Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The five stages of grief as applied to this presidential election, 2016

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross first published On Death and Dying in 1969, wherein she described the five stages of grief people go through when someone close to them dies or when they realize that their time on earth is finite, likely to be cut short by a terminal cancer or other fatal health complication. This election, those stages keep circling around in my brain, because it does feel like something died today. It would be hard to define what exactly it was that died and easy to say it was hope, but that's too sentimental. Maybe it's more like a faith or certainty that Hillary Clinton would win--had to win. She was clearly the much more prepared candidate, performed well in all three debates, had the backing of the President and other well-known figures, and was surrounded by a team of really smart people who know how to run campaigns. And then there's her competitor; the man for whom the word "buffoon" was designed--ill-prepared, angry, unqualified, wildly temperamental; a rich narcissistic who has never held public office and who can't string together four sentences without repeating one he's already said. A joke. A racist, a sexual predator, a baby-man whose most public debates are with other celebrities and often one-sided. And he won. I guess I find it hard to believe that even one person voted for him, so trying to conceive that half of the country voted for him is like learning that the law of gravity is false and we are all really just floating around in outer space. It does still feel like a bad dream, The Trumpman Show, something constructed specifically for me to overcome because it can possibly be reality. This means I am still in the denial/shock phase of the five stages of bereavement.

The denial stage is when you turn off the TV at 11 p.m., exhausted by the moment to moment numbers rolling in, and then wake up again at 3:45 a.m. to see that CNN is reporting that Trump won. That can't possibly be right. Dan and I stare at the TV. I check my phone to see what The New York Times is saying, and they have already posted a long article exclaiming about the upset. Denial is going back to bed and believing you will be able to fall asleep and then dreaming that you were dreaming the whole thing and then waking up and thinking, I bet if I check my phone again, they will have discovered that 5 billion election votes for Hillary were deleted by Putin. And then that doesn't happen and because you're tired and dismayed, you go into work and cry in front of your boss while apologizing for being out of sorts.

The next stage is anger. That stage, too, is close to the surface. I'm angry at everyone. I am angry at the people who voted for someone based on whatever it was--the belief that he will keep them safe, or not support abortion, or build a wall--or keep the "others" from what they believe belongs to them. "Make America Great Again" really means "Make America White Again." I'm mad too at anyone who didn't vote, or who voted for Gary What's His Name, or who said they didn't like either candidate and weren't going to vote at all. I'm mad at the Republican party for not being able to hold onto a different candidate, someone who is not at least so obviously unstable (I first typed "criminally insane"), and then for not stopping Trump somehow. The wafflers who supported him when he seemed to be winning and decried him when he seemed to be losing, and then voted for him knowing that he's dangerous for our country. I'm mad at the media for acting like these were two equally qualified candidates and for giving hours and hours and hours and hours of free advertising to an orangutan and for not pursuing stories that could damage him and for not screaming from the rooftops that this guy is unacceptable. I'm mad at the aging white men who voted for him because they are afraid of losing their place in the world, for not accepting change, for not seeing that we will never go back to the 1950s, that our country has diversified and will continue to diversify, even if you try to build a wall to keep people out. I'm mad at the inherent sexism in the fabric of our day to day life that allows for a man who has been accused of sexual assault, who jokes about abusing his power to molest women, to be appointed to the highest office we have in our country. I'm mad at the women who voted for him, for their own reasons, because they are used to being told what to do by a male figure and/or are also afraid that they no longer look at the country and see themselves specifically reflected back. I'm especially mad at the man who sat outside of Princeton University day after day holding a Trump sign, and who was there again this morning, with his sign, sitting in his chair, this white-haired old man. He was laughing as he looked at his phone. His guy won.

The stage after anger is bargaining. That's where you make deals with god or the universe or whatever you believe in. Okay, I promise that if this can really not happen, if like, maybe Trump and Pence were suddenly in an unforeseeable and painless but utterly fatal car wreck, or if Trump said, "You know what, I'd rather build another gold something, this job isn't for me," if something miraculous can occur, then I will be good for the rest of my days. I will defend the weak and not get impatient when someone is taking too long ordering his double cafe mocha. I will volunteer at a homeless shelter, I will take in run-aways, I will adopt any baby that needs me, I will donate a huge portion of my monthly salary to disabled veterans, I will not bitch about dirty dishes in the sink, I will read to the blind, I may even set foot in church again and try to pray.  I might even accept swapping out any one of the Bush family, because at least by comparison, they seem benign. Anything, anything, anything, universe, if you can make this have NOT happened.

Next is depression. That's when you realize that you can't undo what's already happened and you have to face the present moment, the one where you can anticipate much more of the same hate speech, the same call for locking up people who disagree with you, the ongoing embarrassment on the world stage that yes, as Americans, we are so shallow and short-sighted and naive to think that one man can turn back the clock to a time of when whiteness ruled, when no black people would dare to run for president, when no non-straight people would even think of kissing in public, and no woman would dream that she could be in charge of anything more than her own children. And I understand that what I should try to empathize with those who support Trump; to understand that they must be hurting and afraid, feeling disenfranchised and marginalized--why else would they vote in someone whose only concern, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is to do what feels right for him in any given moment? And so that is when you just feel sad and despairing, mad at yourself for thinking only just the day before that we have come so far, that we are ready for change and acceptance, and then being faced with that crooning white guy sitting in his lawn chair in front of Princeton University, so happy because he thinks he has won.

Last is acceptance. That's where you come to terms with the loss, and try to find the silver lining. Like, well, at least Alec Baldwin will have a job for the next four years. He's pretty funny, even if this situation is not. At least, as someone said to me today, you have your health. At least you are not dying slowly from brain cancer (as far as you currently know--perhaps this whole thing is not happening and instead, you're brain is dying).  At least some of this may end up being entertaining. Or maybe he will not be so easily swayed into changing progressive reform and say, "Just kidding, guys, I support the LGBTQ community and I'm for stronger gun legislation and equal pay for women and global initiatives that save our planet instead of destroying it, and health care for every single person in America." Remember that he used to be a Democrat. Remember that he has some people around him who might be able to persuade him that it's not in his best interest to pull out of NATO or to bomb a country that dares to disparage him or try to ban the media from printing exactly what he said.

But I'm not there yet. I have no desire to turn on the news and listen as pundits who were sure Hillary would win scramble to re-organize their arguments to say that they didn't mean exactly that. I don't want to see Rudy Giuliani's toad-like face as he accepts whatever position Trump has promised him in exchange for his humanity, or the deer-in-headlights stumbling around of Melania, our new first lady, as she tries to find her place as something more than an arm trophy for a man 30 years older than her. I am mad at Anderson Cooper for not halting any one of his news shows to say, "Hey, am I only the one here who thinks this guy is a fucking monster?" and so I don't want to see him figuring out how to convincingly cover whatever crazy, unreal narrative is going to spin out over the next four years.

I'm stuck among denial and anger and depression and not ready for people who are saying we should all just band together for the greater good. I don't feel like moving toward acceptance. I am sick of going high when they go low. Those feelings will change, surely, but today, I grieve.