Olga Khazan calls it the Great Liberal Depression. Her phrase is well chosen. After all, seeing American liberals melt down over Donald Trump is surprising and horrifying. The denizens of the therapy culture were unequipped and unprepared for Trump-- even though the Clinton campaign wanted to run against him. They do not even know that making a spectacle of their anguish does not advance their cause.
All of that therapy has not been doing them very much good. It has left them emotionally vulnerable, lacking even the personal tools to deal with an election did not turn out as they had wished.
Khazan has interviewed a number of liberal anti-Trumpers and senses that they are not just crippled by despair at having lost the election, but that they no longer recognize their country. They feel as though they lost their country.
I think it more accurate to say that they have been living in a magical kingdom where everyone thinks as they think and feels as they feel. All of a sudden they were confronted with the fact that their world was largely unreal. They were living a dream or living in a bubble. Suddenly, it vanished and they suffered a rude awakening.
Khazan reports the clinical data:
It’s now months later, and [Genevieve] Caffrey, like many others, still feels “overwhelmed with despair.” Her feelings are familiar to many liberals, to whom political news resembles a multi-car pileup that it’s impossible to look away from. (I found Caffrey and other Trump opponents through my extended online network.)
Even months after the election, these Trump opponents report feeling chronically sad and unrelentingly angry, signaling a major shift in the mental state of a substantial portion of the country. About half of Americans tell pollsters they disapprove of Trump, but for some, the “disapproval” borders on clinical depression.
A mixture of chronic sadness and unrelenting anger… is not a good combination. It does suggest that those who are suffering from such despair are disconnected from reality. Adjusting feels like one sell-out too many. Fighting feels futile.
Khazan tries to compare this reaction to the conservative and Republican reactions to the election of Barack Obama. Yet, no one who was sentient in 2008 will confuse the two. Republicans were not happy that Obama had won; they were sorely disappointed in the campaign run by the inept John McCain… but they did not wallow in the slough of despond. They organized the Tea Party and went to work to win future elections.
Khazan draws the inaccurate comparison:
It’s easy to mock reactions like these, but for liberals and conservatives alike, losing at the polls can produce an all-encompassing sense of despair. Conservatives experienced something similar after the election of Obama, whose socially liberal platform was anathema, for example, to many religious people.
Is it all about Trump’s outsized personality? Surely, it is not because he is more right-wing than previous Republicans. He is not. Yet, Khazan is correct to see that some of the antagonism has to do with ideology.
A bias based on ideology, on belief, is surely more toxic than any other. You can know what people do but you cannot really know exactly what they think. Thus, you will become increasingly infuriated that you can never know what they think. Of course, Trump is one of the least ideological conservatives since Eisenhower. To his detractors this means that he is a stealth ideologue of the worst kind.
In Khazan’s words:
Still, Trump’s outlandish personality has heightened the ideological animus Democrats would have felt toward any Republican president. Antagonism toward George W. Bush was severe, but this feels, well, different. A gym in Scranton, Pennsylvania, had to ban cable news from its TVs after “several locker room and gym disputes over politics and news turned so heated that some members feared for their safety,” as McClatchy reported.
Remember the old days when therapy was supposed to help you to get in touch with reality. Nowadays it helps you to live in an alternative reality where your dreams always come true. Freud called it wish fulfillment. Khazan calls it wishful thinking:
Some of the Trump-anguish manifests as wishful thinking. Social media brims with impeachment fantasies, and there’s an entire website devoted to an alternate reality in which Hillary won. Some people unplug: In Bend, Oregon, Mark Green has had to stop talking about the news at home, finding it makes him unable to “shut up about how we're all doomed.” They start to question normal life events: Emily Michaels, who is pregnant, said she feels morally conflicted about bringing another child into the world. Caffrey, meanwhile, has taken a proactive approach: She watches PBS Newshour, programmed her representatives’ phone numbers as “favorites” in her phone, and tracks her progress with the calling system 5calls.org.
Khazan concludes that it’s all about patriotism. I concur. Yet, she errs in thinking that liberals are freaking out because they are proud of a country they no longer recognize. One hears in her analysis an echo of the appalling statement by Michelle Obama. The first time she felt proud of her country was when her husband was nominated to run for president.
Patriotism should not be confused with solipsism. To imagine that Americans accomplished nothing before they nominated an unqualified politician to the office of the presidency is a flagrant absurdity. It deprives the vast majority of Americans of their pride in their achievements.
Here is Khazan:
Whiplashing from feeling proud of America to no longer recognizing it—all while still being an American—can provoke a well-known psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance, or stress from experiencing conflicting beliefs.
Several studies have shown that when two identities—like, say, American nationality and a liberal worldview—are no longer compatible, it can provoke “neuroticism, depression, and anxiety.”
What’s more, pride in one’s nation has been shown to boost happiness and well-being, according to a study by Tim Reeskens of the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, and Matthew Wright of American University. The president shapes how citizens and outsiders view a nationality—as liberals who traveled to Europe during the “freedom fries” era of the Bush administration can attest. “Great leaders can define the group and even influence the identity of people who join the group long after they're gone,” said Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University.
In other words, the Great Liberal Depression is fairly understandable: Trump helps define what people think of America, and if they feel ashamed of it because of him, their levels of “subjective well-being” will inevitably decline.
Khazan is correct to note the importance of patriotism. Yet, she does not recognize that the Obama presidency did not restore American patriotism. If Obama had promoted patriotism Trump would not have gotten to the White House riding the slogan: Make America Great Again.
Barack Obama diminished America on the world stage, forfeited military victory, walked away from international engagement, treated his opponents like enemies and tried to make America more cosmopolitan by opening its borders. Obama acted as though he was ashamed of America.
Even today, Trump’s opponents are most anguished about his efforts to close the borders. If they were as patriotic as they think they are they would know that a nation is defined first by its borders. They would know that being an American means nothing if anyone from anywhere can walk across the border and become an American.
Khazan gives the game away when she entitles her article: “Strangers in Their Own Land.” If there are no borders it is not their own land. If they do not have the right to decide who enters it is not their own land.
As for patriotism, it is often summarized in a phrase uttered by Admiral Stephen Decatur, from 1816:
Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.'
Patriots defend their country in her relations with other nations. They do not run around the world apologizing for the nation. They do not declare themselves to be citizens of the world. They do not conduct themselves as Barack Obama did.
When Decatur added his last phrase, he was saying that our country is our country regardless of whether it is right or wrong. It should serve as a definition of patriotism. When you say that your country is not your country because you believe it to be in the wrong, you are saying that you are more loyal to your ideology, to your belief in what is right and wrong, than you are to your country.
Perhaps those who are especially deranged about Trump are not motivated by patriotism, but by ideological zeal. They resent anyone who does not believe what they believe.