The Aftereffects

Trump is out of office, but the grief is only now truly setting in

On Wednesday last week, the Trump-as-President era officially ended, heralding a return to decency, experience, science and reason back into the White House.

EXHALE was the word that clogged my Twitter feed as he climbed into Air Force One for the last time.

The Inauguration that followed was a majestic expression of hope, and community, and, most bracingly, truth. The stunning (first-ever) youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman delivered a flawless, uplifting reading of her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” which I would call a masterpiece. In it, she dared to reveal America exactly as it is, and her bracing assessment of this moment we are in as a nation brought me to tears, again and again as she hit her high marks.

… And yes we are far from polished

far from pristine

but that doesn't mean we are

striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose

To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and

conditions of man

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us

but what stands before us…

I felt RELIEF to have this public, shared moment of acknowledging where we are — on our knees — but with hope, resolve, and faith. The exhale that I’d been holding in.

And yet.

In the days following the Inauguration, I began to crash. I spent Thursday and Friday in a bit of a fog, with iron dread sitting in the pit of my stomach. I struggled to motivate to get into the flow of my workday. I kept sitting back from my desk to scroll through all of my regular news sources to read … what? Yes, it was great to read all that Biden was undoing in his first days, but that wasn’t reaching the shadow I was carrying.

And at some point, I burst into tears. And not tears of relief. The tears didn’t last long — partly because I was startled by them, and so didn’t “lean into” them — but what they were carrying was such deep, dark grief. Grief I haven’t felt since my parents died four weeks apart and I was left to figure out how to build a life (having resigned from my magazine career just as magazine careers were changing forever) with so much blown open and apart.

With so much blown open and apart.

That’s where we are now. The funeral is over, i.e. Trump is out of office, we have somehow survived the many insults and hideosities he enacted, but now we begin the work not only of trying to stabilize our nation, our neighborhoods, our families — we also must begin the work of processing four years’ worth of trauma. And this last year alone! Unspeakable trauma and loss and abuse and lies, lies that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

We must feel the feelings, though, in order to do the deep work of leaving the horrors behind. And not just to heal, but to work. Trauma psychologist Joan Cook offered up her professional views on how we can move ahead in October of this year, even before the attempted coup: “Part of the process involves engaging in reflective processing instead of broken-record brooding. We need to acknowledge and constructively work through the violations of the Trump administration to reorganize around our shared values and social norms. If we mourn the losses, tremendous setbacks and struggles encountered in the Trump presidency, we can find seeds of hope that post-traumatic growth is possible.”

Sitting in our grief will allow us to be clear about what, exactly, it is that we are mourning. Focusing on what we lost gives us resolve, to dig in and do the very complicated work of building a society that is more just and more equitable — more able to own up to its failures — in order to move us closer to the ideals we hold dear but do not yet live up to.

The secessionists who led the attack on the Capital on January 6 may taunt and try to demean those of us who hold progressive values by calling us “Crying Libs.”

But crying may be, in fact, what we most need to do right now. And it is what will make us strong enough to rebuild what others tried to tear down.