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Surviving the Presidential Election of 2016

Surviving the Presidential Election of 2016

by Vera Mehta, Ed.D. | November 2016

The election is over. Donald Trump is going to become our new President on Inauguration Day, Friday January 20, 2017. If he was your guy, then this is a time to be jubilant and rejoice in better days to come. If he was not your guy and you voted for Hillary, you may still be in mourning, grinding your teeth, or marching in protest against the “unfair” Electoral College system. You may also have decided to lock yourself up in a dark room with a bag over your head and not come out till it’s all over. There can be no doubt that no matter who we supported, we as a country have endured one of the most brutal and exhausting election cycles of the past 50 years. What we must now hope is that the new President and his administration will make the kind of changes (improving on The Affordable Care Act perhaps?) that will benefit us all, regardless of party affiliation.

On Wednesday, November 9, the day after the election results were out, it seemed, at least around many parts of NYC, as if a dam had broken and set loose a flood of unusually strong emotional reactions which, in many cases manifested as actual physiological symptoms. While taking my dog for his morning walk in my ultra-liberal Brooklyn neighborhood, I overheard several snippets of conversation expressing shock, fear, anger, sadness, anxiety and “feeling sick to my stomach” as one woman put it. The subways were no different. Obviously, not everyone felt that way or Donald Trump would not have won.

However, at this point, it does not matter. What matters is what we take away from this election about our own assumptions, prejudices and beliefs regarding the very real cultural barriers between people, even between those whom we think we know because they live in the same country or because they “look like us”. For me, once I had gotten over my initial dismay and feelings of wanting to turn off any and ALL media entering my home and refusing to speak to anyone on the phone, I resolved to take some tentative steps towards a better understanding of our new reality and of our fellow Americans.

STEP ONE: Paid a visit to the wonderful Shakespeare and Company Booksellers on Lexington and 68th Street. Immediately felt better (and also $91 lighter) after buying coffee, cake and 3 books from the 6 recommended by NY Times critics to help us understand why Trump won. My first shaky attempt to get a hold of myself and start on the path to broadening my political education. Reading always calms my nerves and so far I am completely riveted by Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right-A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide.

STEP TWO: Listened to 2 fascinating, 20-minute TED talks by the NYU social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, on the psychology of morality and the moral emotions. What a pleasure to hear him explain a very complicated and emotionally wrought subject with such clarity and intelligence. One of the most profound questions he raised was on the building of “empathy”. As he pointed out, it is easy to build empathy for the victims of suffering who are part of the group one identifies with. Not so easy to build it for the victims of the “other” side. Lessons here for both Trumpsters and Hillary-ites.

STEP 3: Made 2 resolutions:

  • Since it would be extremely unproductive to spend the next 4 years being angry or worried about the future (not to mention developing high blood pressure and stomach ulcers) I determined to find delight once more in the routines and “events” of daily life. For some this might mean going to a child’s dance recital or soccer game, for others, walks in the park, a night out at a comedy club with “the girls”, for me, taking a class in Composting or Spanish Literature, for still others, pacing the aisles at Macy’s for a great shoe bargain, cooking dinner with friends, attending a church/temple/mosque service… The possibilities are as infinite as the satisfactions.
  • Be humble in my efforts to overcome my deepest prejudices towards anyone I perceive as “other”. Easier said than done. But we all have to start somewhere. Jonathan Haidt suggests as a first step: instead of being self-righteous about your own convictions make the effort to meet someone from the “other side” and find something to appreciate about that person. This is an especially important lesson to learn after such a bitterly divisive election as the one we have lived through for the past 12 months.

And finally, to put everything into perspective:

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, not to worry about the future, or not to anticipate troubles, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly”- Siddhartha Gautama Buddha.

Vera Mehta, Ed.D
November 2016