I was hoping to write an upbeat article, something about how all of our choices are our own, and that we are all trying to do the right thing…always…and how things are bound to get better in the months ahead. A coach can get away with that kind of stuff off and on throughout the year. But it’s hard to be cheery when our nation seems polarized as never before. So I have taken on the daunting task of trying to determine the “why” behind this unprecedented phenomenon and growing intolerance and hatred that seem to be increasing in our country and the world.
As a coach I would like to delve into the reason for what has become analogous to a game of dodgeball, where you hurl a ball with the aim of annihilating someone from the other side, while saving yourself from their similar goal. How does this game relate to people’s reactions to what is happening not only in this country, but around the world?
It appears people are—whether they like it or not—players in a game of “argument dodgeball,” where they try and avoid being attacked by the often indefensible opinions of those who don’t agree with them, and vice versa.
What happened to being able to live your normal life, where politics were just something that just went on and had little impact on your usual life of work, family, and fun? Politics did not dominate conversations, cause friends to end long-term relationships, and essentially lead to the polarization of society. We were taught to never talk about politics or religion for just this reason.
The Real Culprit
The ironic thing is does real news even exist on which we form opinions? We are forming our arguments on what we are being spoon-fed by various media, assuming what they report proves our opinions are solid and defensible. “If you don’t believe what I believe, then I don’t want to hear what you have to say.” Yes, welcome to today’s tolerant society.
When you watch the news, tune into Facebook, read the paper, listen to the radio, etc. even when you try not to see what’s going on, you are still bombarded with information. And it’s upsetting. With terrorist events occurring across the world, from Afghanistan to London, the media still finds time to focus on the imagined ambassadorial contact by the Trump administration and more security leaks than the cistern at my grandmother’s old house in north Louisiana. Even the Russians are beginning to describe the whole thing as “catastrophic nonsense.”
So Where Does Coaching Fit In?
As a life coach I talk to people who suffer from what they hear through traditional and social media. News becomes overwhelming and while some people can ignore it, others do get very upset because they feel the whole world is headed for ultimate disaster. In their minds, there is death and destruction everywhere and it is scary, the result being they become obsessed and anxious. Many clients have to take prescription medications to stay calm and not let all the bad stuff get into their head.
What upsets my clients most is even when they want to get into an intelligent and respectful discussion with friends or a group and it turns into either a full-on argument, with both sides thinking the other are idiots, or they refuse to discuss anything unless you agree with them, or one person goes so off into a non-stop rant, shutting everyone down. It hurts! It hurts any person’s feelings, creates tension, and of course is frustrating and makes one or both parties sad because they realize there is no crossing this ideological bridge.
The Backstory: The Role of Politics
A number of the sources of society’s anxiety are the recent political changes. I’m talking about the recent election and the resulting condition known as Trump Derangement Syndrome, or simply TDS. Yes, this is a legitimate term, but this isn’t the first time it’s been used. It is a lot like BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome) which was defined as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency, nay, the very existence of George W. Bush.” Then of course there was ODS, the Obama Derangement Syndrome as well.
In President Bush’s case, the very sight of the president holding a tray of Thanksgiving turkey, smiling in a Baghdad mess hall caused serious cases of apoplectic fits in otherwise normally healthy adults. TDS seems to afflict Americans regardless of their political affiliation.
In the case of BDS, the mere mention of Bush’s name sent some into a fevered state of instability. Someone would carelessly say “Bush” and their eyes would immediately begin to roll, followed quickly by shortness of breath, followed frighteningly quickly by foam forming on the poor victim’s mouth.
ODS was a little different. It wasn’t really paranoia about President Obama’s policies as much as it was paranoia about the man himself. It was the near obsession that he was, in some fundamental way, different, foreign, untrustworthy, and perhaps even traitorous. BDS sought astonishing explanations for extraordinary events; ODS sought surprising explanations for an ordinary presidency.
Before the 2016 election, the victims of TDS routinely compared Donald Trump to Hitler and it continues today. Articles in previously respected publications and opinions offered by professors at elite universities continue to warn us to be careful. They warn us that the Trump presidency imperils democracy as we know it and will soon spell doom for American civilization as a whole.
On election night, realizing their worst nightmare was had come to pass, many cried, lashed out, fainted en masse. Some retched and gagged. Lots of them threatened to leave the country, but alas, none actually did. As Donald Trump might say in one of his now famous tweets:
After the election, students with TDS held “cry-ins” to mourn the results, with staff handing out tissues and hot chocolate to ease the pain of Trump’s victory. At one university in the mid-west, the distressed were offered therapy dogs. A dorm at an expensive north-eastern university the administration set up a “breathing space” the night after the election where coloring books, snacks, and puppies were available for students who needed to “decompress in a low-key and low-stress environment.”
Even in conservative Tennessee, the brooding adolescents traumatized by Trump’s election were encouraged by the adults on campus “to take advantage of the outstanding mental health support the university offers.” At Yale, where one of my high school friends attended and where TDS was running rampant, tests were canceled because students were in “shock.”
Fast forward to today and now you find that for months now, many have been calling for President Trump’s impeachment on grounds ranging from imagined violations of the emoluments clause to his claims that the Obama administration wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower or that he fired the director of the FBI.
Even today, when every past administration has set up back channel communication avenues, the Trump administration is being accused of crimes for doing just that. There seems to be no length too great for the victims of TDS to go to find new and more exciting accusations to level at the administration.
The people who proclaimed him a threat to democracy are now the ones proudly asserting that Donald Trump “is not my president,” not grasping that comments like that are on their very face, a threat to our democracy. What may be the most dangerous symptom of TDS is highlighted by those finding little comfort in the possibility of the defeat of Trump’s initiatives because Trump’s followers “are still there.” “Who are these people?” the afflicted asked. Are they at the grocery store, are they sitting next to me in Yankee Stadium? That the very thought makes them nervous concerns me greatly.
What Does it All Mean?
Providing this rather extensive bunch of information is not my ultimate aim here, nor is ranting on about politics. I’ve simply provided a summary to form the basis of what I am really grappling with—simply, the “why” of it all. Again, as a coach, it is my duty to help those who are suffering from a variety of life’s challenges, to face them and move on. I am not a therapist, but I owe it to my clients to direct them towards positive outcomes. And of course, this issue is a biggie right now. Usually we elect a president, then go back to mowing the lawn, cleaning the bathrooms, having a few beers with friends, or whatever we do on a normal day. Not this time. Again—why?
Too Big for His Britches
Donald Trump is, and has been, a successful businessman. In Australia, they have what is called the Tall Poppy Syndrome. (Yeah, another syndrome). A simple definition is “a perceived tendency to discredit or disparage those who have achieved notable wealth or prominence in public life.” You can’t have a poppy that is taller than the rest; you have to bring them down to the level of all the poppies in the field. This suggests jealousy perhaps as a “why”?
But before I conclude this article, I will wonder out loud about something.
Why the extreme and unprecedented and destructive behavior by a sector of this country after this particular election?
Why is President Donald Trump so irrationally hated and distrusted? Even the hard right didn’t hate Obama this way. You need only look at the studies on negative reporting to see these facts. What is it that exists in the human psyche that drives people to such extremes, as in Portland Oregon, this weekend? Do you wonder? Is it fear? Is it the people might lose their free stuff? Do they hate the guy because of his hair (someone suggested that to me as I was writing this article), his sophomoric social skills, or his reaching over the media directly to his people?
Yes, he is a hard ass. Anyone who has ever been involved in the construction of a building in New York City knows how unforgiving an environment it is. He never said he was a gentle soul. His reputation preceded him. He comes from a world where accomplishment is king, and words mean very little. Words are negotiation tools. He isn’t a cookie-cutter president. In fact, like his promises or not, he is actually laboring diligently to fulfill them.
A life coach such as I am in no position to even suggest diagnosing a man as complex as Donald Trump, but even I am aware of the facile and baseless arguments that have been raised as fact when they are only the barest of supposition. He is actually doing what he said he would do. How often does a president do that? The more I continue to get to the bottom of the behavior of the haters, the better I will be able to serve my clients who are indeed suffering from all the post-election TDS behavior.
I have begun my search here for “why” and this is only a start. It sure makes me miss the good old days.
Do you feel a little out of balance with all this political stuff intruding in your life?
Schedule some time so that we can talk about how things are going and where you would like to go.