The world is a very different place since the election of Donald Trump, but it seems to be less a direct result of any of his implemented policies, rather from the reaction to his election, and to his very position as President. This reaction has been rather perplexing for me.
While my own views are politically centre-right, I regularly seek to listen to and engage with a diversity of views. I seek to understand why other people think the way they do. But this is getting more and more difficult, as media has become even more polarised. The torrent of anti-Trump articles continues at levels that seem hysterical – my local newspaper The Age, despite being thousands of miles away, publishes about Trump at least twice daily, often including a rabid opinion piece.
One way to make sense of it is to view the response of “the left” (if you think I’m referring to you, then I am) as one of grief, and therefore approach it using the five-stage framework of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Grief occurs after a loss, and after eight years of Obama as president, his progressive agenda has been lost in a very sudden and unexpected turnaround. With it, the political power of the left has also evaporated. That Trump won despite the predictions of most media outlets only exacerbates the sense of grief; contrast the feelings following someone’s death by a progressive illness as opposed to a car accident.
Consider the responses, categorised by each stage:
- Denial is characterised by individuals cling to a false, preferable reality. Think about how the “fake news” and “alternative facts” phenomenon has swept the world, the further polarisation of red and blue America, the regular suggestions that his presidency is illegitimate, and the absurd discussions about the electoral college system (also see blame below). The latest incarnation of alternative realities is the “deep state“.
- With the next stage of anger comes frustration, and the search for blame. Angry protests, some by people who didn’t even vote. Blame has been directed everywhere – at voters idiotic enough to vote “against their interests“, at “populism”, and at the associations between Trump and far-right interest groups. The regular insults and opinion pieces calling Trump names and blaming him for every malaise under the sun are clearly coming from a place of visceral emotion, rather than logic.
- Bargaining is an attempt to avoid the cause for grief by negotiating for a way out. Consider the suggestion that members of the electoral college ignore their obligation and not actually confirm Trump’s election, the wishful thinking for impeachment, or use of the 25th amendment to remove him, and the idea to split the US along red/blue lines. The protests, resistance movement and internal sabotage also continues.
- Depression. We’ve certainly seen despair at what the future will hold, but I think that is more closely related to the anger stage. This stage is characterised by refusing visitors and spending much of the time mournful and sullen, which has certainly not happened.
- Acceptance – are you kidding? Sober self-reflection as to how the Obama government disenfranchised half the nation and what to do about it has been rare.
The responses appear to be trapped in the first three stages of grief, and unable to move forward. As a friend said, it’s as if these people wake up in the morning and scream with the realisation that Trump is (still) President.
To his discredit, Trump has responded in kind. His huge ego, blustery approach and his paranoia have led to a vicious cycle of tit-for-tat and button-pushing. While he said he was President for all citizens, he has done nothing to bring the country closer together.
The left’s grief over Trump seems to be all-consuming – as if all roads lead to Trump. It reminds me of the famous joke about “the elephant and the Jewish problem“. But guess what? It’s not always about Trump, just as it’s not always about the Jews.
Grief is a process, and time heals. Recognising a response as grief is an essential first step to working through its stages. If both sides of politics realised that, perhaps they could move in the direction of mutual acceptance.