Handling the Shock of the Presidential Election

January 26th, 2017

The presidential election has left many of us shocked, upset, and fearful.

I have a number of clients who need to talk about the election rather than their career issues. Many are having trouble sleeping, and tell me they feel anxious; some say they experience this election as another 9/11. Psychiatrists and psychologists are seeing an upsurge in depression and suicidal ideation in the wake of this unexpected and, for some people, terrifying result. Part of the shock is the result of polls that were so wrong that in the span of a few hours as the returns came in, the Trump effect melted away Clinton’s hopes. It seems that most people were taken by surprise. Even Trump himself looked shocked as he watched the returns.

Now that Trump is actually the President-elect, we are faced with a leader who has used extremely divisive and harsh rhetoric. His choices for cabinet posts underscore his far right, anti-immigrant stance, and he has ignited the KKK and the alt-right. Furthermore, there has been an upsurge in hate crimes since election night.

I have a client who came to this country when she was two years old. As a result of President Obama’s Executive Order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, she trusted her identifying information to the federal government so that she could go to nursing school. She is in every way an American. She is hard-working and has gotten excellent grades in college and nursing school. Our country needs nurses like her. But now she is too afraid to go back to school.

In my office building, riding on the elevator, there have been a number of occasions where someone was in the elevator with me and, seeing the Hillary Clinton pin on my coat, started a conversation about how upset they are and how they cannot sleep at night and are fearful of what is going to happen in this country.

In Chicago high schools, many of the students who are at risk for deportation are in need of support and help. In certain high schools that have “peace rooms” set up by Umoja (a nonprofit that maintains a safe place for students to work out disputes using the concepts of restorative justice), the rooms are being flooded with students who are afraid and have lost hope about going to college.

Tammy Duckworth, our newly elected junior Senator from Illinois, reported that the day after the election she was out in the city of Chicago to thank her voters and many of them came up to her crying and asking her for reassurance and a hug. They expressed their fear and deep concern about the impact of Trump winning the election.

This is not a normal response to an election. If Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or some other Republican had won, people would not be this fearful and disturbed.

Trump’s win has shaken our values and beliefs to the core. Trump’s actions and words go against so much of what we teach our children about how to behave to get ahead in the world: we tell our children not to insult, cheat, or lie, and to follow the rules and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Trump has not followed these rules so far. He insults, he cheats, he lies, he refuses to release his taxes, and so far he seems to be unwilling to divest himself and his children of his business interests. This will almost certainly lead to a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution as well as other potential ethics violations, even though in the run up to the election he got a lot of traction by saying Hillary Clinton was corrupt. He has already said how much he admires Putin and other dictators and totalitarian leaders. How could such a person win the presidency? The example he sets goes against almost everything we know about how to excel in the workplace.

President Obama has urged us to try to take the long view. He makes the case that we should give Trump a chance because if he succeeds then we all succeed. This is true and people should try to be open-minded, but we should not be naïve or allow ourselves to be conned by misinformation or false information. In many countries run by totalitarian leaders, the news is more propaganda than accurate news. That could happen here because Trump uses Twitter to avoid exposing himself to the press and their penetrating and sometimes uncomfortable questions. He also tells his followers not to believe the mainstream media, and wants everyone to accept his version of reality. As Americans, we need to be very vigilant and to step up and speak out when our democratic values and institutions are threatened. We have to be ready to write letters and make calls to Congressmen and women, both Republicans and Democrats, to insist on decency and fairness and the right of every American to be free of fear from hate speech and hate groups in our country. One of the best ways to deal with worry or concern is to get active and “become the change we need.”

The internet provides plenty of opportunities for this. Sign up for a daily action alert relevant to your location: text “DAILY” to the number 228466 (ACTION) or sign up at https://dailyaction.org/; you will get one text every business day about an urgent issue based on where you live. If you decide the issue is one you care about, you can be routed to your senator or member of Congress to weigh in and object.

Also check out John Cassidy’s article in the New Yorker listing nine ways to oppose Donald Trump, and this great crowd-sourced guide to fighting the Trump agenda.

Be watchful about how Trump responds to the media when he is criticized. In a democracy, the President is always criticized. It is a First Amendment right that our press should exercise. But Trump is very thin-skinned, and he retaliates against people who say negative things about him. Support journalists and newspapers that are reliable sources of information so that they are not compromised or shut down. Rise up against fake news and fight back with your pocketbook by refusing to shop or buy services from companies and news outlets that support and disseminate fake news.

Support our congressmen and women who are standing up and pushing back against any erosion of democratic values. Do not permit hate talk wherever you are and whatever you do. Ask for help from other people around you to reject hate speech or hateful behavior. Reach out to help people who are afraid and give them support. Push back against divisiveness and fake news, because keeping people divided and uninformed is what helps a totalitarian leader maintain power. Support the ACLU and other organizations that fight to keep our democratic values intact. Join some of the action groups that have formed on social media, like Pantsuit Nation, Warriors for Humanity, and Lawyers for Good Government (formerly Lawyers of the Left), and plan to join some of the committees on key action items.

President Obama has talked about how important it is for Americans to be engaged, speak out, and vote. In a democracy, the power is with the people but the people cannot be complacent. Many of us have gotten a wake-up call; for some it feels more like they woke up in the middle of a nightmare and can’t get it to stop. But listen, if you feel that way, don’t sit on your couch and watch cat videos. That really won’t help. Cherished institutions and beliefs, including civility and honesty, ethics, fair treatment, and truthfulness that are the hallmark and bedrock of our work world and our country, may be tested by this incoming administration. If you care about this, get active in local politics and school boards so that you can participate in your community. Reach out, if you can and when you can, across our divided country to listen and care about other Americans who are having a tough time no matter who they voted for.