After the Election

How Do We Move Forward?

Posted Nov 09, 2016

Like many people I was surprised and disturbed by the results of the election.

For full disclosure, I voted for Hillary Clinton and did not expect Trump to win.

I woke the next morning with feelings of disbelief, sadness, anger and some anxiety and I realized

I was like a lot of people---obsessively watching and reading the news, ruminating and complaining. And then I thought, “Maybe I should use some cognitive therapy on myself”.

                How can we get past the disappointment, anger and anxiety that we have? What do we do now?

First, let’s put our emotions in context. This was one of the most polarizing elections in our life-time. The process was filled with anger, anxiety, humiliation and insults. Many of us are feeling emotionally raw—and our emotions are even more intense because the results were unexpected. This combination of intense emotion and surprise may result in our being carried away with thoughts and feelings that may be strong for now, but may dissipate with time. Our feelings change. Ask yourself, “Have my feelings changed after other disappointments?” They almost certainly have.

Second, let’s identify some of the common automatic negative thoughts that we might have. These include fortune telling (the economy will collapse), catastrophic thinking (there will be a nuclear war), labeling (he’s an idiot), discounting the positive (nothing he will do will be useful), and dichotomous thinking (there’s nothing about his group that is good). Like any strong negative thought, it seems totally believable and a bit frightening. But one possibility is that our predictions and beliefs may prove to be inaccurate. In past elections people from both parties have made dire predictions, few of which have come true. The economy did not collapse under Reagan or Obama. We survived. We should stand back and think about our thoughts as thoughts, not as reality. We should try to differentiate our thinking to realize that both candidates have a range of positions, some of which people from both parties agreed with. I don’t think we ever agree with every single position a candidate takes. 

Third, we may over-estimate the importance of the position of the Presidency. Much of the work of the government is on the local level---education, police, sanitation, etc. There are checks and balances—such as the state and local government, the Senate, the House, and the Judiciary. I know that one party will control all branches, but this does not mean that the President has become a dictator.

Fourth, ask yourself how your daily life will change. For most of us there will probably be little if any change. I know that I will walk to work every day, see friends and family, work with patients, and live my life. So consider what you will still be able to do even if your candidate was not elected.

Fifth, psychologists describe a process called “affect forecasting”, which refers to the ways in which we predict our future emotions. We may be currently anchored to our emotions of anxiety and anger—which we are having right now—and predict that this is how we will feel in the future. We may ignore other mitigating factors that may help us feel better and we may ignore that what happened last night may seem less important to us in a few weeks or months.

Sixth, we may be labeling Mr. Trump as an ideologue who is driven by a nefarious ideology. But that may not really be the case. Once in office he may prove to be more practical, he might enlist intelligent and competent advisors and he might delegate responsibilities to people who know what to do. Keep in mind that he may be more interested in the ceremonial aspects of the position than the day to day work and might delegate this to others who can get things done. He may have enough reality testing to know the job is difficult and he needs good advisors. He may be highly invested in succeeding. He is no longer running. As much as you may dislike him, he may be smarter than you give him credit for. Perhaps his campaign was rhetoric—to sell himself. But now there is a different job--- running the Presidency.

If we characterize people who disagree with us as bigots, hateful people, idiots or other labels we lose sight that there are a lot of reasons why people vote the way they do. Like many people I have many family and friends who disagree with me. I still value them and respect them. People vote on different issues—some disliked Clinton, but voted for Trump, some liked Trump, some were dedicated Republicans, and some liked part of the platform. Let’s not generalize about people who disagree with us.

And, it is my hope and my belief, that the American people are resilient. We can handle almost anything. Maybe it won’t be as bad as it feels right now.

Give it a few months. Let’s see what actually happens.