In the wake of the recent election, what one commentator called a “traumatic election,” many people, myself and many of my patients included, are reeling with an array of troubling feelings. As the shock of a “President Trump” fades, we are left with disturbing fears, feelings of anger, rage and at times despair. People are turning to the streets as well as to various acts of protest and ways of expressing their voices. At this contentious and uncertain moment in history, there is no act too small in terms of promoting healing.
With this in mind, I thought that I would blog here from time to time on the aftermath of the election. Whether signs of growth and healing or of regression and further division between people, I will write about my observations. Here’s the first installment.
The Aftermath (Today on This Week with George Stephanopoulos)
I like to watch this Sunday morning political talk show. As they do each week, today they assembled a round table of experts (at least one of whom two years ago scoffed at the notion that Donald Trump could be President let alone the Republican nominee) and a fight ensued between a Republican and a Democrat. Nothing new about that. But from my point of view, what I saw was a person of privilege (whiteness) attacking a minority person (an African American). Granted she was a woman and he a man, but her whiteness was a platform that she seemed to believe gave her license to pass judgment on him. The woman, Mary Matalin, a Republican strategist, criticized Van Jones, a Democratic policy person, for his observations about race (a phrase, “whitelash,” that he and many analysts of the election have been using to speak to the anger voiced by the significant portion of the Trump vote who are White). She termed him a “race polemicist” as opposed to what she called a “race reconciler.” In fact, the comments he had just offered seemed quite balanced. He had spoken to the challenge for progressives to not only focus on “the toxic” elements that attracted people to Trump and ignore other aspects (what he called “good stuff, anti-elitism and concern for good paying jobs”). His point that people have to be balanced and consider both parts of the Trump phenomenon seemed cogent and thoughtful. Mr. Jones responded to the attack by indicating what is a wider societal problem: if he cannot bring up issues about race without being derided a “polemicist,” any dialog towards a national healing seems quite impossible.
But I observed something else that was quite telling. It is unclear why Ms. Matalin brought up some biographical facts about Mr. Jones, saying that he had gone to Yale, had written books and worked for a President. The inference seemed to be that because he is a “success,” he should have nothing critical to say about American society and racial issues. Or perhaps she was inferring that such issues don’t exist at all given the example of his success. That’s absurd of course. Mr. Jones’ reply to her was, “I’m a ninth generation American man but I’m the first one born in my family with all my rights.” I was breathless. His words spoke to the impossible slow process of change – it took nine generations for him to experience all the rights the Constitution proclaims for all. Change that was too arduous, too long and too painful. I was also struck by how Mr. Jones, as an African American, does not have the luxury of being out of touch with his history as many people of privilege have. History is for him, as it is for many oppressed people, as living and vital a part of his body as an arm or a leg.
This exchange seemed to me a moment in the aftermath, not a positive one. A moment when a person of privilege could attack another person with accusations about creating more division particularly when he was offering a sane assessment for this very turbulent time. A sad moment in the aftermath to be sure.