Trump: Shock, Awe, and Response by Stephanie Arel

stephanie-arelIn the frenzied wave of responses to Trump’s most recent, and horrifying, decisions – reinstating the Mexico City Policy and the newly instated Immigration Ban –  I have experienced surges of anger, frustration, despair, concern, and hopelessness. My adrenaline has rushed – both as a result of notifications from the New York Times buzzing on my Apple watch and as a consequence of stepping off a train to find myself in the heart of a protest I failed to know was happening, but for which I also felt pride.

But to be honest, and many of my women friends have echoed a similar sentiment, Trump’s outrageous choices likely mark the beginning of four long years, and my body cannot handle the seesaw of emotions. What compounds this reflection is the raw truth that we are only at the beginning. We are just over the threshold. What will come next?

This question has validity. Serious validity.

On January 28th, 2017, Melissa Harris Perry tweeted: “With this guy it is rarely what it appears to be about at first glance. Distraction & misdirection have worked. Look for the second play.”

A few days ago, a post on Facebook by history professor Heather Cox Richardson at Boston College echoed Harris Perry’s alert. I am sure many of you have seen the post by now, since it immediately went viral and has made national news. You can read its full content here.

The points Cox Richardson highlights:

  • The executive order has “the hallmarks of a shock event.” “A successful shock event,” she writes, “depends on speed and chaos because it requires knee-jerk reactions so that people divide along established lines.”
  • If you are reading this post, it is unlikely that you are one of the people who set the shock event in motion, therefore, it remains in your best interest to not play into the shock – a lesson I hope I embed in my unconscious writing this. Why is it in your best interest not to flounder? A shock event aims to divide people “who might otherwise come together;” thus, it undermines our power as a group.
  • The division is the intent of the shock event. First, it enables us to scapegoat the other and to blame him/her instead of directing our carefully constructed response to those who caused the event in the first place. Secondly, the shock event distracts us from the next move (see Harris Perry’s tweet), so that the ensuing play happens more seamlessly, more surreptitiously.

However, let hope never waiver. Although, according to Cox Richardson, “shock events destabilize a society, they can also be used positively. We do not have to respond along old fault lines. We could just as easily reorganize into a different pattern that threatens the people who sparked the event.” I am not sure I could name or describe a “different pattern,” or what that means globally, nationally or even generally. So I turn the lens to myself asking, “How can I direct myself differently?”

In the face of a shock event, especially not in possession of the political acumen of Harris and Cox Richardson, how do I respond? I am developing a three step rule – since my knee jerk reaction has been multiple posts and tweets that have now at least once conveyed incorrect information – something that can help none of us.

  1. BREATHE – collect myself – refuse the dynamic of crazy making – this turns out not only to be beneficial for my physical health (the increased heart rate and adrenaline rush) but also for my mental health, as it mitigates the trajectory of the physical rush that ends in despondency and hopelessness. This stress is useless. Often, I think it connects to some past wrong that this man’s racism, misogyny, and nationalism triggers – really not good for me at all (to see how such stress contributes to chronic and fatal illness, read When the Body Says No). SO breathing and centering serves two purposes (at least). The breath reminds me I am in the present allowing me to see the past more clearly. Breathing also turns out to be a strategic response to Trump’s chicanery we continually witness, at the least because it affords us the time to collect.
  2. CONNECT– call a friend – commiserate with the train conductor, the waiter, the airline passenger, your therapist (I often thank God for living in the Northeast where people actually DON’T know someone who voted for Trump) – celebrate communion – reach out to someone who might be directly affected, and let them know you care. Throughout the event of Trump’s rise to power, I have found myself angry at and divided from people I hold dear. In some cases, my anger has been well-founded, letting me know who I can trust, while also indicating with whom I share the deepest sensibilities. In other cases, my reactions to Trump have directed anger wrongly or enabled me to relay false information. I have had to consistently separate with whom and why I am angry, again, distinguishing the intertwining of past and present. When faced with this challenge, I find it useful to return to #1 – BREATHE. And then #2 CONNECT with those who are like minded, who can verify at deep levels the fact that no these decisions are not legitimate. And further, they are neither Christian nor feminist. Really. They aren’t.
  3. READ – calmly while breathing and when in good order. I enjoy Nicholas Kristof. He is clear headed and makes an effort to share the facts, however alarming, but also writes about what is good in the world. He even offers a 12-Step program for responding to Trump. Slightly comical – laughter is good for us all and facilitates bonding – but also useful. I encourage you to read it.

Stephanie N. Arel is currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Institute for the Bio-Cultural Study of Religion (IBCSR) at Boston University working on the Sex Differences in Religion Project. Her teaching and research interests focus on the intersection of theology, psychology, and philosophy. She is the author of Affect Theory, Shame and Christian Formation (Palgrave Macmillan 2016) and co-editor of Post-Traumatic Public Theology (Palgrave Macmillan 2016).

Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, Politics, Resistance

Tags: , , ,

25 replies

  1. Great post regarding Trump. He’s a mess in my opinion, and to me is a blatant psychopath as reflected in his way with women. He doesn’t care. In essence, he is narcissistic beyond compare.

    I also enjoyed reading about who you are outside the realms of politics.

    You may enjoy a book I wrote, that’s on Amazon. The title is “Sophia’s Web: A Passionate Call to Heal Our Wounded Nature.” The book takes personal experiences and dreams and speaks to the Universal Goddess throughout all cultures. That Goddess in Christianity is Maria-Sophia (which I interpret as “Ocean of Wisdom”). In essence, I speak to a Goddess orientation across the world and reveal them as one. For example, in the Keres Pueblo She is Thinking Woman. And what is Thinking Woman if not Wisdom in terms of Her creativity in the universe.


  2. Thanks for this post, Stephanie, very interesting. I like your BREATHE — CONNECT — READ. And the “read” has been a joy for me lately, especially in the news media, and there is indeed some excellent reporting out there. At last the Democrats have found their voice it seems to me. I’ve been following the Rachel Maddow Blog on MSNBC too — her openness and commitment to the cause so very helpful.


    • Yes, I appreciate what Rachel is doing these days. Also, and I pasted it in a comment below, I have discovered Matt Kiser’s WTF Just Happened Today…it facilitates laughter which also seems to help me navigate…


  3. This essay reinforces the importance of developing a strategy regarding Trump. Breathe and connect work for me – reading does not. When I am feeling vulnerable or despairing the last thing I need is to read about the horrors this poor excuse for a man is enacting on innocent people. I only read about the man when I am feeling hopeful (rarely these days) and NEVER listen to him. Evidently he triggers past abuse issues for me that I can’t deal with. The BEST strategy I have found is getting myself outdoors and being with the rest of Nature – Nature restores balance – in the long term this man will eventually be dead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this Sara. To be honest, reading helps me feel a little more in control. The control factor is actually not necessarily the best measure for health care. So I really take your comment to heart. For me, the natural element to generate internal peace is water. Whatever the element, the point you raise about balance is really integral to dealing with the triggers for trauma. I appreciate your raising the issue. In solidarity, Stephanie


  4. What a terrific post this is! Shock event is right, and no, we should never listen to him. Or even look at him! BREATHE – CONNECT – READ is excellent advice. I’m sure everyone in this community is doing so already. I receive the Daily Kos list of articles every day. The articles are depressing and hilarious at the same time, but, yes, I fear we’re in for some really difficult years. Hooray for our community! We will survive. Thanks for the good advice, especially the BREATHE and CONNECT parts. Breathing is good.


  5. Thanks for the great article with lots of tips for maintaining our health during these crazy times.
    Shared on FB.


  6. Excellent recommendations for keeping sane during this time of uncertainty. Thank you for sharing.


  7. Nice post. Thank you for your voice and advice to Breath, Read and Connect with what is good in the world.


  8. Thank you for this article; I’ve referred to this conscious approach as “don’t feed The Frenzy.” And I appreciate your posting of the “12-step program” — some good ideas there!

    Your second step — connect — is vital for me. Before anyone had any idea this “shock” was in store for us, my husband and I had made the decision in autumn of 2015 to move back to southwest Missouri where I had grown up, in order to provide more on-hands help for my aging mother. I knew it would be a challenge at times, living in a conservative, often fundamentalist, part of the country after having spent all my adult 40+ years until now in liberal areas of like-minded people. However, if we had known what was to happen, I doubt I could have done it. So my “connect” here is often only with my husband (thank goodness we are on the same page!) or calling a friend who lives in another state! Already an introverted nature, I find myself more withdrawn than ever…so I’m taking your “connect” step to heart. :)


    • Thanks for this. The connect part is so important. Sometimes I wonder if I am a burden on people to whom I reach out, but I force myself to reach out anyway! And say you called me, I’d be so willing and grateful to commiserate even for a minute…I am sure the friends that love you feel the same!


  9. Well put. One of the most upsetting aspects of our current situation is the division it is causing among people. NO positive outcome will prevail for any of us until/unless we step out from behind our entrenched positions and carefully crafted insults and actually speak to each other regarding our cares and concerns.

    Does the right really want such different things than the left? Do we not all want to feel safe and fed and valued for our contributions?

    Sadly, your post mentions that the administration’s intent appears to be high on keeping us all terrified and squabbling, assuring that we will not be able to see or combat the havoc they are wreaking.

    Let us not, as you so wisely counsel, fall into this trap, but instead reach out, with careful, respectful and wise words so as to find the best solutions for us all.

    Also, I love you.


  10. I love this advice, breathe, connect, read. I actually put a reminder in my phone to read for 30 minutes a day so that I would get my nose out of the news and into a book. Yesterday I went to an art museum with a couple of friends and was reminded that throughout history people have struggled with many things, and hopeless is a feeling not an action. Thanks so much for sharing.*


  11. Great post, Stephanie. I would just add one more step: ACT. “Shock” events are supposed to keep us from acting.



  1. Art History blog
  2. Trump: Shock, Awe, and Response by Stephanie Arel – Stephanie Arel

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