THE BLOG
12/14/2016 02:00 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2017

What's In A Headline: Donald Trump On Waterboarding

So it went like this. There was a headline in the New York Times on Monday November 28, 2016, that read, Donald Trump Faces Obstacles to Resuming Waterboarding. I looked at the writers' names; they were Matt Apuzzo and James Risen, more than reputable. The headline stopped me in my tracks. Actually it seemed to me so casual, that there was a policy embraced by Donald Trump and promised to his constituents--something that now seemed to be encountering a glitch.

I read it over and further. It took me by surprise again as I was reminded of the brashness of Trump's comments regarding his promise of toughness that would be tougher than anything seen before. Except that in the meantime something had happened, in the press, in the CIA, and in the American Psychological Association. The latter had in 2015, a little late in the game, prohibited psychologists from participating in enhanced interrogations, perhaps remembering in time to save face the adage of "Do no harm."

Aside from the inhuman sadistic, de-humanizing acts involved in torture, yes there is that element now understood by the CIA--that it is not really effective. Yes it can yield lies, as it can yield incalculable damage to the recipients, many of whom have been imprisoned with no charges and sent by the US to be interrogated in secret prison sites.

There are also people like Senator John McCain, who has been subjected to enemy interrogations and torture and who, amazingly for this period in history, does not want to see employed means of degradation and brutality that were heaped upon him.

For some reason, this subject has stayed on my radar. I am aware that the American Psychological Association aided and abetted the CIA program of torture, by having psychologists participate directly, and by moving to redefine acts of torture as not being torture. Many feel the APA bears much of the responsibility for the American torture policies because it covered for the CIA, and made things look legal, things that were not.

The price of sadism is an exacting one. And the price of rooting for sadistic policies is a costly one as well. Something is transformed in the psyche when we agree to torture, when we agree to sub-humanize one group so they no longer qualify for dignity and decency. We grow further away from our capacity for empathy, and our will to follow the Golden Rule of not doing to others what we would not have done to us.

We have paid the price of enormous mistrust towards us, not only in the Middle East but also throughout much of the world, as they have seen the US as brutal for the sake of being brutal, and for the sake of making money through the establishment of secret prisons as well.

I don't want to go on about the role of a United States President but one would hope that he or she would lead, based on sound principles that are also practical. Mr. Trump has stated that if Americans felt strongly about bringing back waterboarding, "I would be guided by that." Well, it really should be the other way around, in that for democracy to be viable, the voters and constituents need to be informed about costs of any one action, on monetary and on emotional levels that reverberate throughout the world.

It is one of the remarkable things of our time that many in potential and real power espouse their religious beliefs as being part of Christianity, oftentimes the Evangelical version. As a Jew I was educated to see Jesus and his teachings as an addition to mercy and forgiveness into religion, as compared to the cruelty of many of the actions of the God of the Old Testament. However if what is written in the Bible is reflective also of our own psyches, then it is not only about what is taught but about what is reflected there about our own states of being and of mind.

As a Jew, while reading "In the Garden of the Beasts", recently, about the American Ambassador to Berlin in 1933, I was reminded of the "Jewish" problem, and how it became normalized for Jews to be tortured and to ultimately be exterminated. The world without the Jews, how great it could be. America without Muslims, without new immigrants, perhaps without any minorities who live in crime ridden areas (never mind how the crime got started and with whose money it is maintained)--how great might that be.

Then we'd be left with us alone, and we'd have to negotiate the force of evil inside us. We'd have to stop scapegoating because there would be no scapegoats. Except that we could be come creative in our desperation to blame.

Growing up is a bitch. It is such hard work, to be honest about our false hopes, our delusions of grandeur, the limitations that come with our own mortality and our own imperfections. I contend many of us--more than meets the eye--are exhausted and depleted from trying so hard to live up to the political and social correctness of the moment. Even as we hate or despise or judge, we must know that we could be judged the next moment, if the winds of favor change.

Torture has been a subject under the radar for many Americans. It has even been under the radar for many in the fields of mental health who don't even know how the profession of psychology has been a mainstay of its programs. In fact it has been under the radar to a point where I despaired of people noticing the reporting of Apuzzo or Risen or Jane Mayer or others who don't give up the torch of truth about the subject.

Maybe this is an opening: that Donald Trump will have obstacles. Maybe the same obstacles he will face might become the obstacles that the rest of us can finally face as well.