The phrase "American Exceptionalism" always seemed a bit jingoistic and smug to me. I'm not sure I even knew what it meant. But now, watching it vanish before my very eyes, its meaning emerges. I understand it on several levels: visceral, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Maybe what I'm feeling is a surge of patriotism--which I'm not sure I've ever consciously felt before--because I see that my country is in danger. Whatever American exceptionalism is or was, I'm among those who feel it was lost with the election of Donald Trump--a shallow, greedy, amoral buffoon who embodies the worst of America.
At the two week post-election point, I realized that the heavy sadness I was feeling was a kind of mourning. The hollowness in my chest grew with each new bit of information about the Trump transition.
By three weeks out, I was no longer mourning the possibilities of what Hillary, with her competence, experience, and drive to improve the lives of others, could have accomplished. Similarly, I was through mourning that I may never see a woman president in my lifetime.
Now, almost a month later, the mourning has passed but I'm still not well, and neither are my friends or the millions of other Americans who have felt dis-eased since the election, and increasingly so as the transition unfolds. Grief and fear abound. The president-elect continues to be the reckless egomaniac we've come to know and loathe for a year and a half. Only now he's even more powerful, and just as unhinged.
We are worried about our country and filled with an anxiety we can't quite place, name, or direct. The people I speak with and the people I read cannot all be dismissed as catastrophizers. We are not all paranoids or conspiracy theorists. We are people with a knowledge of history and a respect for science. We are people who can distinguish fact from opinion, are capable of critical thinking, and see much to be alarmed about.
We're in a new plane of reality, a twilight zone, where the unthinkable is now casually discussed as acceptable public policy. It is painful to see a sudden, U-shaped bend in the arc of the moral universe. It's disheartening to see six decades of hard-fought progress towards a more just and inclusive society, threatened by a group of mean-spirited billionaires who don't yet feel rich enough, and are driven to use their wealth and power to oppress others and destroy the planet.
Each appointment is meaner and uglier than the one before. Toxic masculinity at its finest. There is no arena of life, no domain of activity, no institution, that will not be harmed by the incompetent, heartless cadre who will be running our government. Watching the decline of my country, and the ongoing, hastening decline of the planet, triggers a whole new kind of sad.
We have witnessed the biggest con ever committed in the history of cons, and we have allowed an unstable, insecure little boy from Queens to be the most powerful man in the world. A diabolical madman is in charge. Or, if you prefer the terminology of Trump ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, "a sociopath."
Like many, I am horrified and I'm disoriented. I've been having trouble concentrating; I wake up too early; I've been eating too much. I am overwhelmed with fear and anxiety that seems to hover around me all day. I look away from the news, as an act of self-care. When millions of people are having this reaction, we must call it a public health crisis.
This widespread dis-ease has been described as a new kind of PTSD: Post Trump Stress Disorder. It's also been called Election Stress Disorder. Therapists nationwide are seeing it in their clients. Trump's toxicity, and the thought of him in the White House, is literally making people sick. Not to mention the spike in hate crimes and calls to suicide hotlines.
Trump's toxicity is also harming our children, inspiring an epidemic of hatred and bullying in K-12 classrooms across the country. I'm disheartened beyond words that our nation's leader, a person who should be a role model for children, is not even worthy of their respect, and is poisoning their young lives with fear and anxiety as well. I feel ashamed that this is what we've given them, and I want to apologize. As a grandmother, I am naturally inclined and obliged to see further into the future, and I see us planting seeds of racism, bigotry, and misogyny that will bloom for generations to come.
I go for long walks, pausing to take in some especially beautiful fall color. I take a deep breath. I resume my walk and appreciate, again, the blaze of foliage against the bright blue sky. But then I remember the catastrophe that has befallen my country and I feel the now familiar surge of stress hormones coursing through my body. Like many, I struggle to wrap my brain around what is happening and wonder how long I will feel dis-eased.
It's hard to function in a constant state of moral outrage. But there are things we can do to decrease anxiety, help those who will be most impacted, and resist lurching backward to the America depicted in Season 1 of Mad Men. We can put pressure on congresspeople and demand that they act in the interests of their constituents rather than lobbyists; that they put country and planet before profits. And we can try, each in our own way, to follow Hillary's favorite Methodist teaching, "Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can." And as Bernie Sanders recently said to Robert Reich, "No one who cares about America will be able to remain passive."