Trump Lessons

 

I will be the first to admit, the election of Donald Trump as President was one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced. Honestly. 

C’mon, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It was an election just like any other election. It just didn’t go the way you wanted it to. 

No, it was more than that. I mean, go back just a bit. Gay marriage had just passed. President Obama acknowledged LGBT people for the first time openly. There was a black man and a black woman in the White House. People who have spent their entire lives feeling like ‘the other’ or ‘the outcast’, the people in the shadows had started to feel safe and come up for air for the first time. They were finding a place at the table. And then Trump was elected. In my therapy office, I swear every one of my clients was having trauma reactions to the election. 

It’s just an election, though! He’s just another president you don’t like. I didn’t like Obama. I still don’t. I hate Hillary. I didn’t like Gore or Clinton. You didn’t like Bush or Mitt Romney. It’s just the normal political lines. 

It might be that was for many people, but it wasn’t that way for me. You might not believe me, but although I didn’t agree with all of the politics of Romney or Bush, I had respect for them. I even respect Mike Pence. And I don’t agree with everything Obama and Hillary did either, not every ounce of it. But it’s not just that I don’t like or trust Trump, I don’t respect him either. He is a reprehensible person, who is surrounding himself with the people who represent the very worst parts of our country. I know you don’t agree, and that is okay, because I respect you as well. 

Thank you for that, at least. I’m so tired of the ‘you voted for Trump so you are disowned by me!’ thing that I’m getting from all of the liberals in my life. It’s exhausting. No one is willing to keep an open mind, like, at all. 

So here is me with an open mind. Why did you vote for Trump?

Honestly, I know you don’t like Trump, but Hillary represents everything to me that Trump represents to you. Corrupt politics, rich corporate agendas, dishonesty. I feel like she is a slimy criminal who only got away with Benghazi and the Email scandal because she is so good at evading and getting away with things. I know you respect her, but I don’t. At all. And I know Trump is a bit unhinged, and everyone wants him to just stop Tweeting once and for all, but he is listening to people who were feeling forgotten and he’s pushing a new agenda for our country. The way politics was going wasn’t working anymore, and he’s trying something different. If he steps on some toes along the way, then does that matter that much if he gets the job done?

But what about you, personally? How did he appeal to you? Not your politics, but you?

The main issue for me was Obamacare. I work my ass off and I saw people at a lower wage than I get getting easier access to health care. I saw my own wages getting cut. A system that I didn’t want was basically forced on me and it made it harder for me to live. I voted for someone who listened to me, and someone who shares a lot of my values. I really struggle in this country seeing people who don’t work hard get free handouts, and those who shouldn’t even be here receiving support while I have to scrimp and save to pay even my basic bills. My credit cards are maxed out and I can hardly afford my own power bill. 

I hear you. I do, really. But you have to recognize that there are millions in this country who have zero access to health care, like, at all. No insurance options, nothing. What Obama was trying to do was address the wider system. It did put an unfair advantage on some in order to help others. 

I understand the concept. But it didn’t work. I want to feel protected, like my work is valid. It didn’t work. It broke me further. But again, all of my values tend to fall on the side of the Republican party, just like your values fall on the side of the Democrats and liberals. 

All right. I get it. 

You aren’t going to try to change my mind, to tell me how great Hillary is and how evil Trump is? I mean, this is why you and I stopped talking during the election. 

No. I don’t want to change your mind. I’d rather understand each other than disagree. 

You have to admit that Trump is amazing when it comes to North Korea. And he is right about the news media often being fake. You have to admit those things are good. 

Okay, I’m going to go into my most generous headspace. My instinct is to rant about how terrible Trump is and to give a tirade about respecting women, and the transgender military ban, and the DACA Dreamers, and the Mexico wall thing. But I’m going to go to my rational brain. I will admit that Trump is capable of accomplishing some things in Washington. His tactics may yield some positive results. But I don’t think he can be solely cited with the North Korea results, nor do we know how all that will end. And while there is definitely a problem with some ‘fake news’ in our country, he only uses that to discredit news he disagrees with. I prefer Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity, and CNN to Fox News, but they all have some problems, and it’s awful to just shame some of them. 

That’s fair. 

Still, at my heart of hearts, Trump represents almost everything that I hate. He’s erratic, narcissistic, and unpredictable. He calls people names. He rants in public. He at worst lies and at best constantly changes his mind. He’s under indictment, and he surrounds himself with some of the seediest, most under qualified people our government has ever seen. 

The Russia thing! They have found no proof of collusion OR obstruction! It’s been over a year! And Hillary has been under indictment! Twice!

Okay, again, I’m going to rational space. Listen, the politics of it aside, look at facts. Perhaps Hillary was slimy, and maybe she got away with it, but she fully participated in the Benghazi and the Email investigations. And yes, I know she deleted and wiped things illegally, I get it. But at the end of it all, no charges were filed and there were zero indictments. The investigations lasted 4 years for one, and 2 years for the other. Zero indictments, with full participation. 

The Mueller investigation has been going for 14 months. And there have been over 20 indictments. Trump may never have a single thing lodged against him, and there might ultimately be zero proof of collusion or obstruction. But there has been a lot discovered about illegal and unethical activity in many of his closest associates. And the part where I really struggle is, he changes his story constantly. You can’t argue with that part. If he isn’t hiding anything, then why is he lying? But that isn’t for me to decide. We do have to have a system in which the investigation is allowed to happen, though. 

But Mueller is totally biased against him! He fired James Comey, so what! Comey deserved to be fired! And so what if he slept with Stormy Daniels years ago! Bill Clinton did it while in office with Monica Lewinsky and he lied about it, that was the difference!

I agree, Comey was baffling. But the American people have the right to ask hard questions. If he was fired for unethical reasons, if there was collusion, if there was obstruction. An investigation needs to be allowed. Clinton was investigated for lying, and we need to be able to hold Trump to the same standard. And there should be checks and balances on Mueller to make sure the investigation itself is ethical. But he has to be allowed time to do so. Anything else is unjust and if we start deleting those checks and balances, then democracy itself unravels. 

I respect you, Chad. You give me a lot to think about. And I feel like you’re the only liberal person I know that I could have this conversation with and not feel like we hate each other afterwards. 

I respect you, too. And to be honest, Trump’s election, more than anything, has taught me that it is a complicated world with no easy answers. Liberals can’t just should ‘racist’ or ‘homophobe’ or ‘misogynist’ every time they sense disrespect, and conservatives can’t just site immigration or abortion or ‘fake news’  when they do. At the end of the day, we agree on much more than we disagree, when we take time to talk it out. 

Agreed. But can we change the topic now? This makes me tired. 

Yes! Please! Waiter, two margaritas, stat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Towers

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“Well, there it is,” the older woman said in her thick European accent. “Trump Tower.”

“Well, it’s more like a hotel. Do you think it will be used for hosting foreign dignitaries?” The younger woman looked sad as she said it, snapping a shot of the building on her phone. “I didn’t realize how close it was to the White House.”

“I’m sure many diplomats will try to stay there to impress the president. But maybe he will let them stay there for free.”

Both women stood thoughtfully silent for a moment before I chimed in. I had been standing nearby, on a long walk through the streets of Washington D.C. I had taken my own photos of the Trump hotel as they had been talking.

“I don’t think he will be letting anyone stay for free,” I scoffed.

The older woman laughed. “We can pretend. I’m trying to comfort my daughter. She is college-aged and living here in America currently.”

The daughter continued staring at the building. “I just can’t believe it is happening. I keep looking at all of the states, even here in the District of Columbia, and I see how the majority supports Hillary Clinton. How could this man have won?”

“Well, speaking for a lot of Americans, we can’t believe it either.”

I introduced myself to the two women, Annaliese, attending college locally, who was showing her mother Linda around the city. Both women were from Armenia. I explained that I was a tourist to the city also. There was heaviness in the air as we became basically acquainted. They asked what I had been doing in the city, and I told them about my adventures.

“And then yesterday, I went to the Holocaust Museum. Have you been?” I asked.

Linda looked down, a sadness heavy on her face for a moment. “I have no need to go there. My mother’s generation was that of the first genocide, the Armenian genocide.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, and there was a pregnant silence for  a moment. Then Annaliese asked me what I thought of the museum. I looked back over at the Trump hotel, and sighed.

“The first part of museum was dedicated to the political circumstances at the time. It told of Germany, struggling with political sanctions after World War I, and how the economy was slow to rebuild and the people were dissatisfied. Despite all of that, Germany had a lot of cultural things happening. It was becoming a safer place politically for homosexuals and for women, for Jews and other religious groups. It seemed to be changing, slowly, for the better. And then Hitler happened.” Both women looked at me and seemed to want me to continue. “Watching those exhibits, I saw how Hitler surrounded himself with people who admired and emulated him, and how he used the plights of the average German to propel himself into power. He used propaganda and political loopholes within the German system to seize larger and larger pieces of political influence. He exploited crises to gain sympathy and seemed to operate on a message of ‘Make Germany Great Again’, and then he took over and appointed others just like him into positions of power. And then the world watched what happened next.”

Annaliese looked at the hotel and then at me. “That sounds painfully familiar.”

I nodded twice. “Yeah, the museum was extremely uncomfortable for me. I must have had 75 moments of ‘oh my god, that sounds like America right now’. Political campaigns built on propaganda that exploit the disenfranchised. Anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-women. Fear-mongering and gas-lighting.”

Linda stuffed her hands in her pockets, avoiding the cold wind. “And the rest of the museum?”

“Well, the rest of the museum was all that happened next. I cried lots of times reading about the people killed, and how they were killed, the people experimented upon, the ones who barely escaped with their lives. It was horrible. The museum was so beautifully built, and we must remember what happened, but it was horrible. I’m sure it was similar to the stories your mother told you of the Armenian genocide.”

We stayed silent for a moment again, and I felt the need to clarify. “Look, I don’t think we are headed for genocide in America. I don’t think that would happen again. But I do worry about what comes next for us. It’s a heavy time here after things have been going so well.”

The conversation lightened up for a few minutes and we talked instead of food and music and entertainment, of aspirations and climate and family. And then the women headed along their way, after having me take a photo of them in front of the Trump hotel.

I continued my walk then, past incredible buildings full of history. I saw names emblazoned in plaques and pavement: J. Edgar Hoover, Ronald Reagan, Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass. The sheer history of these streets. The sheer weight of the footfalls of the men and women here who have influenced a world’s destiny and changed billions of lives for better or worse, from right here on these streets.

I came around the bend and saw a few handsome Secret Service agents screening the credentials of four men and women dressed like Christmas carolers, admitting them to the White House grounds for some sort of event. I looked at a construction crew building a stage for the upcoming Inauguration of a new President. I watched a crowd of Americans gathered at the perimeter staring at the White House in all its grandeur, realizing, as I was, that it is just a building like any building, and a small building at that. A Muslim family stood arm in arm, the women with their heads wrapped, the men with heavy beards. A black mother held the hands of her three daughters, all in pink snow hats. A lesbian couple hugged each other tightly. An elderly father pushed a stroller while his daughter carried the child inside. We watched, all of us, the silent grounds around us, wondering in unison what the future holds.

Dark America: 5 painful responses to Trump’s election

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Without revealing any individual’s identity, here are five genuine responses from people that I have heard from in private conversations since the election of Donald Trump. As you read this, I ask you to simply hear the experiences of others, without justification and without comparison. Pain isn’t meant to be compared to the pain of another, everyone’s pain is valid. And no matter what your personal feelings and reactions to all of this are, I invite you to recognize that these are real people who are in pain that is different than yours.

1: “When I was a teenager, I was raped. I’ve been dealing with the consequences of that rape my entire adult life, and it has affected my self-esteem and a lot of my personal relationships. When I tried to talk to others about it, I was blamed. I was told that maybe I was asking for it, I was told that boys can’t be expected to be responsible for themselves when girls put themselves in particular positions, I was told I should have said no or fought back harder, and I was told that a lot of girls go through the same thing and it was no big deal. I was even told by one person that maybe I was asking for it and maybe I learned some things and maybe deep down I enjoyed it.

Since the Access Hollywood tapes were released about Trump, I have been hearing those same excuses about him, excusing his behavior, all over the media and all over the Internet. He dismisses it as locker room talk, his son says women in the work place should expect it if they want to interact with men, and people keep saying it is no big deal. I’ve been a nervous wreck for months. And now, now that he has been elected, I feel like the rape is happening all over again. Not literally, but emotionally. I can’t be silenced this time.”

2: “When I came out of the closet, my family disowned me and I had to leave my faith, after I attempted suicide a few times, in order to find peace. A few years later, I found a partner and learned to live happily. We made a home and a life for ourselves. We had to wait ten years to get legally married. We have always wanted to be parents and because of state laws, we couldn’t adopt together or be foster parents together until we were able to be married. Now we have two kids in our home and we are going through the adoption process. With Trump, and worse, Pence, in the White House, I am genuinely scared for my family. We are on our own. Are they going to try to cancel my marriage? Take my children from me? I’ve been walking around nervous for months. Now I am downright scared.”

3: “You have no idea what it is like to be Muslim in this country, especially in places where there is a lot of white people around. I’m not a practicing Muslim. I don’t wear the head covering or go to worship. But just by my face, my coloring, people know I am from the Middle East. I’m small, and even though I have a family through marriage who happen to be white, I constantly fear just a bit for my safety, especially when I’m on my own. In crowds, at sports games, especially in airports, you should see the looks people give me. I can’t be deported, I’m a citizen now, but is this government going to require me to register in a database? Are there going to be witch hunts like there were for the Japanese in World War II or the Communists during McCarthyism? What does this mean for me? And what about those who are more vulnerable, more isolated than I am? What about those who waited years to escape war zones and refugee camps, only to arrive here to discover they aren’t safe after all? And now, with Trump as president, I’m scared I’ll be getting more than looks, that those who hate Muslims will be braver in expressing that hate. I feel vulnerable all the time lately.”

4: “I found my son crying in his room on Wednesday, the day after the election. He’s only 8. We hadn’t really talked about the election, but he came home from school crying. When I asked him what is wrong, he told me that a few of his friends in his school class who are Mexican were upset at school because Donald Trump was going to send their families back to Mexico behind a wall and they didn’t want to leave their school and their friends. My son is white, but he doesn’t understand why his friends might get sent away. I had absolutely no idea what to say to him. I still don’t.”

5: “I’m a mess. An absolute mess. And it has taken me hours of contemplating to figure out why. The last several elections haven’t upset me like this. I had general respect for George Bush and Mitt Romney and John Kerry, even if I didn’t like their politics. They are good honorable men with families and histories of public service. They were accused of flip-flopping and inconsistency and their public service careers were widely scrutinized, and their campaigns lost on fair ground. (And all of these men came out against Trump!) Donald Trump hasn’t had a public service career, and his professional life has been combed over but no one seems to care about sexism, homophobia, racism, law suits, tax evasion, bigotry, infidelity, or narcissism. Democrats and Republicans have come out against him and no one cares. Sarah Palin would be a better president than Trump–she’s ridiculous and illogical, but at least she has experience in public office!

I sat there watching the election results this week, seeing the numbers of people voting for Trump all over the country, and my senses were reeling. I expected those results from Utah and Idaho perhaps, but seeing the close margins all over the country, well, I felt like a giant spotlight had suddenly exposed this country I love for the ugly place it is. All the pockets of muck and cobwebs and skeletons, all the history of lynchings and slavery and genocide and everything that has happened here, it just all came gurgling to the surface. How could this have happened?

And I guess the reason I’m so upset is in seeing America for what it really is. Even Obama and Clinton are giving messages of ‘just be optimistic and patient and it will all work out’, but I can’t look at my neighbors the same. My mother, my sister, my best friend, they all voted for Trump. And after all these years of progression, with gay marriage passing and health care reform and discussions about the one per cent, I have gradually felt safer in  a country that was making slow and consistent change over the years. Well, that is at a screeching halt now. I naively assumed Hillary would win and progress would continue. But now I know the real America. And I’m not sure I want to live here anymore.”

President Trump

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Yesterday, a client asked me if I was nervous about the election results. I replied confidently, with spirit and heart and mind all in a line, and with a smile on my face.

“I’m not nervous at all. I believe in my heart that Hillary Clinton will win the presidency. Because she is qualified and competent, because she stands for positive values, because it is long past time in our history when women had a turn, and because all the polls support her triumph. And I cannot conceive of a world where Donald Trump is the President of the United States.”

Then, hours later, I watched with shock as the poll numbers started to roll in. I couldn’t believe even a few states were going for Trump. Then a few more. And over the next few hours, a deep dread and shock settled into my system as I realized the gap was closing. I stayed awake until nearly 2 am, fighting to fall asleep while the television droned on in the background, waiting with all hope that Hillary would pull out a victory at the end. But she didn’t. The American people, as a majority, voted for Donald Trump as President.

In two months, Donald Trump will be President. President Trump.

I tossed and turned all night, trying to come up with an optimistic view of our future. I’m not sure I can, I thought. My stomach was upset and my head hurt and I kept getting tears in my eyes. I would drift off to sleep for 15 minutes, exhausted, and then wake up for 45 more, my brain spinning and spinning.

To me, this election felt like all our hard work had paid off. All of our years of screaming to be noticed. So many incredible things happened in the last 8 years to give me hope, to make me trust. It’s like I spent 8 years in college and just knew I was going to get into the medical school I applied for. But the letter came back and I was denied entry. And I didn’t have a back-up plan.

I sat down with my sons last night, ages 8 and 5, and we had a conversation about the election, about how girls make great leaders and about how it isn’t okay to be a bully or to do mean things to people. And I so looked forward to showing them that the principles I am teaching them are corrupt, that the bad guys don’t win in the end. And I laid in bed last night in abject fear, not knowing how to have this conversation with them today, about how the bully won.

As I try to take my brain to the big picture, first I go to history. This country was founded on freedom for white men from oppressive religions and taxes. It was also found on the owning of Black people as slaves, the slaughtering of Native Americans, the denial of rights for women, and the heteronormative idea that there is only one way to love. Our most historic moments in the last 200 plus years have all come out of protest and strength: women picketing for the right to vote, black people marching for Civil Rights. We have survived the Depression and the Civil War, Viet Nam and Iraq, Watergate and the AIDS crisis. And I think the disenfranchised have found a voice, a movement in all of that to latch on to, to demand equality and freedom and a place at the table. And none of that changes today. We must still fight and organize and stand tall and lead our lives and demand equality and respect.

I then take my brain to this election itself. And I realize that I’m not sure there is much I/we could have done differently. The votes were close in those key places that would have made history different, like Florida and Pennsylvania. But the public voted for Trump, ignoring the Access Hollywood tapes and the lack of political experience and the mocking and violent rhetoric and the Twitter account, and they seized on Hillary’s Emails and her untrustworthiness. They equated the competent and professional woman with the billionaire reality television star with the rape allegations. I don’t know if there is a single thing that could have turned out differently.

I’m feeling a lot of things as I type this. In the past 12 hours, I have ranged from outraged to devastated to anxious to horrified to exhausted to crushed to baffled to despondent to numb. I remember September 11, 2001, being a young college student and waking up to the news feed as a reporter stood in front of the Twin Towers. On the live news feed, the second plane struck, and I fell back on the couch with an empty pit in my stomach knowing that everything had changed in that split second. I walked around in a daze for hours afterwards. And that’s how I feel today.

I have a friend who once attended an American-themed party in France. The European guests there dressed in baggy flannel shirts and jeans and Duck Dynasty beards, they carried toy guns, they ate popcorn by the handful and drank cheap beer out of plastic cups. They laugh at Americans, the rural white men with Southern drawls who thump Bibles and shame anyone who doesn’t look like them. This morning, I feel like we are an international joke because this is exactly what we look like today. The new president incited violence at rallies, encouraged revolution, and was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan. Hillary is going to be fine. America isn’t.

All this said, I always fall back on optimism. I expected to wake up this morning to a sunny beautiful day. Instead, it was a massive snowstorm. And I can spend time railing and screaming at the snow as it continues to blanket the earth. Or I can put on my coat and earmuffs and boots and grab my snow shovel and start putting the back work into clearing the sidewalk, knowing I’ll have to do that same work again in a few hours. I can get snow tires put on the car and I can drive more carefully to get to the places I need to go.

In another harsh reality comparison, imagine getting diagnosed with cancer. That is devastating. There will be grief, emotional and physical pain. But there must be a plan of action. A clear understanding with medical professionals about how to move forward with full knowledge about diet and stress levels and sleep patterns and medication routines and social support. If this is cancer, we need a clear path moving forward.

So today, I’m going to hug my sons, and take gulps of fresh air, and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and walk forward as I grieve. Because the next four years are going to be the worst reality television show ever made, and I have a life to live.