Today, I had a brief moment of insight and recognized what I am—and have been—feeling about Donald Trump becoming the President; this whole process has felt a lot like watching a loved one die of a terminal disease. In fact, as I think about it more, the metaphor and emotional arc I’ve experienced extend to pretty much the entire campaign process, so let’s go through the whole thing together.
Donald Trump’s rise through the ranks of the already-toxic GOP was difficult for me to watch and impossible for me to stay level headed about. All the warning signs were there: the lies, the hate, the malice. Trump has been cartoon evil the entire time, a smirking villain in a group of otherwise unremarkable Republican contenders dominated by Tea Party whackos and members of the old guard who just couldn’t compete for the attention of America’s bible-thumping red state voters. He climbed through the ranks on the backs of more qualified men, and then stole their thunder with wild boasting and impossible promises. Never ready to openly embrace the darkest aspects of the American electorate, but also never willing to publicly separate himself from them, Trump didn’t go away like any sane person wanted him to, but grew in influence and became more serious. So serious that the soreness and aches could no longer be ignored, and suddenly there was blood in the urine which definitely required a trip the doctor.
While you hoped for a mundane response from the doctor, a bruised kidney or maybe dehydration or stress or some other manageable thing, the news was more dire than you would have ever feared. The doctor had ruled out all other possibilities and Donald Trump became the Republican presidential nominee. The bad news pulled people together to fight the spread of disease, but people couldn’t decide how it should be treated, so they bickered and argued and some people decided that abstaining from treatment was the right choice. And the good doctors all tried their hardest to fight the spread of the Trump cancer, but spread and grow it did.
We all struggled and we were angry. Trump was wildly unqualified for the job the Republicans put him up for. He was a vile, reprehensible man in both his public and private lives and this was the person the GOP thought should run the country? It seemed so insane to everyone. How could this happen? Why us? This couldn’t possibly be real, could it? But it was real. Incredibly real. Yet, we were assured that he wasn’t going to win, that it was almost a certainty that we would beat this monster and we would continue on with the grand American experiment the way we had for the previous eight imperfect but incredible years under the stewardship of Obama. Everything was going to be fine! People would never actually vote for that monster. Why would anyone want cancer to spread?
Suddenly, there was an unexpected turn for the worst, and Trump won the Presidency with 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton. It was a devastating blow. Spirits were crushed. The future felt dark. For me, Trump winning was that moment you watched your loved one being admitted to the hospital with very little possibility of leaving. Sure, you hoped that something would turn around, that he would have been impeached or that this business with Putin would have had some effect. You read and you researched, and some information elicited hope and some inspired dread. Yet, you couldn’t turn yourself away from the reading, from the discussions, from trying to figure out how to fix the problem. Surely there must be some solution. You racked your brain and you were filled with anxiety and sleep eluded you. And when everything was boiling inside you, you screamed into the void and you pled with the heavens. But deep, deep in your heart, you knew that this was always a one-way trip. Your loved one will not see the outside of a hospital again and Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.
On January 20th, 2017, you watched the light in your loved one’s eyes fade and Trump was sworn in to the highest office in the land.
And it was sad, but, in a lot of ways, it was also a huge relief.
The death of someone you love is an unparalleled loss, but watching them suffer and erode is much worse. Terminal disease robs people of the people they are, and by the time they actually pass, you feel like you can finally stop holding your breath. You can finally stop worrying. You can let go. That person is gone and absolutely nothing will change that. No more unknowns, no more worrying. Now, you mourn, you celebrate, and you rebuild your new, different life.
That feeling of relief is what I recognized in myself today and it took me a moment to understand where I’d felt it before. But when I figured it out, the last year was suddenly thrown into stark clarity. Of course! these feelings are like when my little brother was sick and died, but on a more abstract, macro scale. With Nicky’s dying, it was pointed and sharp and very personal. With Trump’s presidency, it is broad and formless and everywhere, but the feelings—the loss, the anger, the anxiety, the fear—are exactly the same. And now that the wondering is over, I feel prepared to get on with it. And that doesn’t mean giving up. It means that my energy can be focused free of crippling anxiety. Trump is death and he has arrived, so we no longer have to worry about dying.
I suspect that a lot of Americans are feeling the same way this weekend. The Women’s Marches across the country and the world are sure indicators. Sarah is down in DC today for the march on the capital. I am proud of her for that. Lots of women I know are also in DC for the march, or in various cities for local marches. I am proud of all of them, too. I am proud of every American woman, man, and child who is out across the country raising their voice to help us all rebuild after our devastating loss. This is a positive first step and a strong statement that the desire for progress is real. The message is love and equality and acceptance. The message is hope. The next four years are going to be rocky, unsure, complicated. Now it is time to rebuild our new, different life as Americans to battle the poisons spilling from the Trump regime.