By Neel Burton, MD.
This is not a deliberately partisan article. My aim is not to take sides or score points, but simply to reach out to the millions of Americans and others who feel overwhelmed by the changed political landscape, or simply frightened or saddened by Mr Trump’s approach to the Presidency of the most important and influential country in the world.
So how to cope?
The advent of Trump and the Brexit that lent him momentum are perhaps a natural backlash to the enormous social progress that has been made in our lifetimes. Just two or three decades ago, it would have seemed unthinkable for gay couples to marry or for a black man or a woman to be elected President of the United States of America. Progress never takes place in a straight line, and it is possible to conceive of Trump and Brexit as the last gasp of a dying order. In particular, young people in the US and UK voted for quite different outcomes. In the UK, a future referendum on rejoining the European Union, in say ten or twenty years’ time, seems very likely to succeed, which begs the question, why bother leaving in the first place?
However bad you may be feeling, you at least do not share in the emotions that you are reacting against, such as fear and resentment, which are more difficult to bear, and no basis for a flourishing life. The philosopher Plato argued that the most unjust of people is also the unhappiest because he is full of disorder and regret and unable to do what he truly desires. This is similar to Socrates’ argument that bad people are in some way unlike themselves, and just as likely to dislike other bad people as anyone else. Your sadness, even your despair, is preferable to the doubt, guilt, shame, and remorse that may be eating at others for a very long time to come.
By looking to the positives
Recent events have revealed or confirmed many people, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, as progressives, who feel that their task, responsibility, and duty is now to keep the flame alive and move the human project forward. As well as teaching us something about ourselves, the changed political landscape has also taught us something about human nature and the frailties of our political and educational systems. In the longer term, this could lead to, for example, more robust checks and balances on elected officials, more critical thinking in schools, and, at long last, the education of the emotions (teaching teenagers how to understand resentment, how to deal with anger…).
States, said Plato, are not made of oak and rock, but of people, and come to resemble the people they are made of. Be the change that you want to see. A leader cannot rise if the people will not wear him, and things may well be very different very soon. Even if they are not, the struggle will strengthen and invigorate you. There are many ways to give our self-esteem a boost, but in the longer term, the best way to actually grow our self-esteem is by bravely living up to our ideals.
So relish the fight!
If you need further advice and support, you can find it in Growing from Depression.