My Post-Election Grief Process – Three Steps toward Change

Spoiler alert: This post is about my reactions to the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Those of you who have different political leanings may want to stop reading now. However, if you want to better understand how some of us experienced this election then please continue.  I welcome your thoughtful sharing and reflections.

 

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It would be an understatement for me to say that I did not see the results of the 2016 Presidential race coming.  I went to bed crestfallen around 1:30 AM Wednesday morning, and the hand-writing was on the wall.  When I awakened later that morning to learn the results, I found myself in a deep place of sadness that I eventually came to recognize as grief.  Yes, I was literally experiencing grief over a profound loss. It was not just an electoral loss, but the loss of an ideal (my hopes of the first woman president!), and the loss of the myth of a more unified America.  Some have tried to use Kubler-Ross’ model of death and dying to talk about the processing of the loss of this election. That didn’t work for me. Instead I gave myself permission to sit with it for a bit. I turned to my community of family and friends to make sense of what was happening. We created spaces on the phone and social media of all places to share and support each other. Not that any of us are over it, but we are getting through it. Here are three phases I now realize I went (and to some extent still going) through. Perhaps this model can be both descriptive and prescriptive for you.

 

soul-searching

Soul Searching

I shut everything down early on Wednesday morning. After my first heart-felt post on the election, I took a break from social media for the entire day. I prayed. I journaled. I slept. I listened to Mrs. Clinton’s acceptance speech and sent her a note of encouragement.  I prayed some more. The place of solitude created the space for deep soul-searching on my part and for me to hear the Spirit. As a result, here’s what I know to be true for me:

I unabashedly supported Mrs. Hillary Clinton. I work as a leadership consultant who in addition to organizational development, I get the great fortune of training women leaders around the globe. I guess you can say I do gender justice work with the aim of increasing gender equality. I have studied and followed Mrs. Clinton for twenty years now and thought she was the most prepared and experienced candidate with a solid record of working across the political aisle to legislate to represent all Americans. She was not a perfect candidate and brought some historical baggage into the race with her—who hasn’t. She faced and navigated the gender-double bind on the public stage that every strong woman leader is familiar with. If you are too soft and feminine you are deemed too weak to lead; if you are outspoken and firm, you are deemed unlikeable. Facing the bullying, bombastic style of Mr. Trump, Mrs. Clinton had to fight. As my mother used to teach my brother and me, “you can’t play with bullies.”  Mrs. Clinton had dedicated her life to protecting women, children and families, which always leads to strengthening our communities.  I know some of my conservative Christian friends will think less of me because Mrs. Clinton is Pro-Choice. For some of them anti-abortion is their sole issue—and that’s their choice. I am Pro-Life in the broadest sense of the word and I advocate for policies that minimize the need for abortion, that will reduce gun violence and that care for the life of the elderly, disabled, poor, the hungry and homeless. I don’t support the death penalty. Though grateful for every veteran who has fought for our nation, I lament when we go to war and my heart breaks for the collateral damage of citizens in war-torn lands. I believe those who have can do more to help those who have not. I proclaim and try to model the life of Christ that taught me to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:38-39; Mark 12:30-31). My theology provides the lens through which I try to consistently and with integrity participate in public life.

Just as strongly as I supported Mrs. Clinton (and would do so all over again), I just as strongly believe it’s time for the Democratic Party to take a deep look at itself.  Just as in 2008 when the Republican Party had to take a deep look at itself and how it did not represent the America that elected Barak Obama (which by the way, those of us who elected Mr. Obama crossed racial, gender, and socio-economic lines to do so), the Democratic Party must now do the same. I’ll say more about this later.

My soul-searching revealed two deep points of irritation. First with the media. Then with the popular leaders of the white evangelical right.

News Junkie or Media Silo

A deep irritation crept over me on Wednesday after the election when the news pundits and anchors proceeded to explain in hindsight what had happened in this election. I. Did. Not. Want. To. Hear. It. They got it wrong and were armchair quarterbacking for a game that had been lost.  I consider myself an educated consumer of news (actually I consider myself a news junkie) but I have to admit, I, like too many of us, exist within my own preferred media bubble and I had become blind to the realities of people who don’t think like me and vote like me. Social psychologists call that confirmation bias—we look for and find evidence to support our views. We consume stories from our traditional media channels and social media circles that, in my case are very racially, globally, ethnically and culturally diverse, but are pretty much like me in terms of thought and values. And we reinforce each other’s’ views. Then there are those who our outside of our circles. They too exist within their own media bubble and are blind to the realities and perspectives of people who don’t vote like them. And never the twain shall meet. Each side feels blindsided when the other’s truths come to light and in trying to make sense of the mind of the other, we come to label the other.

Shifting Theology or Double Standard

Next, I keep going back to my disappointment with the white evangelical vote. To so many of us it feels that the leaders of this voting block use a shifting theology to justify their expedient politics and for me that feels disingenuous. For instance, I listened to Christian radio while working on my first Master’s degree at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio in the mid 1980s. Popular evangelical teachers and authors had a monopoly of religious radio programming and that is what I listened to. These speakers and teachers stressed that Mormonism was a cult. Then in 2008, because it appeared that these leaders wanted to justify their republican ties, they removed Mormonism from cult status in what appeared to some of us, a move designed to allow millions of evangelicals to vote Republican with a clear conscious.  I support their right to vote for whomever they wish, but they need to tell the truth about it and not flex their theology to justify it.

And when it came to then Senator Obama, these leaders questioned his faith (in spite of him recounting his Christian conversion in his first memoir), his citizenship, and so on.  For eight years the Obamas modeled Christian character and integrity, but to this day some of them still discount Pres. Obama’s faith. And then the white evangelical right Christened a man who had a laundry list of egregious character flaws, with a deep racist, sexist, and anti-immigrant track record so that they could justify voting republican. These leaders said, “he’s a baby Christian, give him a chance.” Yet they could not give a mature Christian Black man who did not think like them a chance. I will never doubt Mr. Trump’s conversion—not my place to do that — but I will question the white evangelical leaders’ double standards.

Truth telling is good for the soul and leads to perspective shifting.

Perspective Shifting

When it comes to the demographics of this election, that perspective shifting began for me on September 18 while on my way to an early morning church service. I was listening to the “On Being” broadcast on NPR and Ruby Sales, an African American Woman civil rights leader and public theologian was being interviewed.

Rev. Sales was exploring the question “Where Does It Hurt?”  In addition to talking about the experiences of young black people whose pain gave rise to the Black Lives Matters movement, she began to talk about the pain experienced by white men and women who have felt left behind by the global economy and the stigmatization of “whiteness.”  She asked, “Don’t they deserve to be heard?” To that group, she said, Donald Trump has listened. And there I felt the deepest conviction. I had minimized and discounted the Mr. Trump’s early constituency that was highlighted in an article entitled The Geography of Trumpism in the New York Times in March. His base obviously grew but I asked myself, how did I not empathize more with the people highlighted in the article. I was raised and went to school in the Steel Valley of Eastern Ohio and Western PA; I held my first summer job in West Virginia in a brickyard with my Dad. I earned my doctorate Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in northern Appalachia. How had I become numb to these economic realities? I did not believe Mr. Trump could truly bring manufacturing jobs similar to the ones my uncles and dad worked at because technology and automation had changed the world of work. But that broadcast was an eye-opening experience. I empathized and hoped Mrs. Clinton’s economic policies would be big enough to now speak to this region. On election night when I saw the former blue wall bit by bit turn rust-belt red, I knew we had missed it. Which brings me to my next point.

The media reporting of this election and its results tends to further polarize us. And I admit, initially I thought suspiciously about at anyone I knew who may have voted for Mr. Trump. My niece lamented on Instagram that she was so hurt to discover on Facebook that friends, the people she has known since middle school, voted for Mr. Trump, “A man,” she writes, “who could care less about me, my family, other cultures or women.”  Yep. That was part of our grief. My niece will now have to shift perspective to realize her childhood friends didn’t so much vote against her, as they voted for what they considered their own interests.  But truth be told, I have other family, friends and parishioners who did not and will not vote like me. People I love, voted happily for Trump. I realized this on election night when my aunt celebrated on FaceBook when Ohio was called for Mr. Trump. My reactionary brain wanted to unfriend her. I couldn’t. She’s my aunt, whom I love dearly. I will not, cannot demonize her or anyone else with whom I disagree politically. And they cannot, should not demonize me. We will have to love each other through our difference and the best way to start that is to begin to listen to each other. Just as I am shifting perspective, I ask that folks didn’t or couldn’t vote for Mrs. Clinton do the same.  The popular leadership guru (who happens to be Mormon!), Stephen Covey taught us all

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

 

Once I admitted some realities, the fog of grief began to lift. And I began to see more clearly and accept today’s reality.

Clarity

So here’s where I am. I will continue to participate in the political process. My forebears fought too hard to give me that privilege, but I declare my independence from partisan politics right now. I got way too caught up in this one. I need distance from these two parties, neither of whom fully represent the interest of me or my community. The spiritual principles I live by will be my lens for analyzing the issues, not the Democratic  or the Republican Party. I urge us all do to serious soul searching around this.

I realize we must change the way we talk to and about one another. When I think of my home states, I shudder now to learn that pundits describe middle America as “fly-over states” as if the people here are invisible and don’t matter.  I cringe when people call young black men in urban areas “thugs.” It’s just not accurate or fair. I’d like for someone to coach Mr. Trump when talking about my ethno-racial group, it is bad form to refer to us as “the African Americans” as it objectifies and reduces us to a monolithic blob. It’s the same with “inner-city.”  That seems to be code for the black community especially but it is grossly misleading given that the most inner part of most of our cities, is probably the downtown business district. I’d ask you each to be careful whom you label racist. Now this election did bring out self-avowed racists–yep those that cover their heads in white sheets and burn crosses. But I must remind myself and you that every white person who doesn’t vote like me is not necessarily racist. Finally, for my corporate leaders, we need to stop using the term “diverse people” to refer to the people of color, or as some prefer,  people of Latin, Asian, Native and African descent who make up a portion of your workforce. In other words it seems to be a label that European American business leaders use to talk about the rest of us.  But in our global, multi-cultural world, people of European descent must also explore their diversity. Diverse is an adjective that must qualify or characterize our composite group of all of us who share commonalities and have differences. It should refer to your workplace, even your workforce, but not your individual workers. Those are just a few suggestions that got me started.

I told you truth telling is good for the soul.

Finally, and I hope folks who did not vote like me hear me well, the Trump we saw campaigning scared so many of us. As a male colleague and friend said, “Jeanne, Mr. Trump stands against every value I hold dear.”  I will not give this regime the power to extinguish my passion. For almost twenty years I have worked, advocated and taught principles and practices of respect for diversity, which require challenging of the status quo and an acceptance of the Other. I have dear friends who do this work in churches under the rubric of reconciliation. My multi-national corporate clients are committed to diversity and have embedded core values of equality and equity into their talent and leadership processes in order to create cultures of inclusion—across the globe. Our work cannot, will not be stopped. If anything, it will need to expand.

I ask God for grace to hold fast to these values in the years to come as some are predicting (even promising) that we as a nation will move toward more nationalism, parochialism, and with it, more sexism and racism. I pray that the current trend of racist actions being reported on social media now against Blacks, Muslims, and Latinx Americans and others in schools and neighborhoods is a temporary spike in overt, blatant racism, and will recede.

 

As my friend Therese McGee, after sharing insights into her marvelous inter-racial marriage and journey, posted on her FaceBook wall:

“…in this election, more than half of the voters chose in a non-racist, non-sexist way. Among young people, the proportion was even better. I am glad for this. The racists are happy today. They think they won, and they feel free to express their hate. But, as my daughter says, they are a shrinking minority.”

These aren’t issues of political correctness—as the alt-right wants to suggest. They are issues of the human dignity and collaboration God intended for God’s creation to live out.

© 2016 Jeanne Porter King

5 Comments

  1. Kim Lynk

    Thank you for writing this. I have been in a funk all week and not able to put my thoughts/feelings into words. This sums it up perfectly. I still have a ways to get to healing but I’m on the way.

  2. Renee

    Praise God for reflection and revelation. My thoughtson are very similar as well as my response to turning off the TV and limiting social media. My prayer as a nation is that God’s mercy and love will be the tool to reconciliation for our nation. Let God arise and His enemies be scattered! #lovetrumpshate

  3. Gail

    This has been very helpful. I am working through the grief process as this loss is devastating to me, but your words have been both healing and convicting. Thank you.

  4. Ruth Hubbard

    I appreciate you, Jeanne — and value the clarity, conviction, and integrity of this piece. One of the ways you’ve helped me this morning as I read this in strengthening my conviction that political parties are human inventions. I am not required to be bound in the either/or tug-of-war and I will not let myself get trapped there.

  5. Danny Smith

    After reading your blog, I must confess that I was convicted in that it made me realize how selfish I was concerning what I expected of people during the nominee selection process and the election itself. While my choice was Bernie Sanders, I realize how dogmatic I was in my criticism of Hillary to the point of close mindedness. Surely there was some controversy concerning her character which I overly fed into that in turn made me a litter bitter when she won the nomination. That bitterness caused me to question President Obama’s character for endorsing Hillary when I felt Bernie was the clear choice. While I could not wrap mind around Trump being president there was a somewhat morbid kind of glee I felt as some twisted “that’s whatcha get” satisfaction because my candidate wasn’t chosen. To my embarrassment, my actions/opinions were no better than a racist, bigot or rioters behavior. Because of your sincere words Dr. Porter-King, I see where I have erred and while remorseful I rejoice in that I have learned something about myself and gained wisdom in how to articulate my opinions with greater consideration to those I’m speaking of and speaking to. With more effort I will now speak to be positively productive and not verbally destructive.

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