Election Day, 2016: A Clinical Social Work Perspective

In the wake of Election Day I, like many or even most Americans, have struggled to make sense of the country, of others, of myself. I have struggled to understand what has happened and why, and what may or may not happen in the future. Perhaps what I have struggled with most is the absolutely unanticipated affront to my faith in the justness and righteousness and goodness of humanity. I went from preemptively celebrating the election of the first-ever female president of the free world while wearing my best Madame President outfit to sobbing myself to sleep in a matter of hours. The descent was swift and striking. I had, and still have, a lot of feelings: shock, heartbreak, horror, dread, ire, disillusionment. Into what parallel universe had I suddenly been catapulted where decency and compassion and service and justice and love lose to obscenity and callousness and greed and inequity and hate? Just… what?!

On November 9, I grappled with many things: the blow to my worldview, the significant grief I as a woman felt at Hillary’s loss (not to be underestimated), and the impact that would be felt by our most vulnerable populations. This last issue has been poignantly felt in my work with individuals with severe mental illness, many of whom are frightened and have sought comfort from their treatment providers. I’ve been forced to summon and share strength, belief, and hope, and realize that all that any of us has is each other. When one is despairing another is obligated to step in and be steadfast. At its best, America is a place where we carry each other and everyone gives what they can to help.

There are undeniably, without a shadow of a doubt groups of people in this country who have been and will be significantly negatively impacted by a Trump campaign and presidency: Muslims, immigrants, women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, those with disabilities and mental illness, low-income people. These people and their allies are in mourning over both Hillary’s loss and Trump’s victory. They must be respected as they grieve the loss of the America and the progress they had hoped for (yes, Hillary would have brought progress if only symbolically as the first female president of the US), and process the reality that we all now face. To those Hillary supporters who come from a place of privilege and will not be disproportionately affected by a Trump presidency: We must do the work to allow our more vulnerable populations to grieve. Many people are calling for optimism while others call on Hillary supporters to “suck it up” and “get over it.” While the latter is egregiously unhelpful, the former is also problematic, albeit well-intentioned. If there is one thing that I learned in social work school, it is this: until people feel genuinely heard and understood, until they have had the opportunity to feel and process and express, until their thoughts and feelings and reactions have been validated (sincerely, not superficially) it is difficult, even impossible, to move forward. So do this for others. Hear them. Feel for them. Even when it is hard. Even when you think you have something important to say. Even when you think you are right. Even when you disagree. Especially when you disagree.

Another thing I have struggled with is reconciling how people I believe to be good and kind could have supported a man who is inarguably divisive and hateful, and contributes to creating a climate in which bigotry and hate crimes flourish. Trump supporters: you may find Donald’s alleged business acumen appealing or his economic policies sound or feel comforted and protected by his words. But please do not be disdainful or dismissing of those who are afraid. Please realize that their fears are legitimate, and are only being reinforced by the jagweeds committing hate crimes by the second right now. Hold Donald Trump and your fellow Trump supporters accountable for their words and their actions. Do not forget that there are groups of human beings whose safety and health and happiness are truly at risk both due to the policies that Trump has promised he will enact and the rhetoric and behavior that he fosters. My mom likes to give my siblings and me life-talks about “that still small voice” that each of us has inside that tells us what is right and wrong, what is good and what is evil. Just because you voted for Donald Trump does not mean that you are bad. It does, however, put the onus on you to acknowledge the undesirable qualities in him and the negative impact he has on what falls within the bounds of human decency and social acceptability, and to combat what you know to be wrong. There is dignity and worth in every person. Demonstrate that you believe that.

Hillary supporters: while we might all want to take out our anger and fear on Trump supporters, this doesn’t help anyone’s cause. When anyone feels attacked, they get defensive. The more defenses that go up between us the more difficult it becomes to work together. Donald Trump is divisive enough as it is; let’s not be like him. In the words of our glorious FLOTUS “When they go low, we go high.” Make no mistake: I am in no way suggesting that we stop challenging Donald Trump and his supporters. On the contrary, it is our obligation to engage them in thoughtful discourse (and Trump supporters, for you to engage as well), and to lead by example. Further, we absolutely do not tolerate, condone, or ignore hate when we see it. Differences in opinion are acceptable. Hate is not. Hate is never acceptable. Hillary may have lost (brb crying), but we have to continue to believe, to show, and to realize that love trumps hate.

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