The argument could be made that my parents shouldn’t have had children. My mother was a teenager when she had me, a high school dropout, trailing a painful history of trauma and abuse. My father was a brawler with a drug problem. His addiction and arrest record made gainful employment beyond his aspirations or reach. When I was eight, my dad died, and shortly after my mother married another addict, though, thankfully, a college educated one. Our living standard improved, but my home life remained a disaster. I muddled through childhood and adolescence with a dread-induced bellyache and a stockpile of unhelpful habits and beliefs.
The flip side is, had they not had kids, I wouldn’t be here, nor would my children, thus the world would be a dimmer, grimmer place. Besides, shaky as it began, my tale has a relatively happy ending. By improvising badly or imitating others, I’ve blundered through, learned critical lessons, laughed a ton, married the guy who should actually be president and most days I’m living la buena vida.
When Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016, I experienced the hollow, gut-wrenching uneasiness that had accompanied me through my childhood on into my twenties, the bodily signal that alerts me to danger. This feeling abated a few mornings after the election at my local YMCA.
The gym at the Y is where I consume any and all television news — and crime dramas and home renovation shows, often simultaneously. This November day, rowing an ergometer, Foo Fighters blasting through my headphones, I watched live footage of Trump meeting President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. The captions reported President Obama was saying they had had a productive meeting and he wished the president-elect well, that Trump’s success would ensure the nation’s success. The two men shook hands and smiled, although much of the time President Obama looked like he smelled something rank.
The usually ebullient Trump sat still and said little, a pensive expression on his face. He seemed abashed by the charming and dignified Obama, whom, he admitted, he had never met. The president-elect’s remarks were brief and gracious, something I had never witnessed before either, yet in that moment I recognized something else in him, something essential, even familial. As if on cue, my favorite Erasure song played in my ears taking me back, way back. I smiled and pulled harder on the rower handle, realizing I could do it. I could get through Trump’s four years. In fact, I’d trained for Donald Trump my whole life. Shitty parents prepared me for Trump. I don’t like it, don’t want it to be happening, but growing up with severe dysfunction makes me particularly suited to deal with a Trump administration. I know how to withstand dishonest, immature, oppressive, financially and sexually inappropriate, unlearned leadership. I was schooled by people who dreamed up or denied facts and ignored or broke laws. I expect spurned authority figures to divide, lash out and retaliate.
I offer friendship and hope to those from more stable backgrounds, those who are stunned, heartsick, enraged, those who are unwilling or unable to accept that someone so ill-qualified, so unstable, ignorant, amoral, that someone who could conceivably be a Russian puppet, sits at the helm of our nation. I can help you. I’m not going to lie. At times this will be agonizing, infuriating, our guts will churn, but we’ll keep focused on bright spots and silver linings. We’ll get to work for this nation, learn things and connect with others, those both likeminded and different. We’ll right the ship — be honest, it was listing long before Trump emerged on deck. He’s just the reason many of us woke to start bailing.
# 1: Don’t Punish Your Siblings
First thing we need to do is go easy on people who voted for Trump. Sure millions of haters, racists, misogynists, religionists, regressives, a handful of archconservative-billionaire cabals and other complete wackadoodles supported him. Some of the people who elected Mr. Trump have their facts wrong or ignore facts completely. They share his penchant for crass language and for mockery, or they excuse his racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, inflammatory, uninformed, juvenile responses as “telling it like it is.” Too many choose to believe his outright lies.
Millions of others had sound reasons for doing so. These are decent people who believe differently from me, possibly from you. Some felt Clinton a worse alternative to Trump. Many had lofty political motives that superseded Trump the man. Others have genuine faith that Trump will do things to improve their lives and our country.
If you disagree, it’s normal to direct anger and blame at these folks, but, if you can, try to leave them be. Same for the people who voted for other candidates and those who didn’t vote at all. Incivility and moral superiority will not win back the hearts and minds Trump seduced with his celebrity and oversimplified promises, nor the support of voters who disdained the Clinton oligarchy. Don’t forget, in a few years we will need many of these people to join us. It’d be best not to write them off.
A significant portion of our citizenry will continue to support Trump and this support will confound us. People will ignore, condone, parrot or imitate improper things said or done by the president. These infractions may range from gross exaggerations to lowball insults to illegal or unconstitutional activity.
Pause. When this occurs actually take a moment, an hour, day or week to cycle through and process the utter surreality of a President of the United States behaving in this manner, of people tolerating his behavior. Seriously. Get it out: run or take a walk, karate-chop a pillow, gripe to friends, cry, scream, anything to get it out of your body and clear your head.
When you are calm, instead of lashing out at the people who put Trump in office, instead of letting everyone know how stupid and backward they are for voting for him, act. Quit arguing, cease bombasting and do something. Get informed, read a book on an issue, an article, read more than one, then post, tweet, or email objective proof to support your argument or position. Contact an individual, organization or institution that supports vulnerable persons, issues, groups, or legislation you care about. Ask what you can do, then do it. Use your energy and resources to make things happen and they will.
This focus and restraint might prove difficult. Many don't want to forgive, be courteous or even civil to Trump supporters or Americans who accept his legitimacy and want to give him a chance. I get that. I’d only say if reasonableness, decency and the possibility of a more generous nation don’t persuade, perhaps this will: behaving graciously and sticking to the facts will be the most un-Trumplike way any person could possibly conduct herself.