American cultural history offers many images of walking through difficult times: “Going down the road feeling bad,” “You got to walk that lonesome valley,” and Psalm 23, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” At the moment, Donald Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.”
To say the least, it’s a nerve-wracking journey. Thanks to Twitter and the mainstream media, daily we’re subjected to Trump’s tantrums. For many of us this is profoundly disturbing.
On September 15th, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank wrote that Trump had caused an alarming rise in Milbank’s blood pressure. Milbank quipped that he was now afflicted with “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder” (THUD). In a followup column (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/president-trump-actually-is-making-us-crazy/2017/09/22/ ) Milbank reported that his readers reported a number of THUD-related symptoms: “Disturbed sleep. Anger. Dread. Weight loss. Overeating. Headaches. Fainting. Irregular heartbeat. Chronic neck pain. Depression. Irritable bowel syndrome. Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath. Teeth grinding. Stomach ulcer. Indigestion. Shingles. Eye twitching. Nausea. Irritability. High blood sugar. Tinnitus. Reduced immunity. Racing pulse. Shaking limbs. Hair loss. Acid reflux. Deteriorating vision. Stroke. Heart attack.” These comments came from those who disapprove of Trump. From Trump supporters, Milbank received vitriol: “Hurry up and die already! . . . just see a dr. You know, Dr Kevorkian.” Milbank concluded, “Trump is causing, or at least aggravating, mental-health problems on both sides.”
Milbank is not alone in this observation. Health professionals tell me that, since the election, they have seen a dramatic increase in client ailments triggered by the behavior of Donald Trump. Several factors contribute to this “THUD epidemic”:
1. Trump is omnipresent in the news. (He’s far and away the most commonly searched for Google topic.) Nine months after Trump entered the White House, it’s clear that he wants to dominate the news every day. To say the least, Donald has an enormous need for attention.
2. A common response to Trump overload is to turn off the news. But, in the long term, that’s not a satisfactory answer because, whether we like it or not, Trump is President of the United States and has enormous power. He can affect our lives in many different ways: starting a nuclear war, ignoring the threat of global climate change, mishandling a natural disaster, shutting down a critical governmental service, and on and on.
Trump is marching us “through the valley of the shadow.” We’ve been thrust into an abusive relationship.
3. Trump is moody and volatile. From one day to the next, we don’t know what Donald will do. Occasionally he seems presidential, as when he went to Las Vegas and comforted victims of the terrible shooting. On many other occasions, Trump acts like a petulant child and lashes out at whomever he believes is disrespecting him.
For many Americans, Donald Trump is a difficult person whom we cannot get away from. In effect, we’re trapped in an abusive relationship. It’s not surprising that so many of us experience THUD.
What should we do about this?
When a health care professional is confronted with evidence of an abusive relationship, they advise the victim, “get out.” A doctor or therapist will tell the abuse victim to leave the abuser and go somewhere safe. Indeed, many of us know people who, because of THUD, have left the country. However, for most of us leaving the US is not an option.
Three options remain. One is to check out. Many Americans have absented themselves from all political discussions. In effect, they are pretending that Trump doesn’t exist or that he cannot affect them.
Another option ― popular in Washington ― is to pray for intervention. After Trump was elected, rumors circulated that his family ― particularly his daughter, Ivanka ― would keep him check. When this hope proved to be foolhardy, some suggested that the Republican Party “elders” would keep Donald in check ― somehow Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan would limit Trump’s damage. Recent months have proved this hope also to be foolhardy.
At the moment, the dominant intervention fantasy involves “the good generals”: Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly (both retired Marine Corps generals). The notion is that Mattis or Kelly will stop Trump from a catastrophic action caused by a fit of pique; for example, they will keep him from bombing North Korea because Donald feels disrespected by Kim Jong Un. Nonetheless, it’s obvious Mattis and Kelly have no influence on domestic policy: they haven’t intervened to stop Trump from repealing DACA or rolling back environmental protections.
If direct intervention with Trump seems inconceivable, there remains the possibility of blocking him in Congress. That is, the notion that in 2018 Democrats will regain control of the House or Senate and use congressional power to check Trump; for example by passing legislation to defend “Dreamers”or to strengthen environmental protections. This is the most viable remedy for all of us who suffer from “Trump Hypertensive Unexplained Disorder;” work to ensure that Democrats win in 2018.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” To walk without fear we must take action to block Donald Trump.