Updated: Feb 8, 2019
In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I observed emotions that transcended the
normal feeling of disappointment one expects from those whose chosen candidate doesn't win: people were palpably distraught. Much of this was attributed to fear--fear for the safety of the country, fear for the rights of women and minorities, and overall fear of the unknown.
However, I believe something far more destructive accounts for the severity of the reaction I witnessed: the denial of people's reality.
One of the most disturbing and disorienting things that can happen to someone is having his or her reality denied. I am certain you've experienced this, most likely in its simplest incarnation: when your partner says something to you and later insists they never said it. There are few options for healing when this occurs. The best you can hope for is to have your reality validated by someone else who witnessed the conversation or, at the very least, knows you well enough to believe your version of events.
Another example is when others have an opinion of you that wholly contradicts everything you know about yourself to be true. Maybe they label you selfish when you are actually one of the most altruistic souls alive. Or perhaps you are evaluated as incompetent, despite having achieved success. Any way you slice it, it just feels bad.
On a larger scale, the collective reality of many people was denied when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder charges. For nine months, the country was subjected to what seemed like unequivocal evidence of Simpson's guilt: blood where there shouldn't have been blood, personal gloves and shoe prints at the crime scene, an incriminating timeline, and aftermath behavior that looked remarkably like someone attempting to flee. When the verdict was announced, the faces of those who were convinced O.J. was guilty bore the unmistakable look of denied reality.
And now we have the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States.
My intent here is not to excoriate the President or favor one particular party over the other, but rather to examine the outcome of the election and its effect on people from a psychological perspective. In the year leading up to the election, the following two things happened: Mr. Trump publicly mocked a reporter's physical disability, and he boasted about his ability to sexually assault women. Of course, more than two things happened, including--but not limited to--allegations by at least 13 women of being sexually harassed or assaulted by Trump. For me, there is no doubt that the trauma experienced by Trump's accusers is vivid and painful; I cannot imagine a more compelling example of denied reality than to be sexually assaulted by someone who later says it never happened. But sadly--as with so many victims of this crime--it is their word against the perpetrator's, unless it is proven in a court of law.
I chose the two examples above for a reason: concrete evidence. Video has forever preserved the sight of Trump imitating a reporter who suffers from arthrogryposis (a condition which limits the movement of his joints), and an audio recording provides indisputable proof that Trump boasted of his ability to "grab women by the pussy" without impunity. A reasonable person would assume that someone who had exhibited these behaviors could not possibly become the President. But that is precisely what happened.
And so you are left with what feels like a denial of your reality. Among every other personal quality of Trump's and every policy of his with which you may disagree, I believe these two examples are largely responsible for the profound sense of disorientation and dismay experienced by those who did not choose him. How, one is left to ask, could such a human being ascend to the highest office in our country? Did the people who voted for him see what he did and hear what he said?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer this. But what I can offer you is a validation of your reality. Donald Trump, our 45th President, did mock a reporter's physical disability, and he did brag about assaulting women. What you saw and heard really happened. And in light of this reality, your feelings about the result of the election make sense to me. This might not be of any solace to you since it doesn't change the outcome. But as mentioned earlier, sometimes the best way to help a person whose reality feels denied is simply to validate it for them. So here it is, one more time:
It happened, and your feelings make sense.