Moving forward together thru post-election shock and awe
Updated: Sep 16, 2019
November 10, 2016
I awoke after very little sleep yesterday and was instantly back to vacillating between Anger and Denial in response to the previous night’s Presidential election. These are two of the Five Stages of Grief and, while there is no absolute regarding the order in which we experience these stages, in my personal experience Anger tends to lead.
There were Post-election protests against Donald Trump occurring in over 25 cities across the country including New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago. And as I write this, another protest, this one comprised of students, is marching down the avenue in front of my window here in San Francisco.
Many on my social media are in the ‘Bargaining’ stage: noting how Trump could be impeached given his outstanding lawsuits, how individual votes within the Electoral College could be changed for Hillary, and how the Electoral College should be abandoned in favor of the Popular Vote (Hillary won the popular vote, as did Al Gore in 2000).
Throughout the day, a number of people reached out to me. Some to offer virtual hugs, others looking to me as the Empowerment Speaker they’ve seen and talked with, seeking a silver lining and a positive message. One woman in particular telephoned; but in that moment I was so deep in my own Anger–Denial I was unable, and frankly unwilling, to see beyond myself.
As I was spewing out my own thoughts and feelings, I heard her crying on the other end of the phone. I suddenly realized that instead of helping her see a light, I was adding to the problem by cursing the darkness, and using a megaphone to do it.
I took a deep breath, reminded myself of the healing process associated with sudden loss and tragedy, a process I know well, and then began a real dialogue with her. ‘We’ll be okay’ I said, ‘our Constitution and our nation have survived much worse. No one person can ever bring us down.’ We spoke of the 80-year struggle by women to earn the right to vote, and of the 100+ year struggle by African-Americans for civil rights. We spoke of all the vibrancy of the LGBTQ community and reminded each other that ‘ain’t none of us going back into the closest’.
She was in the ‘Denial’ stage, questioning if the election was somehow rigged by the Russians. I explained how experts agree that rigging an election is essentially impossible without some kind of detection. More importantly, that to hang onto the belief of a rigged election is to negate the depth of anger and exasperation of a large segment of our population, the blue-collar white voters of the Midwest.
I told her how I was born and raised in Macomb County, Michigan, birthplace of the ‘Reagan Democrats’, so these are part of my people. For three decades, ‘Middle America’ has watched Management’s offshore their jobs for a higher stock value or Corporate Officer bonuses. Their livelihoods have been forfeited to faster, cheaper automation in manufacturing. They’ve watched their benefits evaporate along with the promise of ‘if you just work hard and play by the rules, you can have own a home in the suburbs, two cars, a small cottage by the lake, and a pension’.
Add in the demographic shifts and social changes: Gay marriage, Caitlyn Jenner, the introduction of Transgender rights, the emergence of Non-binary as a personal identify, and it would seem to many the news is filled with concern for everyone except them. Donald Trump was just the first person on a national platform who looked them in the eye and ‘you’ve been screwed’. Their vote was not for him, but was their way of saying ‘wait a minute! What about us?!’ They’re not inherently racist or anti-LGBT, they’re just tired of being ignored, of being dismissed as ‘the flyover states’. They’re looking out for their own the same as everyone else. Trump’s victory is nothing more than Middle America saying ‘I’ll bet you see us now’. We don’t have to agree on every position, but we should be able to listen to each other and understand each other’s feelings.
We talked of how reducing one another to a two-dimensional caricature based solely on the most recent election instantly creates an “us versus them” narrative. How discarding each other’s uniqueness and life experience also strips us of our compassion and empathy, of any sense of community. When you step back and look at the big picture, the United States is a purple mosaic, not a red & blue striped canvas. We ended the call with each of us in a better place emotionally and more positive about tomorrow.
The peaceful marches we’re witnessing are neither good nor bad. They are the expression of Anger and a logical part of the grieving process for many. To stifle them, or any other peaceful expression of protest, stifles the healing and process as well.
So today we protest, we listen, we hug, we celebrate our new victories both big and small. We begin to understand, to accept and to heal.
Tomorrow, we continue our fights to strengthen the middle-class, for race, gender & sexual equality, and to find more commonality with each other. We do so with the knowledge that nothing of lasting value comes easy, and that nothing that comes easy is treated with lasting value.
We’re ready. Let’s do this!
Gina Grahame is Communications Coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, defacto trainer of Executive Presence at Google, and a political junkie from Macomb County, Michigan, now living in San Francisco.