The dramatic outcome of the US election on November 8th took many by surprise, and immediately led to much speculation about the potential consequences of a Trump presidency. How would it affect financial markets, international trade and the overall stability of the global economy? Would it inflame racial tensions and normalize overt bigotry at home, and lead to a new era of intractable military conflicts abroad? Would it undermine the safety of vulnerable populations such as undocumented immigrants, refugees and religious minorities, and endanger the rights of women, African Americans, LGBTQ people and other disadvantaged groups? And, finally, would it mean a fateful acceleration of existential threats to humanity such as climate change and nuclear war?
Amidst all of this wide-ranging public debate, one crucial dimension of Trump’s victory has remained unduly neglected: the fact that it really hurt my feelings. In spite of my best efforts to communicate the gravity of my emotions surrounding the election, and all of the intricate ways they have fluctuated over the past several weeks, I am still not convinced that the world as a whole is adequately attuned to the minutiae of my personal pain.
As raw and self-disclosing as my social media posts have been, for instance, they have received an oddly small number of likes, shares, and comments. Late on election night, right after Trump was declared in Wisconsin, I took to Facebook to let everyone know that I was literally crying, literally shaking, and – no joke – feeling so sick and gross that I seriously needed an ambulance. And in return for this blistering emotional honesty, what did I receive? Two measly heart-shaped emojis, three crying-face emojis and a few banal comments along the lines of “I know how you feel” and “A terrible night all around.”
Tossing in bed later that night, I tweeted this cri de coeur from my iPhone: “Srsly People??!!? You made this evil ass-clown our President? OMFG, WTF were you THINKING?!? ” When I woke up the following morning not a single representative of People had been decent enough to step forward to try to justify their actions to me, let alone offer a personal apology.
My face-to-face encounters have done little to heal the trauma of such online experiences. Friends, family and work colleagues all appear to be listening when I take the occasional afternoon or evening to explain how super sad and super angry I’ve been. But I’m not sure they really get it, or even want to really get it. They derail the discussion by inserting their feelings and observations into the mix, or by focusing on politics, policy and other boring, abstract stuff. Needless to say, this has not left me “feeling felt,” as my life-coach once nicely put it.
The poignancy of my personal drama comes into even sharper relief when you consider that I was feeling quite positive and hopeful in the days leading up to the election. Buoyed by all the polls and pundits assuring us that Hillary had victory in the bag, I swelled with pride at the idea of being precisely the kind of person who was making the US the kind of country that would elect its first female president as the successor to its first black president. The kind of country that would make educated, conspicuously progressive urban professionals like me feel validated, comfortable and in-charge, and would banish its Morlock-like race of grubby, wrong-thinking deplorables back into the holes and trailer parks whence they came.
Alas, this was a beautiful dream that was never to be realized. As Hillary’s early lead vanished on election night, the fluttery feeling in my stomach gave way to a nausea even more unsettling than my worst experiences with gluten. The following day, I felt so desolate that I ended up calling in sick for work, cancelling my lunchtime Pilates session, and spending most of the day on the couch watching the Shopping Channel and eating cookie dough ice cream from the container. As the day wore on, I was overcome by the sense that I was in a different world now – one in which the very worst and most uncouth were at the helm, and in which I – in my anger and grief – could be easily derailed from my dietary, fitness and self-actualization goals.
Perhaps the biggest casualty of this election has been my ability to feel naively good about myself and my country. Whereas Obama, the sophisticated Ivy League legal scholar with street smarts and pop-culture savvy, reflected well on me and accessorized well with my preferred self-image, I am deeply embarrassed that Trump’s smug, crude orange mug is now the face that my country presents to the world. Looking at this face, the world could almost be forgiven for thinking that that the US is not pure in its noble purposes, but greedy, power-hungry, self-satisfied, hypocritical, and prone to aggressive bullying.
Closer to home, I’m faced with other messaging conundrums. How I can possibly explain to my children that the US is not entirely innocent and devoid of conflict, ignorance and hate? How can I break it to them that there are bad people in the world, that such people often seek to gain and misuse power, and that the rest of us need to be vigilant about preventing this from happening?
Sadly, I don’t think I have it in me to even begin to answer these questions right now. Over the past several months, I’ve worn my “Make Donald Drumpf Again” t-shirt, sported an “I’m With Her” pin, gone to wine-and-cheese fundraisers, used lots of clever hashtags and applied bumper-stickers to my rear fender – but there is only so much one person can do before political burnout sets in.
Some claim that we need to delve even more deeply into politics right now, to build a broad-based mass movement capable of challenging Trump and his regressive agenda. As for myself, I think what I need right now is some quality me-time. I need to prioritize self-care and continue to non-judgmentally explore the feelings that this election has aroused. Engaging in this personal process is perhaps the greatest contribution I can make to the fight against Trumpism. In the end, as blogger and activist Emily Robinson has so aptly written, “fascism can only be beaten by the most privileged members of society writing a think piece about how sad it makes them.” [S]