Grieving for Post-Election America: Time to Take a Breather

The election of Donald Trump has been like the loss of a loved one. It is possible to go about one’s daily routine, doing normal things, thinking one’s accustomed thoughts, making plans consistent with a normal life – when suddenly it hits! – Trump has been elected President of the USA and nothing is the same.

Yesterday (12/20/16) it stuck me how much our (I refer to myself and my fellow progressives) reaction to the election and its aftermath corresponds to the five stages of grieving that were described by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying.  Kübler-Ross proposed that the process of facing one’s death involved five by now well-known “stages:” denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This model has been applied to various grief experiences, from loss through death to loss through the breakup of a relationship.

I don’t accept this model beyond its value as a metaphor. In fact, for years critics have pointed out the flaws in the model (for example here, and here). But, as metaphor, these components of the grieving process are useful in describing my observations about the state of the progressive community. It is also a useful way to explain my present approach to the emerging political situation.

My initial thought about this metaphor came the day after the Electoral College confirmed Trump’s election. It was the day before the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. I thought of the Electoral College vote as the end of the bargaining stage. Progressives (including me) had signed petitions asking electors to withhold their votes from Trump for the good of the country. Or, at least, they should wait until his numerous conflicts of interest were investigated (by the Republican-controlled Congress!) and his tax returns were surrendered and scrutinized. This slimmest of slim hopes faded away and the ascendancy of Trump was sealed.

Enter depression. But, as scholars have pointed out, these hypothetical stages don’t follow some linear order. There’s still a lot of anger, often in response to the hatred spewed by Trump’s cult followers. There’s denial, often in the form of avoidance, as if not talking about it will make it go away.

I expect that “acceptance” in some form will come with Trump’s inauguration. He will be President. Congress will hold hearings on his cabinet appointments. And we can begin the work of resistance in earnest.

But for now, I’m taking a breather. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve slowed down my letter writing and petition signing. I’ve mostly stopped listening to my favorite progressive talk radio station (WCPT – 820 AM) because I’m tired of everyone talking about how terrible it’s going to be and how awful Trump’s appointments are and how our democracy is hanging by a thread. (Stop telling me what I already know!)

We have to act. But right now, we’re running in circles with our hair on fire. So, I’m taking a break. To regain my focus. To replenish my creative energies. To look at the big picture, but also at the objects and spaces that make up the big picture.

Soon, I’ll resume writing. And I’ll resume the struggle.