This morning, House Managers are presenting the prosecution’s case at the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Much has been said, and will be said today, about the legal strategy they have adopted: laying out a broad narrative of Trump’s elaborate scheme to persuade wide swaths of the American public of his baseless claim that (1) the election was stolen, (2) something must be done to “stop the steal,” and (3) the way to do so is to “fight like hell.” This narrative is designed to address the predicted defense strategy, which will try to undermine the causal link between Trump’s January 6th comments and the pre-planned actions of his supporters.
The prosecution’s case uses videos and screen captures of tweets, complete with a trigger warning for violence and language. I’ve been taken aback by the visceral reaction I’m having to the evidence, and a quick check-in with friends and colleagues reveals that many people feel this way this morning.
The visceral pain is especially acute whenever Trump himself is depicted. His voice is difficult to hear and reading his tweets onscreen is generating somatic upheaval. The distress I am feeling whenever I am exposed to his image or utterances is palpable.
One mindfulness technique especially useful for working with difficult emotions is R.A.I.N. This technique requires recognizing the difficult emotion, allowing it to exist (accepting that it is there, rather than pretending that all is well), gently investigating its quality, and then nourishing oneself with self compassion. Having recognized the visceral pain I feel, I move on to accept that my reality today includes and encompasses this pain. This has important implications for how my day will unfold, as I resolve not to ignore these feelings, but rather to allow myself to sit with them.
When I turn to investigate my emotion, I realize how much it resembles, in quality, the sense of being in the throes of a powerful addiction. Not because we enjoyed our Trump exposure, but because our panic, dread, and horror at the wickedness, corruption, and cruelty that he wrought on a daily basis made us uniquely attuned to his moods. For four years, our circadian rhythms revolved around his whims, tweets, and outrages; we were blown to and fro by the winds of his capricious hires and firings; we woke up with a jolt every morning, steeling ourselves to act, protest, comment, explain, and arrange our lives in a way that protected us and our loved ones as best we could.
In short, we were hooked on Trump.
Thinking about the way in which even those of us who raged and fought against Trump were addicted to the dramatic media cycle he generated goes a long way toward explaining why so many people are not yet feeling the relief they expected to feel after his exit from the scene. Consider what happens when a powerful stimulant/intoxicant is removed from your system. Initially, one experiences deep withdrawal. The sensation of high alert and the compulsion to be attuned to the presence of the powerful substance are hard to shake, and like collective survivors of profound abuse, we are still easily jolted, looking behind our shoulder with suspicion to see if our tormentor will reemerge.
Listen to your sensations, to your fight-or-flight instinct still potent within you. They are telling you that you have been deeply wounded, repeatedly, daily, for years, and that the healing the election brought was superficial. It will take years–maybe decades–to process and heal the trauma.
Also, observe the light your own feelings are shedding on the sensations and motivations of the insurrectionists. They were on the opposite side to yours. If you were yanked by Trump’s chain hour after hour for four years, imagine this powerful sensation of addiction magnified among his lackeys and supporters. Imagine the powerful withdrawal sensations, palpable and plainly on display in the videos depicting their rage during the attack. Imagine what the Twitter deprivation, living without him constantly feeding their life force, is doing to their insides on a daily basis. Consider how much longer the social media ban on him must continue to wean people from such a powerful drug. And consider how this visceral, somatic deprivation played into the insurrection itself. Consider what the way you embody this withdrawal and trauma today teaches you about the sensed reality of the angry, violent people you saw on video. Consider also how this trauma is experienced today by the people whom whose presidency hurt the most.
Now, introduce self compassion into your examination. It is understandable that you feel this way. You and everything that is dear to you has been abused, and your whole reality revolved around protection from the abuse, for a long time. You can tell yourself, “it’s okay; he’s gone.” You can consider whether a cup of tea or a walk might help. You can commit to checking in with other people who may feel this way today.
Take good care of yourselves today. This will take decades to process, but accepting your feelings as they are is an important step.