Social workers know denial when they see it. One of the most common – and surely the most seductive – of psychological defense mechanisms, denial as it were cheats reality, permitting us to keep old behaviors and habits of mind intact, no matter how damaging they are in the long run.
Sadly, denial is the signature characteristic of our current dysfunctional political life, most dramatically at the national level.
Denial that there are Constitutional limits to presidential authority allows Donald Trump to assert his right to do whatever he wants, and a passive Congress to slumber along in seeming contentment.
Denial that economic inequality is screamingly high and worsening steadily allows the administration and its media sycophants to crow ad nauseum about low-paying jobs creation, while slashing taxes for the wealthy and corporations already flush with cash.
Denial that nuclear war likely means the end of our species, along with countless others, allows the military to “upgrade” the nuclear arsenal, and the president to threaten the use of nuclear weapons to sustain U.S. international dominance.
Denial that climate destabilization is already happening and on a fast track to undermine civilized human existence allows the administration to promote the continuation of rampant fossil fuels extraction and to eviscerate regulations designed to protect the environment and human health.
What denial cannot do is work indefinitely to screen us from the consequences of denying reality. Eventually – sometimes all too quickly – the chickens come home to roost. The erosion of democratic norms and constraints on power eventually produces fascism. Unchecked inequality eventually destroys social cohesion and the legitimacy of the established order. The proliferation of horrifically destructive weapons eventually do what they were built to do – destroy, absolutely and without opportunity to recover. Unmitigated climate destabilization eventually amounts to ecocide.
Social workers have no ethical choice, in my view, other than to expose such systemic and insane denials, and to resist their consequences with all the personal and professional energy they can muster.