by rthieme on November 20, 2016

Trump Trauma

by Richard Thieme

November 11, 2016

Op Ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – a USA Today Publication

http://milwaukeejournalsentinel.wi.newsmemory.com/?token=8f6d212d116c9d90a5f91a5b32b0bcf9&cnum=23568963&fod=1111111STD&selDate=20161120&licenseType=none&

A younger colleague, a brilliant guru in the security world, said of the impact of “the Trump event” on his family, “Well, on the galactic scale, none of this matters one whit.”

That was not the first time that I or someone else had to stretch our thinking to the cosmic, the galactic, or the ends of time to find a benchmark by which to say “in the big picture this will be insignificant” or something like it. During a crisis in my life years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon and looked down the walls toward layers deposited millions of years earlier and thought the same thing. “Keep this in perspective,” I thought, trying to diminish the impact of a traumatic event. People are doing that now, alluding to the Trump victory, and have invoked evolutionary time scales, the galaxy, the cosmos, all of known history, to make the felt impact of the campaign feel smaller than it actually is.

These attempts in fact signify the huge significance of it all, right here, right now. Those vast scales enable us to live with the event as if it is less manageable by ordinary means.

I am not hearing this just from liberals. I dined this week at a meeting of a very conservative forum of business people and government officials who gathered to hear an economist discuss the likely impacts of the election. Similar feelings were expressed. So it’s not just the crowd I run with: The impact spans the spectrum of political partisanship.

I spoke with a dear friend who is 101 years old. She was born during the Wilson administration and has lived through seventeen presidents. She said she could not sleep after she heard the election news and spent the day crying. She said we have had good and bad presidents but she has never seen anything like this.

By “this” she means nothing about Hilary or Trump as candidates; she knows that both candidates brought less than honorable records in business and politics to the table and that no one reaches those heights with clean hands. She means something deeper, she means the deplorable vitriolic assault on decency and the Republic that we dignify by calling it a campaign and which can not be erased from memory or our daily consciousness.

The lacerations caused by Trump’s words against so many people and groups cut deeply and indelibly into our souls, and healing will not be quick or easy. He did what he did and said what he said, regardless of whether he now acts “presidential.” Anyone who directed and followed the scripts of a reality show – yes, Virginia, they are scripted – knows how to play a part well. Transparent postures and role paying do not fool victims of trauma into thinking that everything is fine now, everything will be just fine. Instead we become hyper-vigilant, somewhat paranoid, and binary in our thinking.

The impact of traumatic events is what I am seeing, hearing, feeling. Trauma is what this is about. I have addressed traumatic impacts lately in speeches, and it is obvious to me that we are in shock from a trauma that struck many individually and the entire nation as a whole.

The symptoms of trauma are identifiable and present in the body politic. Other markers include the minimization and rationalization that pervades so much discussion and punditry. Smoothing things over is an attempt to normalize the abnormal, the aberrant, and make the flow of historical events include and tame this event, but it resists taming. It bobs along in the rapids like a movie monster with its head above the water, looking for its next meal.

Three people called this week to ask if I had tickets yet – for NZ, Australia, or Canada. I wish they were less than half serious. Older people have said, well, we can still live out our lives, we’ll be OK, whatever happens, and younger people have asked, how will this effect the decades ahead of me? What will my life – and my children’s lives – be like? One mentioned the flood of refugees that we mostly relegate to brief scenes on the nightly news and wonder if it could happen here. Walls, they fear, keep people in as well as out.

These are all markers of trauma, that’s all I am saying. This is something new under the sun, this is serious, and how we respond will be important. I am giving a speech these days called “Playing Through the Pain: The Impact of Dark Knowledge and Secrets on Security and Intelligence Professionals.” It’s about trauma and secondary trauma, the latter coming from engaging with people who are traumatized. For those people, rates of substance abuse, divorce, and suicide are high. I conclude that talk with a set of strategies for dealing with trauma in more life-giving ways They include restorative time with friends and family, music and gardening; they include greater mindfulness, awareness of our bodies and what they are telling us; they include the necessity for mutuality and frequent feedback from trusted others, for deepening bonds of community and strategies for collective response. Sanity demands at the least advocating for a fabric of civil discourse and mutual respect in our country to replace the derision and insults of shout shows and the recent spectacle of a campaign.

Acknowledging what has happened, knowing it and feeling it, is dark knowledge indeed and reveals painful wounds, it is visceral awareness of the darkness in the American psyche that we like to pretend is manageable or just not there. But it is there, and we are obligated to confront denial not with despair and pessimism but with realistic self-awareness and building frameworks for concerted right action.

Richard Thieme (thiemeworks.com) is an author and professional speaker based in Milwaukee. He has published four books in the past six years and his clients have included Microsoft, Medtronic, and Allstate Insurance, as well as the NSA, Secret Service, FBI, U.S. Department of the Treasury, and Los Alamos National Lab.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Janine McGee December 2, 2016 at 7:44 PM

Thank you for your words and your thoughts on this topic. It’s what I would have asked you about if we sat down for coffee.

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