12 Steps for Adjusting to the Election of Donald Trump

Use your emotional intelligence to move forward.

Posted Nov 11, 2016

The supposedly impossible has happened: On November 8, 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected to the presidency of the United States.

Deborah L. Davis
Source: Deborah L. Davis

If you are upset at the results of this election, you may find it hard to imagine where we’re going from here. You may feel frightened at the prospect of hateful, simple-minded, xenophobic visions being carried out. You may feel distraught or know others who are feeling anxious, depressed, furious, horrified, baffled, bereft, even suicidal. You may have lost your faith in humanity—that such a man could be voted into the highest office in the land. You may be pondering emigration to Canada.

As the dust settles, and it will, here are some ideas for coming to terms with the election results and moving forward with equanimity, dignity, and hope.

Get out of your lizard brain. First and foremost, understand that the Trump campaign appealed to everyone’s lizard brain—the core part of the brain that reacts to threat. Trump essentially fanned flames of fear—fear in his supporters about what would happen if Clinton became president; fear in his detractors about what would happen if Trump himself became president. But you have the power to appeal to your human thinking brain—the outer cortex that can reason and mediate the reactions of your core brain. For example, instead of saying hateful things about Trump and his supporters, you can note, “I’m upset about this. But I can calm myself by remembering to wait and see how this unfolds instead of jumping to conclusions about impending doom." You can also claim your power by speaking out against what's unacceptable, and by reinforcing and instigating positive social change. Read here about the gone-viral crowdsourced guide: Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda. Read the original document here. And download it from the website, where you can also sign up to receive updates.

Get the support you need. Whether you’ve been a victim of bullying or any kind of sexual harassment or assault, recognize that Trump’s behavior may have triggered memories of past traumas. In particular, a significant portion of the female population has been traumatized by Trump boasting about using his power to molest women. And now his election to the presidency puts him into an even higher position of power. This feels horrifying and devastating especially to those of us who’ve survived sexual assault, and effectively creates even more trauma, depression, and anxieties. Particularly if you are finding it difficult to get through your regular routines, or you are fantasizing about suicide as an escape or seeing it as a solution, this is a sign that your trauma is too much to handle alone. Use this event as a catalyst to seek treatment, such as the new treatments that have been developed in recent years for traumatized brains.  EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) can be particularly effective in helping your brain process past traumas so you aren’t vividly haunted by them.  

Remember, you are not alone. Indeed, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and a total of almost 72 million voters voted for candidates other than Trump, compared to his receiving under 60 million votes. Alas, because of the way the electoral college works, with Trump winning the majority of votes in certain key states, he won the 270 electoral votes required. Still, if you also take into account that over 68 million registered voters did not vote at all, this means that far more of your fellow citizens (140.2 million) did NOT vote for Trump, which means that less than 30% voted for him. Also remember that not everyone who voted for Trump is a thug, a bully, or approves of everything Trump appeared to stand for during his campaign. Some simply voted for "their team," the Republican Party. Just as you reject Trump's demonizing of others, don't fall into the trap of demonizing him or his supporters. (Read here to understand and gain empathy for Trump's voting base. For more on the electoral college, read here. If you wish, sign petition here.)

Rejoice that the witch hunt is over. As tragic as this election may feel, as Hillary retreats from the spotlight and retires from government service, she’ll no longer be hounded by the baseless, decades-long Republican agenda to find her guilty of criminal behavior, assassinate her character, and oust her from governmental service. And we’ll be spared the agony of ongoing media coverage of this witch hunt, and watching our tax dollars being wasted on pursuing bogus charges and fruitless investigations and endless hearings that would have dogged her entire term(s) in office. And as a result, Clinton could well do more public good outside than inside the presidency-- her candidacy alone has inspired many people to mobilize against the threat of regressive policies. The Million Women's March is being planned, to send an affirmative message to the new administration that "women's rights are human rights." Facebook page here.

Follow the lead of your preferred leaders. If Clinton is your chosen leader, then share her pain, and also her grace in moving forward. In her concession speech, she said, “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” Take to heart Obama’s reminder that the right thing to do is to support Trump’s efforts to succeed, because “if he succeeds, the country succeeds.” And follow Obama's plan to speak out and defend core American values, ethics, and ideals, when they are threatened.

Remember what it really means to live in a democracy. A democracy means that everyone has a voice, but, especially in such a large country with such a diverse population, you are simply not going to get everything you want all the time. Instead, everyone gets some of what they want, some of the time. We compromise and we take turns at the wheel. And you can take pride in one of the most powerful strengths of our democracy, which is the smooth transition of power from one elected president to the next. You can also take pride in the fact that we are keeping a close and critical watch on this particular transition and speaking out.

Learn more about what happens during the 72-day transition period. According to custom, President Obama and his outgoing team have already started intensively training Trump and his incoming team on the workings of the White House, foreign and domestic policy, and the vast bureaucracy of the federal government. While 72 days might sound sorely insufficient to initiate a man who has never held public office, with Obama and his team, Trump couldn’t be in better hands. And Trump himself says, “I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.” What could be better than imagining Obama mentoring Trump?  Watch their joint three-minute press conference here.

Keep perspective by looking at Trump’s personal history. Donald Trump entered the race as a “protest candidate” only wanting to make a mark in the Republican party. But then with every outrageous statement, his popularity increased, and then according to the campaign’s former Communications Director, Stephanie Cegielski, the campaign became a runaway train. She writes, “He certainly was never prepared or equipped to go all the way to the White House, but his ego has now taken over the driver's seat, and nothing else matters.” So in effect, America has called his bluff. But take heart, America. Trump used to be a registered Democrat, a generous donor until 2008, and has held liberal ideas on many issues. Even during his campaign, he did not completely toe the Republican Party line. And in April, he opined that transgender people should be able to use the public bathroom they feel most comfortable using. This shows a capacity for empathy, compassion, and fact-based reasoning. In effect, he’s a wild card, and nobody really knows what to expect. While this suspense is unnerving, it doesn’t mean we’re doomed. In the meantime, listen to reports from respected, reputable sources of journalism, rather than fear mongers or those who stand to benefit from your continued outrage. You can also read here about the realities of his proposed action plan for the first 100 days. And here, PBS Frontline features fascinating side-by-side biographies of both candidates. And here for a realistic view of what may come to pass and here on the part you can play in keeping America great during the next 4 years, and beyond.

Do your part by holding high expectations of Trump. As America has called his bluff, we could rub his nose in it and say, “Okay buddy boy, you wanna be president? Go ahead and do it, while we enjoy watching you fail!” But America, take heed, because research shows that people are powerfully affected by the expectations others hold for them. We would do far better as a nation by expecting him to excel at his new job. Imagine the possibilities if we all expected him to be presidential, to hire respected advisors, and to surround himself with cool temperaments and wise minds? What if we expected him to push a reasonable, progressive, peaceful agenda? It takes a country to create a leader. You can contribute to the positive energy that expects him to lead with grace, compassion, and fact-based clarity. And find a balance-- speak out against ethical breaches and policy missteps but ignore his petty tweets and snide remarks. Help the important news go viral, not the distracting drama.

Be patient and go with the flow. When it comes to politics and social change, progress often appears to ebb and flow, in that "one step back" often leads to "two steps forward." As a result, a disastrous presidency can pave the way for even greater positive change. This would be akin to George W. Bush’s unfortunate years paving the way for Barack Obama, who two years ago, was already considered one of the best presidents in many ways by many scholars. Plus, because the Republican Party has control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, if the country is hitting the skids, they alone will be held accountable and a power shift could happen during the midterm elections in only two years from now. If you’re so inclined, you can participate in such a backlash, starting now.

Be the change you want to see. Go out of your way to connect with folks who are different from you, instead of retreating to your own kind. Be a beacon of compassion and reason. Don't be a bystander if you witness hatred or harassment. (Read here on what you can do to offer protection.) Wear a safety pin to show you are a safe haven. Get involved in public service. Get involved in politics. It doesn’t have to be a dirty business. The more emotionally intelligent, ethically-minded people involved, the cleaner it will get. And if you’re a good man who feels downtrodden by any backlash, be galvanized by this turn of events to become an even better man. You can be a powerful antidote by striving to show the world how respectful, decent, sensitive, and caring a real man can be.

Seek out sympathetically-minded humor. Laughter can be the sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Read Gail Collins on her ten-step program for adjusting to the reality of a president-elect Trump.

Read Garrison Keillor on how Trump voters will not like what happens next.

Watch the Saturday Night Live cold open that played 4 nights before the election with hilarious send-ups of the candidates and a sweet twist. 

Watch The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert on adjusting to the election results, what to tell the kids, and moving to Canada. 

Watch the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah try to grasp the reality and give Trump the benefit of the doubt. 

Watch Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee doing her hilarious, edgy spin, and listing the positive changes that happened this election, including the increasing ranks of women of color voted into Congress. 

Overall, take the time you need to adjust to this stunning and far-reaching event. Take care of yourself and your hurting brain. Take heart (along these lines, Buddhist neuropsychologist Rick Hanson's advice is very comforting). Keep your routine and doing the activities you enjoy. Whether you need to retreat to lick your wounds or take to the streets or otherwise make your voice be heard, do it. In the words of John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you-- ask you can do for your country." And like Martin Luther King, Jr, remember that your dreams for a brighter future have great power, as long as you are willing to work toward them.

Epilogue: Some readers are requesting additional support for reducing distress-- please refer to recent posts such as:

On meditative breathing, which is a key skill in calming anxiety.

On mindful habits that can soothe and nourish your brain and body.

On how love trumps hate, with Van Jones: moving forward with "beautiful, loving, determined opposition."

You'll also find inspiration in comments below, left by those who are finding positive ways to move forward, with grace and power, by reinforcing positive social progress and actively changing what's unacceptable.