Can the resistance movement have a positive impact on the Trump presidency? Might there be blowback? I asked 2016 independent presidential candidate, organizational psychologist, and author, Lynn S. Kahn, what the pros and cons are of discouraging versus encouraging Trump's administration.
Kahn has authored three books on transforming government and peacemaking. In an interview for IVN, she laid out what might work, and what might not work as the U.S. wrestles with transformation under Trump's presidency.
"Step back and look at everything as a system – it is all connected. Government is a system, and in fact, I think it is a living system," said Kahn.
The U.S. government is a complex net of individuals, groups, agencies, states, and national leaders. Outcomes are not dependent upon one part of the system, she explained. "There is anger on all sides; it can get triggered or not."
If resistance is rooted in blind rejection of authority, and expresses only a will to punish and blame, positive change is less likely. As a living system, Kahn said, government learns from feedback, and favors healthy responses:
"It is complicated, but if you step back and look at it as one giant living system – healthy responses always outweigh unhealthy responses. Living systems want to grow and become healthier, so there is hope."
Even as resistance movements define what is wrong, negative feedback should be accompanied by clear positive messaging, outlining what one wants to be done, and ways to move forward, she said.
Strong leadership on Trump's part is also necessary. Kahn explained that since the president is at the top of the system, responsibility to cross divisions rests more heavily on his shoulders. Resistors may present a clear message to Trump, but whether he hears it, and how he responds has a crucial effect:
"How is he going to speak with people who don’t agree with him? He is the leader – he voices, he represents, he portrays the attitudes of our political system. He is at the top of the political system. What he says and what he does influences people. It is more up to him to figure out how to talk to the opposition and bring them over to his side. It is not going to be an easy set of learning, because to him it is all a deal. You don’t know what the deal is until you learn what the opposition wants." - Dr. Lynn S. Kahn
Kahn also named the media as an important actor in facilitating meaningful dialogue between Trump and resistance movements:
"People get locked in their positions, and are not focused on analyzing the problem and coming up with solutions. It relates to what people are saying about how Donald Trump can be the president of all America. He has to figure out, I hope he figures it out, I hope the press figures it out – how to talk to the people who are voicing resistance, and how to say what it is that he thinks."
To get through conflict, each side needs to be clear on their positions and be able to present those positions under a common vision that can bring people together, she said. Outlining and communicating a common vision is the responsibility of leadership. Then, groups are positioned to identify problems and solutions toward the shared vision.
She also said that partisan groups are part of the problem, because they are less likely to foster face-to-face dialogue across differing perspectives, which Kahn thinks is crucial.
"I think you will find that many people will call for dialogue, and I hope that people of different sides will get together to talk about things," she said.
Kahn worked with the Clinton administration's Reinventing Government and Conversations with America project for six years.
"There is a lot that we know about having these kinds of community dialogues. They happen all the time. The media doesn’t look at stuff that works—doesn’t look at powerful dialogue," she said.
In addition to the years Kahn spent working in government, she recently spent 19 months on the road as an independent presidential candidate. She said she saw the tension in our country, even before Trump, even before 9-11, but referencing our national climate today, she said:
"I think there is a huge amount of tension. I think anything is possible: the bad stuff – conflict, civil war, violent revolt in the streets – everything is possible; but it is also possible that if we are clear about what we want that this White House will hear it. And if this White House doesn’t hear it if we are clear, then maybe enough independent folks can get together to voice a message that reaches across traditional boundaries."
Independent politics will be key, according to Kahn:
"I think the independent movement in America will save our democracy. It is so important to understand the independent point of view. I think the Republicans and Democrats are just stuck in their position that blames everything on ‘the other.’ All this blaming and pointing to one another as the source of our problems might make people feel better for a short period of time, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Our problems are complex, they are complicated, but they are solvable. There are a lot of fantastic solutions out there. Everyone of our national challenges and national problems -- we have the solutions – we have to work together to deliver on those solutions."
Kahn commented that Trump will need time to learn. She said the media has characterized him as more authoritarian than he might be, and that his strong persona may lead to unexpected outcomes.
"I mean Nixon went to China right? Maybe Donald Trump can build peace in ways that are unexpected," she said.