Friday, February 17, 2017
May we be bent but not broken by the grief and despair of a post-Trump world
Ever since the election of Donald Trump three months ago, it's like I can't get my feet underneath me. I’m not even sure what I mean by that – just that it’s like having firm ground that you’ve always stood on suddenly rocking beneath you, shaking up everything you thought you knew.
On top of that, my mother died Jan. 7. The impact was something the same. Both things amounted to the painful destruction of fundamental beliefs that I built my life on.
In the case of Trump, I realized with his election that contrary to what I’d thought, we weren’t getting better as a society - that all the positive social and cultural changes I’ve seen in my lifetime in North American society aren’t real changes at all, because a frightening percentage of the public is just aching to hate somebody as a stand-in for all the things that haven’t gone right in their own lives.
In the case of my mother, I lost the one person who could always be counted on to show up for me my entire life. Between her and Trump, it ended up being a one-two combination that has really knocked me off my game.
I think it’s a type of broken heart, this feeling. I feel it like a psychic illness, making me huddle into myself and minimize contact with the outside world. All the things I cared about passionately just three short months ago now feel pointless, because the solid ground that I thought we were building on for social change turned out to be shifting sand.
I’m aware that I have to get through this slump. Otherwise, I risk becoming one of those people who end up bitter and chronically sad. I don’t yet know what “getting well” will entail, but figure I’ll know it when I feel it. I’m counting on spring.
I was bound to enter a period of mourning after Mom died, but I’m pretty sure the Trump election has actually been the bigger blow to my psyche. My mother’s death was sad but inevitable, after all, while the ascendancy of Trump is a horrifying development of global magnitude.
It would be handy at times like this to be able to disconnect from the world and just shut the door on all the bits of news and “alternate facts” contributing to this paralyzing state of low-level despair. Could I just turn away from it all and live in happy ignorance?
Alas, not only would my inner journalist never tolerate such a thing, I am a mother and grandmother, with an extended family of people I care about. If nothing else, I must find hope again so I can continue the fight and not just crumple to the ground under the weight of all the ugliness. I did not have children so that they could live on a planet in which a man like Donald Trump runs a major civilized nation.
One of the things I liked best about living and working in Central America is the feeling of being in countries that were on their way up. They’re not there yet, but they’re working on it. There was always such a sense of possibility.
In the U.S., and at times in Canada, it feels to me like we’ve peaked and are on our way down. Our laws and fancy declarations still make us appear like we’re committed, but a lot of times it feels like we’re devolving. And while people like me have been thinking that the goal was to build an ever more inclusive, tolerant and equal society, it’s clear now that there are a whole lot of people who aren’t like me.
This is particularly true in the United States, though not exclusively. (We will not soon forget the former Harper government’s promise of a “Barbaric Cultural Practices” hotline.) I do understand the righteous rage that fuelled the U.S. election upset, if not the dangerous clown that the populace wrongly thought would be their saviour. There has been a big price to pay for these last 30 or so years of political drift toward global markets, fewer taxes, and increasingly self-interested governments that aren’t concerned with growing inequality because they’re always the ones on top no matter what.
Anyway. I have nothing but words at the moment, and we all know now that all the words in the world don’t count for much in the grand scheme of things. These days I feel like I have nothing more to say, and that I’d be better off to just go bird-watching or for long walks with somebody’s dog or small child, talking about nothing more than the seaweed at the shoreline or the snow in the trees. But I think that’s probably just a part of this grief.
I know there are many other people out there who are as affected by Trump’s election as I am. I feel sure our energies are going to find each other one day soon and lift us out of this ennui. I think I need a good old-fashioned protest – a sign in my hand, a whole lot of people in the street to remind me that yes, we stand up for ourselves when challenged.
Two things I know: I won’t always be sad; and I am a hopeless optimist, a genetic characteristic that can’t be beaten out of me even by the likes of Trump. This too shall pass.