I don’t think anyone can argue that the general mood in our country has been in a downward spiral since around March. When the coronavirus arrived in our country, it infected many people who had the pre-existing condition of being worn out by the Trump administration’s machinations and drama. Trump’s histrionics aren’t limited to government, but to whatever strikes his fancy, from insulting American citizens to effectively rolling back President Obama’s progress moving the country toward human rights equity and environmental stewardship.
In early September, a Facebook post about the malaise and exhaustion went viral, in part, I believe, because it crystallized the feeling of most Americans. It began like this: “I’ve been wondering why this entire country seems to be under a cloud of constant misery.” The post pointed out the lack of art, literature and music in the White House and lamented absence of, “. . . Kennedy Center award celebrations.” It reminded us that, “There are no images of the first family enjoying themselves together in a moment of relaxation. No Obamas on the beach in Hawaii moments, or Bushes fishing in Kennebunkport, no Reagans on horseback, no Kennedys playing touch football on the Cape.”
And it ended with, “We have lost our mojo, our fun, our happiness. The cheering on of others. The shared experiences of humanity that makes it all worth it. The challenges AND the triumphs that we shared and celebrated. . .We have lost so much in so short a time.”
To me, it sounded a familiar bell–like the ones we all rang together at the beginning of the shutdown to venerate front line workers and medical personnel and to honor the memory of those already lost to the virus. March and early April was a time that felt like a coming together, despite the crevasse of differences between us. With changing and confusing information coming from the government about how best to handle the pandemic, it seemed like the one thing in common we had was that we were going to work together as communities, states, and nations.
And then it became political.
The CDC advised masks, shutting down, social distancing and frequent hand-washing–or did they? There was a Presidential Task Force, but often their protocols were in conflict with the CDC and the WHO directives. The President promoted misleading or downright false information which contributed to yet another divide among the people of the US. In fact, according to a study from Cornell, most of the misleading information about the coronavirus has been attributed to Trump himself. We were constantly worried about our groceries, our loved ones, going back to school, staying home from work, working from home. Exhaustion set in. And frustration, confusion and fear.
And now, the one person who should be leading us through this crisis has become a victim of it: President Trump. Within hours of an early morning announcement that he and the First Lady had tested positive for the virus, social media swarmed with new fears that this was just a stunt. It was Trump’s “October Surprise” and he would suddenly get well and prove that opening the country without wearing masks is safe. We now have to worry about whether or not we can trust our President, even as we offer up wishes for his recovery, for no person should have to endure the debilitating symptoms that have become the calling cards of COVID-19.
Loss is definitely what we are experiencing. The loss of trust, the loss of leadership, the loss of the familiar. And the loss of lives–over 207,000 as of this writing. With loss comes grief, and that’s what I feel that many of us are experiencing. We are numbed by the onslaught of too many crises and too many dramas at once. This isn’t just enduring a bullying president anymore; people have lost jobs, homes and lives. We are grieving.
Like many emotions, grief has stages, and I believe those stages, as first identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, apply to what many of us are going through now. At first there was Denial–across the country–starting with Trump’s election. No one could believe it had happened, and yet it did. People walked around in a daze, unsure of how to move forward or make sense of this inconceivable outcome. It was months before we were able to organize around a common goal of setting the country back on course and marches and Facebook groups popped up all over. Anger became the next stage, as more people got involved in politics. I myself joined my local Democratic Town Committee and ran for a seat on the school board. (Which I won.) More and more women and people of color got involved in local and state government, the results of which showed up in flipping the House of Representatives to blue in 2018.
The coronavirus brought us to Bargaining. Suddenly we were all shut inside our homes; those of us who were able to. Others became heroes simply by going to work: grocery store clerks, hospital personnel, delivery people. We missed our loved ones and our routines. But maybe, if we wore a mask, we’d be safe. If we washed our hands and poured alcohol over everything we brought into the house, we’d avoid the virus. “Just one dinner . . .” or “It’s only a quick meeting. . .” but we soon found out that the virus was tricky–no manner of bargaining kept people from getting sick and ending up in the hospital. Or dead.
Out of which Depression comes, of course. As the months dragged on and as other countries in the world effectively fought the virus, the US continued to spike in cases and deaths. I don’t know if it’s actually Acceptance or not, but a large segment of the population has acquiesced to the safety precautions and wears masks and stays distant and accepts that this is life as we know it for now.
But there’s also a sixth stage of grief according to David Kessler: Finding meaning. With everything we’ve gone through as a country– the loss, the discord, the mistrust, the violence–this is the stage that will lead us through our grief. That’s what humans do: find meaning. There’s a lot of meaning to be gained for how we understand the pandemic and its effects, both nationally and personally. The Trump presidency will pass, our country will need healing and attention. So will the relationships with our friends and family who migrated across the divide. Finding meaning is something we all have the power to do.