Why I couldn’t bring myself to talk on telly about Trump

It’s been three weeks. I am finally able to speak about it.

The fact that Donald Trump — whom we can supposedly claim as one of our own since his mother came from Lewis — won the US Election made me feel physically sick.

Strangely, I saw it coming. But that doesn’t stop it from being shocking and disturbing. What have we turned into when this racist, misogynistic, climate-change-denying, rabble-raising, reality TV showman can become the most powerful man on the planet?

I wrote about Trump, and the general view on Lewis that he was unfit to be President, in a previous blog post here. There has always been quite a lot of media interest in how we view him back in the homeland and that post received a bit of attention, with BuzzFeed even carrying a follow-up piece.

I was comfortable enough talking about it then but that all changed with the result. My reaction was pretty strong. I’m sure some would say melodramatic. There was shock, denial, horror, revulsion, distress, guilt, embarrassment, fear, depression, a sense of isolation and profound sadness.

GRIEF

Sounds a lot like the first few stages of grief, doesn’t it?

On the Wednesday morning, shortly after getting up to the result, I watched my children — Michael, six, and James, three — playing happily together on the kitchen floor and I started to cry.

My thoughts? Honestly? “What if someone blows them up…?”

Not since I was small myself had I felt so frightened all of a sudden of nuclear war. Even without that, what kind of world were they going to grow up into? It all felt very dark indeed, like a stalled solar eclipse.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Days after the election, US academic Noam Chomsky described the US Republican party as now the “most dangerous organisation in world history” because of the denial of climate change by President-elect Trump and other leading figures.

Professor Chomsky cited research showing that the past five years have been the hottest on record, that sea levels are rising and that the ice is melting unexpectedly rapidly.

“The party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organised human life,” he said — yet Trump wants to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore under the Creative Commons licence

The Bogeyman doesn’t have a button. He burns fossil fuels.

Those first few hours of results day were characterised by such a strange pain and despair.

Strangely enough, the first thing that helped was getting on a plane. I was making a scheduled trip to Inverness that morning and found the sheer physical act of flying to be deeply therapeutic.

Being in that wee plane, as it hurtled down the runway and pulled up sharply into the air, provided a visceral relief. The thrum of the engines synchronised with the rushing of the blood in my head and the views were soothing and settling, as the town and island shrank away beneath, giving way to an abstraction of waves, clouds and bright sunlight.

REACTION

By the time we landed, I was less sore.

There was a lot of media interest, to put it mildly, in what the island’s reaction was to Trump winning. I picked up that day from my reporter friend at BuzzFeed, who said: “Who’d have thought it – what a shocker. Have you picked up on any reaction on the island this morning?”

I sent him a few lines of comment, no problem, but then a television reporter got in touch the following day to ask if I would give him an interview.

“Yesterday was a struggle! Lots of lovely people but unfortunately reluctant to speak, especially about Trump! I’ll just ask you to sum up the muted reaction…”

Arrrrgggh. Even though he promised it would be a small clip.

Donald Trump outside family home Isle of Lewis
Trump outside the old family home in Tong, Isle of Lewis, during a very brief visit a few years ago. Picture courtesy of Stornoway Gazette

I struggled with this because I have a strong sense of belonging to this community. Had I been able to articulate a clear point, that represented most people’s views, that would have been one thing. But views were varying and the issue I had was one of respect (as well as a bit of camera fright, admittedly). Unlike Trump, who doesn’t seem to have much respect for anyone or anything, I consciously respect the views held by my fellow islanders, even when I don’t agree with them.

While most of us were aghast at the election result, not everyone felt the same and it would also have felt wrong to have gone on camera to express my own personal horror at Trump prevailing when he has such close relations on the island.

I didn’t think I would be able to accurately bring all those views together. Also, I was still too shell-shocked and upset to be able to collect my thoughts coherently. I knew that any reaction I gave that day would not be the same as I would give a week later, when the dust had settled.

PARAPET

In the end, I said no to the interview and canvassed a bit of opinion among friends later.

“It’s too small a community,” said one.

“You would have had to be so, so careful about what you said,” said another.

And, as one of my sisters-in-law said: “There are times when not putting your head above the parapet is a bloody good idea.”

A week later, I bumped into another friend I had been discussing the interview request with and she asked whether I had agreed to do it.

“Oh I’m so glad,” she said, visibly relieved. “I had worried about it all the way home.”

Among people I spoke to, opinion had ranged from the mildly tolerant — “he’s in now, let’s give him a chance” and “the world will keep spinning” — to the monosyllabically devastated — “numb” — with many different expressions of concern and consternation in the middle.

One older friend had remarked that it “reflected the rise of the right in Europe”, adding: “I worry that what we consider unthinkable will become the norm, especially in terms of racism.”

Donald Trump by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore under the Creative Commons licence

An old school pal had pondered: “I’m a social/economic liberal but… am I allowed to be a little bit proud that a semi-Leòdhasach is going to the White House?

He was met with a cheery but resolute “not this time!” (by another of my sisters-in-law) — and didn’t argue the point any further.

My lowest point probably came on the Friday night. Slumped at the kitchen table, listening to Leonard Cohen songs, my husband muttered something about being a masochist and left me to it.

The next day, my dad called in to take the emotional temperature.

“I’m depressed about Trump,” I told him. “I’m depressed about Brexit. I’m depressed about The World.”

“You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, Katie,” he counselled. “They’re not big enough.”

It was later that day that the mood broke. The reason? And I know this silly this sounds… it was the completely joyous Ed Balls doing a fantastic Gangnam Style salsa on Strictly Come Dancing.

I was watching it with Michael — “that was so awesome!” — and it was the first time I smiled that week. I’ve watched it another 10 times or so, since, and it was a proper tonic.

It then set me thinking as to how else I could regroup and start moving forward.

I didn’t blog, mainly because I knew I couldn’t write about anything else until I spoke about this, and I cut back on the social media — although I did catch a great meme on Facebook.

Here was a picture of an older lady at a demo, holding a placard that read: “I can’t believe I’m still having to protest this fucking shit”.

Quite. And she got me thinking about coping strategies in the light of the election. For those who’re interested, here are my top five Trump Coping Techniques.

#1 — “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Advice from Mahatma Gandhi that is 100 years old and still relevant today.

As naive and hippy as it may sound, I have resolved to be a better, less reactive person. I’m going to try to be more tolerant, patient, kind and forgiving towards others.

I’m also going to do what I can to be more environmentally friendly. For a start, that gas guzzler of mine — I confess to having an old Honda CRV and I do love it — will be replaced with a wee hairdryer when the time comes in order to do my bit to reduce emissions.

#2 — Call it Out.

Remember the old lady with the placard? Protest this fucking shit — even when you can’t believe you still have to.

protest

Take this as an example of terrible racism that has become, for some people, everyday conversation… the description of Michelle Obama as an “ape in heels” on Twitter by women in West Virginia.

Amazingly, one of their town mayors thought this was okay. It’s not okay.

Even more strangely, the Washington Post described it as a comment that “was perceived as blatantly racist”. I wouldn’t have thought there was anything “perceived” about it.

“Even if you are in a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” Wise words again from Gandhi.

#3 — Celebrate Scotland!

We’re pretty inclusive and outward-looking. The majority wanted to remain in Europe. We’re quite socially minded too and regardless of your views on independence — I’d vote yes in an #indyref2 but that’s just me— there have been achievements to be proud of at Holyrood.

Arguably the most important is that Scotland has exceeded the level of our 2020 target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent six years early. To my mind, that’s a nice counter to the terribly retrograde steps on climate change by the incoming American administration.

Hillary Clinton by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore under the Creative Commons licence

#4 — Realise the Glass Ceiling is gone.

Hillary won the popular vote. He gets into power due to the Electoral College system but more individual Americans voted for her than for him. It’s not smashed to smithereens but it is broken. Gender did not keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

#5 — It is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

My parents had a framed copy of the Desiderata in our house when we were growing up. It remains a source of comfort and inspiration.

Do everything you can to find the beauty in life, maintain your equilibrium and be as happy as possible. Do what you know to be therapeutic.

For me, writing is therapy — “I write to figure out what I’m thinking”, as Stephen King said.

And if all else fails, remember Ed! Watch him and Katya again. No one will judge! Let go and be joyous. The human spirit remains a wonderful thing.

Gandhi, one last time: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Hillary Clinton by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore under the Creative Commons licence. All the political photos used here of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been made freely available by Gage Skidmore. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Katie

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