By Karen Rosica
“I feel as if I am moving in a bubble or a chipmunk running in one of those wheels. Nothing feels real. There is no ground. We tell our patients we will be there for them; but will we?” Thus began a session with a European therapist I see via Skype that took place shortly after the assassination of Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador to Turkey, the explosion at the German Christmas market and the devastating reporting on Aleppo.
What is it she is trying to describe? A feeling of nowhereness, directionlessness, surrealness? I think she is trying to capture something about not being grounded, having no direction, some dream-like state of unreality with no foothold. I think she is describing the loss of trust: a firm belief in the reliability, truth, capacity, or strength of someone or something.
Of the complex array of inner states I carry about Donald Trump, mistrust is paramount. At times, it resembles a vague nausea. Yes, I worry about many specific political and human rights issues; but, as with my patient, my overarching experience is atmospheric.
I think Winnicott’s concept of “going on being” (1965) describes best what I feel I have lost and continue to lose. While pre-Trump life contained concern for specific issues and causes, day-to-day life took its course in a more seamless way than it does now. I find myself wanting to take a break from the news, from politics, from newspapers but I can’t. It’s like watching a car wreck; I can’t stop looking. I want to make sure I see the worst so I am sufficiently armed for the terrible possibilities of the future. Constant anticipatory worry is one way of managing fear.
At the same time I know that watching and listening will do no good; one can never count on what Trump says. His diatribe is a systematic attempt to destabilize the truth often to the point of gaslighting, the act of doing harm and then denying the perception of the injured. This is not an environment we are accustomed to–one in which a leader is measured and thoughtful. At best Trump is provocative; at worst, hostile and aggressive.
In my constant worry I begin to feel utterly captured by Trump’s field, letting him control what I am doing when I react suddenly to every move he makes. Our demonstrations give me back a sense of power and have been the most welcomed, unintended consequence of this upheaval. This solidarity helps create an alternative to turning off the news and managing the fear through avoidance.
At the same time, I begin to wonder if there is a third place to stand, one in addition to the options of avoidance or resisting. I begin to think we also need long-range thinking. I am wondering if other opportunities in addition to resistance could be created, ones that emphasize dialogue. Inquiry into how other minds are operating often helps calm fear and can humanize our side or “theirs.”
How can we best achieve our aims while continuing to consider the aims of others? We now fear being shut out but it was this very fear in others that created this election result, others who don’t share our fears but their own. While politics has always been a battle of ideas, I am wondering if we must selectively ignore the very real needs of so many others? Do we also have obligations to them? Is it possible to create other new social compacts? And, if so, how do we best achieve this?
I am thinking especially at this time of the dedicated work of Dan Baron, an Israeli social psychologist, who worked tirelessly to bring polarized people together, most dramatically, children of Nazis and children of Holocaust survivors and Israelis and Palestinians. In working with these groups he crossed habitual boundaries and created an intercultural process. I think while fighting for what we believe in with those who think like us, we might also be thinking about how to meet those with whom we disagree.
I honestly don’t yet know how to go about this. How would such an effort be structured? I think, minimally, we must at least ask how we contribute to the long-standing problem in Washington and in our country. Recall what Atticus Finch told his daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird. “You never really know a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Can we separate the Trump voter from Trump, himself? Can we separate policy from style of delivery? Can we talk to any of the Trump voters? Can we talk to any of the Republicans? (I think these small demonstrations at representative’s offices are so helpful.) Is such a thing possible? Are new social/political compacts possible? Can we think about two years from now? Is it possible to break out of this force field Trump creates through chaos and rapid fire actions especially under these conditions of anxious polarization?
I don’t know yet.
Like my patient, I’m frightened and disoriented too,
But I’m just wondering.