I am writing this article a few days prior to the American presidential election. By the time you read these words, that very same election will one way or the other be history. Surely, no matter the outcome, it will be the subject of extreme contention. We Americans can anticipate the likely intervention of the newly unbalanced Supreme Court. Perhaps more dangerously, it is likely that one faction or the other of this divided nation will take to the streets in protest. Such a protest will inevitably not be peaceful, given the forces at play in 2020.
We Americans have been assaulted, lied to and endangered in this last year. The criminal deception did not begin this year, but it reached an apex with the presidential incapacity to handle the pandemic. He struts, lies and fantasizes in public. He conducts an effective hypnotic induction, while Covid continues unchecked throughout the country, killing and damaging so much in its path. An incompetent and dangerous president has continued to govern by virtue of his own psychopathology, every day spent denying reality and instead courting popularity.
We the people are exhausted. We are disillusioned. We are terrified of what is to come. Nevertheless, we rise to the occasion of one last battle to retrieve our country from the hands of a madman. We are voting in unprecedented numbers, many of us spending hours in line to exercise the privilege and right. You know the outcome as you read this article. As I write, I do not.
My best guess today is that Joe Biden will win this election by a large margin. However, such a victory will not end the American struggle to survive because this struggle is not only about Trump’s leadership, such as it is. It is about the deep divisions in our country, the hazards of identity politics and the gullibility of many citizens who accept all sorts of conspiracy theories. It is about rampant racism and misogyny. The American experiment to unite people of disparate religions, races, ethnicities and values may indeed be failing.
Biden has the vision and the ability to assemble a group of the highest character and intelligence to attempt to save the country. He does not have the hypnotic charisma that many of us have become accustomed to in our presidents. He does not either enable or encourage a cultural paranoia.
Even with the best possible outcome, those who have lived through Trump’s America will find themselves weakened and exhausted. Much repair will be needed. Someone will have to take charge of the epidemic, repair the economy and yes, heal the violent divisions in the populace. Can this be done?
Perhaps what I am describing is too much to expect, too much of a burden placed on the shoulders of hope. It is said to me often in almost the same words. “I just want to be able to wake up without immediately having to check on what Trump has said or done today.” Will life ever be ordinary again for any of us?
I too long for this remembered ordinariness. I have unintentionally become a political pundit in these years during which it has been demanded of me. I have become a social justice advocate, trying to do my part in supporting and rescuing others from the misogyny, racism and just plain cruelty of this regime.
We feminists and social activists include context in our understanding of the self and I have even called my work “contextual psychology.” As such, my focus will remain large. I will call for a large scale healing of the injury and trauma we Americans have suffered. We are a divided and exhausted nation. We are wounded and terrified. Can we possibly heal and come together again? My answer as a psychologist of long experience is “Not entirely.” We have lost our innocence. We know what can happen. We will be forever vigilant in a manner that we were not before. We will be more like survivors of the Holocaust, the American War in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa and other cultural, rather than individual, traumas and terrors.
We psychologists know something about how the healing begins in such circumstances. Compassion heals. Truth heals. Mattering, making sense out of the seemingly senseless, heals. We need a period of public and private national mourning along with rituals and ceremonies that mark the enormous loss that we have experienced. We need to remember those whom we have lost and to do so as a nation. We need hearings. The injured must be heard, the loved ones of those who need not have died remembered. The grief of the parents and children who have been torn from each other must be heard. The enormous centuries old grief of Black communities who have had to watch their people being murdered in the streets for the sin of melatonin must be acknowledged and mourned before we can overcome and before we can move on.
Such an enormous national undertaking would require nothing less than A Truth and Reconciliation Committee in the United States. I would propose a cabinet level Office of the Psychologist General to guide this healing, perhaps even to introduce a national Psychology Corps to function much as the Peace Corps does in other matters. Such healing is not a small matter.
The same committee would also be charged with creating a sense of fairness and equity based not in illusion or hyperbole, but in actual development of a country where all citizens have equal rights and equal access to education, health care and opportunity.
Am I dreaming? Is this too ambitious a set of goals for a faltering nation? Unless we can stand up and take on such challenges, we will inevitably fall down no matter who wins Tuesday’s election.
However, if Trump wins by whatever means, there will be no truth or justice. There will be grief and mourning of unimaginable proportions and it will possibly go untreated and unfettered. There will be no more United States. The country that remains will have been defeated and destroyed. And the Cold War will have been won. It will only get colder.
I am cautiously optimistic and equally terrified. The end is near either way.