In 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).