California Forum

How to combat ‘Trump trauma’: What we’ve learned since the last Women’s March

Women's March in Sacramento draws thousands

An estimated 20,000 people attended the Women's March on Sacramento, starting at Southside Park and ending at the California State Capitol. A diverse crowd gathered to promote women's rights and human rights on the first full day of Donald Trump'
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An estimated 20,000 people attended the Women's March on Sacramento, starting at Southside Park and ending at the California State Capitol. A diverse crowd gathered to promote women's rights and human rights on the first full day of Donald Trump'

“Love Trumps Hate.” “Make America Kind Again.” Remember these messages from last year’s Women’s March?

Here in California, where Hillary Clinton won nearly 62 percent of the vote, I interviewed Democrats to see how they fared over the past year.

‘Initially I was dumbfounded,’ she said, describing her response to Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, ‘kind of sideswiped, sucker punched.’ Other Democrats talked about being ‘gutted’ or ‘walking around like zombies.’

Not so well, it turns out – with many acknowledging depression, trouble sleeping and needing to retreat from early morning Trump tweets.

“Very grim and very gray,” was how Maimuna Syed, executive director of Emerge California, which trains Democratic women to run for office, described 2017.

A survey conducted in August for the American Psychological Association (APA) found significantly more Democrats (73 percent) were feeling “stress about the future of our nation” than Republicans (56 percent) or Independents (59 percent).

I call the Democrats’ despair “Trump Trauma” – and it’s had many stages, starting with postelection shock. As 2018 dawns, Democrats recognize their “resistance” can only be sustained through stepped-up self care and laserlike political action.

Beverly Johnson works with foster kids in Sacramento. “Initially I was dumbfounded,” she said, describing her response to Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, “kind of sideswiped, sucker punched.” Other Democrats talked about being “gutted” or “walking around like zombies.”

Shock gave way to sadness. Naomi Seligman, former director of communications for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, recalls “a lot of mourning, like there had been a death.”

Worry and anxiety were common themes. Rosanna Herber, a Sacramento-based political activist, shared this: “I’m worried about the future of our country when we don’t have people willing to stand up to power and tell them that what they’re doing is wrong.” Johnson voiced concern about the “vitriol and hatred” that’s seeped into the public square.

Democrats also talked about being angry – on a daily basis, outraged at the president’s personal style and policies.

Shane Carter, an outreach coordinator at UC Berkeley, said, “I joke with my friends that instead of meditating and being able to focus on nothing, I’m developing the ability to tolerate a near-boil level of anger.”

She acknowledged, as did many, how the barrage of executive orders and tweets makes her want to “bury my head in the sand and step away from politics.” But as Frank Bruni wrote in a recent New York Times column, “Fury isn’t strategy.”

Eleanor Moses, a Bay Area activist, said she has run the gamut of postelection emotion and concluded that “we have to stay tuned in and find a lane that we can get in and sustain over the long haul.”

After a year of reeling, Democrats are now dealing with Trump Trauma. Four strategies seem central to this renewal.

Self care

Every single person I talked to identified a behavior they want to modify – more sleep, fewer glasses of wine, regular exercise or meditation. Others plan to limit screen time, particularly cable news.

“You can’t run a marathon for four years,” said Sandra Fluke, the Los Angeles-based social justice attorney. “Think of this as a relay race – you have to pass the baton, take turns, take a rest.”

Perspective

“I try to help people take a longer view,” said Berkeley-based therapist David Shaddock. “Even at the worst of times, people were painting and writing poetry, a sign that the human spirit can’t be crushed.”

“Politics goes in cycles,” agreed Seligman, the former mayoral communications director, “and we just happen to be in a really challenging one right now.”

Action

“If you are feeling bad,” Seligman offered, “doing something makes you feel better. We don’t have the luxury of wallowing in our sadness right now.”

Annie Adams, co-chair of Women’s March Sacramento, would like to see “civic engagement become cool again, a regular part of life, like making coffee in the morning.” Torie Osborn, a longtime activist based in Los Angeles, believes now is the time for “laser-focused” political action: “For me, it’s all about the midterms and taking back the House.”

Kindness

The final strategy brings us back to the signs at last year’s Women’s March.

“It’s even more important to be kind to each other when people are trading in cruelty,” Shaddock told me. Moses, the Bay Area activist, emphasized taking time to listen and reflect, especially when participating in a diverse group.

There may be an untapped opportunity for common ground in this approach: The APA survey found 87 percent of Americans “agree on at least one thing: a desire for people to take a deep breath and calm down.”

Calm, candid communication, challenging though it may be, can win hearts and minds and build coalitions. So unlike, say, fury, making America kind again can also be strategic.

And it’s the only path forward for America to be truly great again.

Thousands of people join the Women's March in Sacramento, in partnership with the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and one of hundreds of "sister marches" across the nation and the world to promote women's rights and human rights after the inaug

Kate Karpilow is the former executive director of the California Center for Research on Women & Families. She can be contacted at katekarpilow@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @katekarpilow. You can listen to a companion podcast to this story at katekarpilow.com.

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