The current level of ongoing distress over recent political events I hear everyday in my work is unprecedented. While 9/11 and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan offered many challenges to our sense of safety and a reevaluation of how the U.S. is viewed around the world, the threat to our security was experienced as being perpetrated from outside our own ranks. Al Qaeda was perceived to be our enemy based on their attack on western culture, religious freedom and consumer capitalism. War continues to be waged to this day based principally on the concept that this enemy is bent on destroying the core principles that the overwhelming majority of Americans were thought to hold as inviolate.
As embodied in the Statue of Liberty, equal justice under the law, separation of church and state, tolerance of different beliefs and manner of living were long believed to be consensus values for Americans. These values are an outgrowth of the experiences of our ancestors who had lived under the tyranny of a monarchy and stifling religious fiat. Our most destructive wars have been waged in the service of these ideals. My father landed at D-day, fought in Europe and lost over half the men in his unit while defending these same principles.
The crux of much of the fear and anxiety I help people cope with now is the shocking abandonment by so many Americans (many of them their family members or friends) from these once unifying values and principles. Compounding the issue is the realization for many that as a nation we have never been tested by such powerful enemies of truth and human dignity from within our own ranks.
The election of President Trump has unleashed fear and anxiety about our own the freedoms and the liberty of groups who wield relatively little power in our culture and the world at large. The list grows every day: scapegoating the poor, Muslims and people of color; pitting one marginalized group against another to maintain a grip on power; removing regulations designed to protect the weak from exploitation by the powerful; fellow citizens pummeled by poverty are now acting out of the desperate belief that their worst enemy is actually their savior; scientific method and facts ignored in place of unfiltered personal opinions based on nothing but bias and supposition.
We’ve all seen this movie before, and it doesn’t end well.
What to Do?
I am starting a series of blog posts today to help those struggling with fear and anxiety in the “Age of Trump”.
Some may feel that as a psychologist, it is my job to remain publicly neutral and keep my personal and political opinions to myself. However, I feel the bare minimum to be expected of any healer is to identify and address the source of pain in those we are charged with to help. The very definition of psychological treatment is the development and implementation of interventions, based on training and experiences, which promote the well being of others and reduces their suffering and pain.
As witness to the current widespread emotional trauma of individuals across the political spectrum, I believe it is also incumbent on healers to speak out against the factors that perpetrate fear and oppression of the weak and vulnerable. Equally important is to offer solutions to this emotional pain and anguish. Please look for my series of posts over the next few weeks for practical ideas about how to manage your anxiety related to the ongoing crisis in our culture and political system.