tiers of this pyramid are all that firmly drawn. It is difficult to distinguish the need for esteem from that of self-actualization.

But Maslow’s point is simple enough. No matter how the lines in his pyramid are parsed, some needs are more basic than others. It makes no sense to tell a starving man his life will be more complete if he learns to appreciate operatic performances. 

What has this to do with Thanksgiving in this contentious year?

Maslow just might solve the paradox of this year’s election results. From where I sit, the two campaigns pitched their messages to different levels on Maslow’s hierarchy.

Clinton and Democrats aimed high: Under the umbrella that is America, all are entitled to esteem, self-actualization. We’re a republic of differences, and by respecting the goals of all, each of us is enriched.

That works in a community of affluence, where more basic needs are met. Affluent communities can afford to be cosmopolitan.

Trump and the Republicans focused lower on the hierarchy. Their message was pitched to a working class that feels that affluence has passed them by. By tapping this resentment and fear, Trump shocked the world.

The results shocked only those living in a bubble of privilege.

Need a concrete example? Politicizing whether folks can use the restroom of their choice is an appeal to self-realization; building roads and securing employment is a far more basic need. Don’t tell a struggling working class it needs to welcome strangers into the land because it is part of our heritage. Eat first; self-actualize later.

Abundance yields visions of inclusion; scarcity breeds a politics of fear.

So how do we move forward from here?

The Roman orator Cicero offers guidance. A republic, he taught, is not just any collection of people. No, a republic is a group of people bound together by common conceptions of right and common interests. Let’s consider our common interests.

An experiment in community building: Locate yourself on one of the five tiers. Give thanks for what you have accomplished. Then, rather that looking up to the next tier, asking yourself how to get there, look one step below you, to a person less affluent.

Offer one person at a time a helping hand.

Odds are we’re all seeking more or less the same thing — we have common interests. Some of us are just more fortunate than others.

Let’s give thanks for what we have, but not forget those who have less. We’re all pilgrims in need of grace.

Have a grace-filled holiday, everyone.


Steve Bannon and Identity Politics

         Here’s the good news: President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Steve Bannon as chief strategist and senior counselor might just make it possible to start having an honest discussion about race in the United States.     

         The bad news? Progressives may not want such a discussion, preferring, instead, cocoons of unctuous self-righteousness.  

         Candidly, I view Bannon’s selection to the post as a consolation prize. He is too much of a bull to be let loose in the White House china shop. But Trump didn’t want to kick a loyalist to the curb. So he gave him a fancy sounding job and an impressive sounding title, but no real responsibilities.       Although Bannon was the Trump campaign’s “CEO” in the mad dash to the electoral finish line, he was far too polarizing a figure to serve as chief of staff. Reince Priebus’s selection as gatekeeper to the president makes sense. Priebus, outgoing the chair of the Republican National Committee, is a go-along, get-along kind of guy. Bannon is a flamethrower.

         So Bannon gets to whisper sweet and sour nothings into the presidential ear. Period. You’d think Bannon was given keys to the nation’s concentration camps based on the caterwauling in the mainstream media. The New York Times has been reduced to broadsheet for the national pity party, printing all the whining that’s fit to print.

         Plenty of folks don’t like Bannon. They don’t like him because he’s alt-right, a white nationalist, a racist, an anti-Semite, a misogynist … the list goes on. His presence in the White House inspires panic, even hysteria. He’s become a trope for all the diversity crowd most dreads about that most dreadful of species: white men.

         I am glad he has the president-elect’s ear. The identity politicians need to take a long hard look into the mirror he holds. In it, they will see a reflection of themselves.

         In case you missed it, it is now morally suspect to be a white male, especially if you are a heterosexual, or not otherwise confused about your gender. (Being a white male can be forgiven if you are gay, or if you demand the right to use female restrooms because you really feel like a woman.)

         It is fashionable to claim that white male privilege imposes blinders on the likes of folks like me. We cannot see the suffering of others, or empathize with their struggle, because we’re to the manor born. The assumption, of course, is that being a heterosexual white male renders our world a safe place for us.

         This form of cultural politics ignores the reality of class and income inequality. Trump’s genius was to tap the rage of the white working class, a rage fueled by a sense that they should be forced to pay for the fulfillment of others when their own basic needs were not being met.

         Identity politicians seek to defrock the white male, to deprive him of his privilege. Diversity is the banner under which everyone else is to gather. It is a tapestry composed of every color but white, every flavor but vanilla.

         When a white person defends himself and suggests that his is not a bed of roses, the identity politician is quick to levy charges of white nationalism. It is a dishonest, a disreputable and, in the context of this year’s election, a losing argument.

         I’ve never paid a lot of attention to Breitbart or to the alt-right. I’m no white supremacist. I truly believe in original sin and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We’re all sinners in need of grace.

         But I voted for Donald Trump because Hillary Clinton did not look much like an instrument of grace to me. She was a racial panderer, surrounding herself with those gleeful that the Caucasians are becoming a minority in this country.      I’d watch Van Jones, a former White House aide, a CNN talking head and Clinton surrogate, opine about the “white vote” as if it were an aberration that could safely be ignored. I felt like a stranger in my own home.

         Clinton lost because she decided that white lives don’t matter as much as the lives of others. Did she really expect the white working class to lay idly by?

         Trump said otherwise. Bannon helped craft the message. Bannon was white to Clinton’s brown.

         Both candidates played racial and ethnic cards in this election, and we all lost as a result.

         Bannon is a white identity politician. He has adopted the rhetorical tactics and techniques of progressives who believe the if you’re white, you can’t be right.

         Look in the mirror, all ye who drink from the bottomless well of diversity for diversity’s sake: Steve Bannon is your twin brother. If you don’t like what you see, it won’t work to call him a name, he’ll hurl the epithet right back at you.

         White men don’t owe the world a thing; you’re not entitled to anything on account of your particular accident of birth. A politics based on character, and not skin color, demands as much.

         So let the protestors chant “Not My President.” Let the left deplore Bannon and claim that his version of identity politics is toxic while demonizing white men is, well, merely justice.

         If we all hold this course, we can destroy the country. Our leading educational institutions seem contend to do just that. Leading universities cancelled exams after the election – students were too upset to concentrate. At the University of Michigan Law School, an event was planned at which lawyers in training could meet together to color, play with Lego sets and engage in other stressless play.

         Thus we become the laughing stock of the world.

         I don’t like Steve Bannon. But neither do I like what made him possible. Identity politics and racial pandering separate and divide. If forced to choose, I’ll choose my skin. Who can blame me, if skin is all there is?

         We all need to reread St. Augustine’s City of God. We’ve lost sight of the divine and are beholden now to lesser loves, loves which blind us to the hidden power of grace to transform and unite.

         I look at Steve Bannon and I see a nation much in need of grace. 


About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis


Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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