Now apparently Donald Trump has made it impossible for millennials to experience love. Hysterical accusations and overreactions like this from his opponents will do more than anything to sweep Trump to victory in November
Donald Trump would almost certainly make a terrible president – and yet one is half tempted to give him a shot when confronted with the hysterical reactions of America’s permanent victims, who have naturally found a way to make a debate about the future of the republic and the possibility of a Trump presidency all about them, their own anxieties and their pwecious feewings.
Michelle Goldberg has a particularly nauseating article in Slate, in which a succession of weepy Manhattan therapists drone on about the sleepless nights and anxiety attacks being suffered by their patients, and even by their fellow therapists, at the mere thought of Donald Trump sitting in the Oval Office.
Some choice quotes:
“People are scared,” says Fiachra “Figs” O’Sullivan, a psychotherapist in San Francisco who specializes in relationships. “People are distressed, and it’s affecting their level of presence in their relationships with their significant others.” Dorie Chamberlain, a 54-year-old stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles who says she talks about Trump every time she goes to therapy, says watching the election “is like living in a house where everybody screams.”
There is, of course, no way to quantify the scope of mental anguish caused by Trump’s campaign; these stories are entirely anecdotal. There are, however, a lot of anecdotes, as I discovered when I started speaking to both therapists and panicking voters. I’ve covered four elections as a journalist, but this is the first one to regularly poison my dreams; at least once a week I wake up in the middle of the night in clammy, agitated horror.
Oh good grief. Mental anguish? At this point one should already have a good idea of the thrust of the piece – journalist and subjects alike are self-regarding, quivering mounds of useless emotion.
Some of the therapists told me they are talking their patients through their Trump terror while trying not to succumb to it themselves. “The therapists that I know are pretty overwhelmed by managing their personal feelings, which we have to do and we’re doing, but it’s a lot,” says psychologist Heather Silvestri. She belongs to a meditation group for therapists and says the election comes up in every session.
I have also recently been through a high-stakes election – the EU referendum on 23 June, which was far more of an existential question for Britain than even this high-stakes election is for America. By some miracle, my side won and Britain voted to leave the European Union. But if we had lost (as I fully expected to happen) I would not have claimed to have suffered severe emotional harm and retreated to my safe space. I would have dusted myself off, licked my wounds and prepared to fight another day.
A Donald Trump presidency would be bad for any number of reasons, but to carry on as though it were automatically the end of the world – as though the American system of government had no checks and balances to limit the impact of a buffoon leading the executive branch (it wouldn’t be the first time) – is an overreaction in the extreme. Be upset about the rise of Donald Trump for political reasons; don’t make it about “personal feelings”.
About two weeks ago, Liz, a 45-year-old photographer in suburban Minneapolis who asked to be identified only by her first name, started noticing alarming symptoms: headaches, jitteriness, tightness in her chest, sometimes even difficulty breathing. She went to her physician, who said it sounded like she was suffering from anxiety. “I thought, huh, I don’t even have a stressful job. I don’t know what that can be,” she says. Then she went home and turned on the news, “and all the sudden the symptoms came back with a fury.” She realized that thinking about Trump was affecting her health.
Liz hasn’t agreed with past Republican candidates, she says, but she didn’t think they would “ruin my country, or cause civil war, or cause World War III.” But her fear also stems from her incredulous realization that so many of her fellow citizens inhabit a reality that barely intersects with her own. “I can no longer see where they’re coming from,” she says of Trump supporters. “I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone.” Even if Clinton wins, she’s terrified of Trump’s followers responding with violence. “We’re getting closer and closer and closer to something that seems so insane,” she says, “The thought of him winning, or even the thought of her winning and parts of the country imploding in chaos as a result—it all just seems like a nightmare.”
The anxiety is encroaching on her relationships, Liz says. Sometimes she’ll delay putting her 9-year-old daughter to bed because she’s so caught up in the news.
I don’t contest for a moment the fact that Donald Trump is an extremely egotistical person – an “oleaginous clump of non sequiturs [who] sweat[s] his insecurities on national television”, in the immortal words of Jonah Goldberg. But this “Liz” character must really have personally wronged or provoked Trump very badly indeed if she is literally having sleepless nights and neglecting her daughter out of fear of what might happen to her if he gets the nuclear codes. This seems like a vast overreaction.
But in another sense, Liz’s case really cuts to the heart of the issue – particularly her “incredulous realisation” that so many Americans see the world so differently. This suggests a failure to empathise with other Americans prior to this point, particularly the economically struggling lower middle class who make up the backbone of Trump’s support.
We saw the same thing in Britain with the EU referendum. I am loathe to draw any parallels at all between Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, primarily because Brexit is pure and noble and about democracy, while Trump is mostly about authoritarianism and demagoguery. But suffice it to say that the Remain side lost partly because it was comprised of and led by urban-dwelling metro-leftists who had no conception of what life is like in hard-scrabble towns or the suburbs, and who had only contempt for the people who live in such places, including people who have tended to be on the losing side of globalisation.
There was an utter failure of empathy in Britain, with the pro-EU ruling class furiously unwilling to look at things from the perspective of anybody not like them. It was this failure of empathy which blindsided the British establishment to the extent of anti-EU sentiment, and it could likewise be this failure of the American creative and upper middle class to show any solidarity with those struggling beneath them that effectively pushes people into the arms of Donald Trump.
Fear of a Trump presidency is a normal human reaction, of course, not a clinical condition. A vertiginous sense of unreality is a symptom of an anxiety attack, but it is also a symptom of being a thinking person in America in the fall of 2016. People with anxiety disorders tend to imagine that catastrophe is imminent, but in this case they may not be wrong. “You can’t pathologize this anxiety,” says Andrea Gitter, a New York psychotherapist and member of the faculty at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute. “People who are marginalized to begin with know that they are targets because of the hatred that’s been unearthed.” Gitter says the election comes up daily in her practice.
Ah yes, the marginalised people, all of whom Trump intends to ship to concentration camps within the first hundred days of his presidency. We all remember that pledge from his campaign website.
This is a familiar trick from the EU referendum campaign, too. In Britain, desperate Remainers attempted to smear eurosceptics and Leave voters by suggesting that they were solely responsible for the toxic political climate in the country. This culminated in the shameful harnessing of the murder of MP Jo Cox by cynical Remain supporters who thought they could make political capital by effectively blaming innocent Leave campaigners for the death of a young woman.
Now, Donald Trump has admittedly gone further than the British anti-EU campaign in terms of his rhetoric, appalling statements about Muslims and seeming comfort in the presence of his fringe supporters. But he has not incited “hatred”, and the people that Michelle Goldberg patronisingly refers to as being “marginalised” are grown adults with voices of their own, and are certainly free to rebut anything and everything that the Trump campaign says.
But then the article gets really surreal:
Sometimes the election’s psychic fallout takes less obvious forms. [Psychologist Heather] Silvestri, for example, has noticed a curious phenomenon among some of the millennial women in her practice: The rise of Trump has made them wonder how much they can reasonably expect from romantic relationships. Trump embodies some of the worst aspects of their ex-boyfriends, men who were “self-aggrandizing, self-important, not amenable to collaboration, cooperation, etc.,” Silvestri says. “When you break up with someone you need space, and they’re feeling like they can’t get space because their ex is sort of incarnate all over the news.”
It’s not just that Trump reminds them of their exes. It’s that Trump’s success seems to validate the men’s behavior. “They had gotten themselves to a place of, This is not what I deserve, I deserve better, I can do better,” Silvestri says. But watching dutiful, responsible Clinton struggle to best Trump, “people are really backtracking and saying, ‘I made this move to be more empowered and be who I am based on my values, but now I see my ex writ large on the national stage, and everyone’s following him,’ ” Silvestri says. They start thinking that, for a woman, maybe being beautiful really is more important than being smart, assertive, and authentic. “What happens in microcosm on a Friday night,” she says, is now playing out on the national stage. “The men have the power, and [the women] are trying to be a better version of themselves, but it doesn’t play well.”
We are through the looking glass now, folks. Apparently the mere fact of Donald Trump’s existence is so triggering to American millennial women that his candidacy (I feel stupid even writing this) conjures up painful memories of their ex-boyfriends – all of whom were (naturally) swaggering, chauvinistic misogynists utterly lacking in the virtuous qualities of “collaboration” and “cooperation”. And this is so traumatic that it is preventing these poor triggered millennial women from successfully forming future romantic relationships. Yes – Donald Trump has ruined love itself.
What can one say in the face of such preening, baseless hyperbole? This is the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics writ large, throwing absolutely everything it can at Donald Trump in the hope of discrediting him, and not realising that it renders Trump’s accusers every bit as ridiculous as the man himself.
Are there some people with legitimate anxiety disorders whose conditions have been exacerbated through worry about the presidential election and the possibility of a Trump victory? I have no doubt. But by definition, these are people with a specific illness, and not representative of the general population. If Michelle Goldberg had wanted to write an article about the impact of the Donald Trump candidacy on people with diagnosed anxiety conditions then she could have done so. But she didn’t – Goldberg painted with a far broader brush, including the perspective of therapists as well as therapy patients, ordinary people not in therapy and even millennial women in general.
The result is an incoherent mess of an article which proves nothing at all and makes no clear argument of any kind, other than the fact that the Bad Man Donald Trump has evidently replaced the monster under the bed in the childlike imaginations of America’s infantilised millennials and assorted other permanent victims.
The trouble with pursuing a line of attack against a presidential candidate based not on facts or policy (where there is plenty of material to damn Trump) but rather on how that candidate makes certain other people feel is that Trump and his supporters can legitimately respond by saying “so what?”
Above all, it is a lazy line of attack. It reeks of a lazy refusal to take on Donald Trump on the issues, instead seeking to void and invalidate his candidacy because he generates overwhelmingly negative emotions in certain sensitive souls.
And while there are many reasons why Trump would make a terrible president, the fact that his name keeps coming up on the therapist’s couch is not one of them.