Gerald Stinson recently shared a research article with me that  gave rise to a small epiphany.

The article was titled “Political Grief” and it had been prompted by reactions to the 2016 election of Donald Trump–a reaction that the author accurately noted went well beyond the usual types of depression partisans suffer in the wake of electoral loss, and in fact, was a manifestation of what the author dubbed “political grief.”

I think this is exactly right.

All of us who are of “a certain age” have experienced personal losses and the grief that accompanies those losses. Friends and family members disappoint or die, businesses and/or projects near and dear to us fail, and we respond to those events with grief and despair. As the article notes, however, similar responses occur when our expectations about how the world works prove unfounded. We humans are “attached” to such deeply-rooted assumptions; they are deeply woven into the way we live our lives, interpret our life events, and anticipate outcomes. When we “experience a significant life event that cannot be readily incorporated into these assumptions” we experience “a state of disequilibrium.”

Grief, in response to loss.

The author reviews research into the nature of grief, noting that the loss of our assumptions about the way the world works translates into a loss of safety, logic, clarity, power and control. Grief becomes the process by which we reconcile (or don’t!) the world we now know exists with the world as we once believed it to be.

The entire article is worth reading and considering. Those of us who reacted viscerally to the results of the 2016 Presidential election will recognize ourselves in the author’s description of the “feelings of sadness, disbelief and grief over the death of values, ideals, hopes and dreams” experienced by her colleagues at a conference they were attending at the time of the election. But what we may fail to appreciate is the corresponding reaction to cultural change that has been experienced by those who ended up voting for Donald Trump.

The author of the article traces the evolution of our current, toxic political climate, and considers the various academic theories about the motivations of Trump voters, especially  the economic inequality perspective and the cultural backlash thesis, both of which have contributed to the deep resentment of those who feel disrespected and left behind. (The Left Behind is a book I referenced in a previous post; I’m reading it now, and Wuthnow’s description of the rural folks he interviewed is consistent with the article’s thesis.)

People who embrace so-called “traditional values” feel increasingly out of step with the changing culture of contemporary American (and European) society–and they are grieving the loss of their worldview and their place in American society. The accompanying resentment and anger makes them susceptible to nativism and xenophobia–a susceptibility that is particularly (but certainly not exclusively)  found among older, less-educated White men.

Terror Management Theory also has application: people who feel threatened tend to find refuge in their cultural world-views, religious symbols and beliefs.

“When we perceive a threat, we retreat to what we know best and to those who are most like us, and who make us feel safe and protected….Identifying with others who share similar values, culture, religion (including outward appearance and skin color) is seen as safe; blame and fear are placed on those who are not us.”

In our current political environment, political affiliation is no longer based upon support for particular policies or parties, it has become an integral part of one’s personal identity. Partisans aren’t just working for specific policies–they are defending deeply-held values and world-views.  Both sides of the divide express “moral outrage” over the views of the “others.” As the author notes, the only common ground to be found is in “the shared sense of outrage over the deplorable values and platform of the other side.”

If this analysis is accurate–and I think it is–we’re in for a world of hurt.

The grief felt by both sides in what seems an insurmountable divide is all too real. Those clinging to “traditional values” (and traditional social castes) are grieving the increasing abandonment of those beliefs and the once-familiar lines of social and racial demarcation; those embracing that social evolution are grieving, overwhelmed and discouraged  by evidence that so many Americans are ready to fight to keep change and inclusion at bay.

Grief seems appropriate.


  1. My disbelief that Trump was the actual Republican presidential nominee turned to fears of the reality of his election as I watched those supporters at his rallies and the Party’s full acceptance of his mental instability and threats. Waking up in time to see the actual Electoral College result and Hillary Clinton’s concession turned to a deep nausea and anger. My anger increased till the actual inauguration and his first day in the Oval Office when the fear set in and has never left me. The grief began as I watched his dictatorship increase daily; ignoring any semblance of democracy, Rule of Law and completely ignoring the Constitution. Then the violence in our streets and the mass shootings began and they remain with us today. Disappointment and anger at the outcome of the 2000 election (I was living in Florida at the time and watched the “recount” results); but I accepted the fact that George W. Bush was the president.

    Here I am six years after 2015 watching Trump ride that escalator down and announce his bid for the 2016 presidential nomination. My fear and grief for this country remains as McConnell continues Trump’s dictatorship over the United States Senate as the members of the now dead GOP rule from their minority position. I worked in Indianapolis Republican city government from 1972 to 1994 when I became disabled; even my 2 years, 3 months and 11 days under Goldsmith’s destruction of the local Republican party didn’t prepare me for Trump. I won’t live long enough to see how it all turns out but I have no doubt I will leave this earth still suffering the fear and grief of Donald Trump and the Republicans mass destruction of our government.

  2. Oh sure. But the grief in the fellow travelers of the faux conservative movement is assuaged by going all-in for the lies, the nostrums and the utter idiocy of immoral wretches like Donald Trump, Matt Gaetz, Ron DeSantis, et. al. Otherwise, why would the truly righteous rural white males throw in with a self-admitted tax dodger, womanizer, liar and hate mongerer? Why would they throw away all the “good” teachings of their lord and savior stuffed down their throats since they were old enough to hold a Bible? What is so conservative about doing that? Traditional values? Really?

    Among those, of course, is the blood-lust of going to war and waving the flag. And we haven’t even touched on the native racism among those who may have never met or worked with anyone of color. Every pundit and psychologist has tried to explain the Trump cult fever that is sweeping rural, white America like the plague of locusts predicted in scripture. It doesn’t matter. These folks also have the mindset of not changing no matter what. Look how long it took to get farmers to put away the notion of “rain follows the plow”. It took a massive dust bowl of storms to get their attention. Hunger will do that.

    The political dust bowl we’re now experiencing isn’t going away. The GOP will eventually choke on their own political vomit like a rock star who overdosed. But something else will emerge that will be just as awful, un-American and treasonous to the Constitution. That, to me, is what this sort of “grief” will yield among those who went all in for the big lie and the horror show that accompanied it.

  3. Grief is supposed to be a temporary response to the typical ups and downs of life. Of course, the downers have emotions and so make the points of elation. Then there is that period of peace and tranquility.

    The problem is we are pain avoiders and pleasure seekers. Some of us more than others. We don’t like experiencing pain in any form, but especially those with closed minds. They often referred to people with “traditional values,” but we could just as easily say they are resistant to change or stubborn. They all work.

    The Buddha said, “All of life is impermanent. It’s our clinging that causes our suffering.”

    Those who are closed-minded grieve a lot because they are so scared of change. They literally fear it to the point that it cripples them. This character defect affects all humans. It’s all fear based.

    I read a response to a post claiming that not all progress is good. Progress is another word for change. Death of a loved one is progress, but it is not considered good or bad—it just is. Life is changing every single moment. There is no need to label them as good or bad.

    The aspect that concerns me and my world is whether I accept it or do I need to make changes to my own ideals, values, perceptions?

    Some live with the Serenity Prayer in their home as a reminder of the needed wisdom.

    After being gone from Indiana a couple of decades, I discovered many of my high school friends had the same mindset as they did in high school despite all the changes to the world. They were all miserable and mad as hell too. Society left them in the dust and they resented it instead of changing.

    If you really want to get them into a grief-stricken panic attack, talk about globalization. 😉

  4. Today’s piece reminded me of a quote from a young senator running for President
    “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

    Barack Obama
    At a young age, I experience the grief of seeing my political leaders executed in public. First JFK, then MLK and RFK. We had crazy wars that few supported or wanted. The last 60 years have been turbulent and disturbing. And now, it seems to be getting worse.
    It is all hard to watch.

  5. The only constant in life is change. We need to get over it. It has been so for a long time, as we can see by the Dylan lyrics from 1964 below:

    “Come mothers and fathers
    Throughout the land
    And don’t criticize
    What you can’t understand
    Your sons and your daughters
    Are beyond your command
    Your old road is rapidly agin’
    Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
    For the times they are a-changin’.”

  6. Grief, for me, is missing something or someone that was positive, good, made the world a better place and is gone. Here no more. Tears of pain.

    As for 45 winning in 2016, that wasn’t grief for me. Women expect to lose so losing the election seemed possible. For me, it was Anger! How dare he “win” the election when he had 3 million less votes. Anger because he was an awful human being. To himself, I mean look at him. Didn’t love himself and needed make up, a uniform style and hair spray. Anger, how dare he talk to people like that. How dare he tweet those words! How dare he be above the law. How dare they turn away and ignore the worst human traits you can have and treat him like some bully you just run away from. Greed, sloth, vanity, etc, etc. Anger they picked That Guy! And he spent 4 very long years making every day more awful than the day before. I have PTSD from his Presidency and I’m just starting to climb out of that depression 6 months after he’s gone. I’m angry 400k people died of covid because of his being awful. It’s downright pathetic he is not being held accountable for those deaths, his lawlessness and his being a terrible human.

    It wasn’t grief for me. At. All.

  7. AgingLGirl – I couldn’t have said it better myself, though I’m still experiencing PTSD because trump and his followers are still a threat to my sense of all that is good, honest, moral and right.

  8. Unfortunately life is comprised largely of faith based assumptions. We have faith that our spouse loves us and will never leave us. We don’t have much evidence to base that confidence on and sometimes it turns out not to be true by death or choice and we suffer many negative emotional reactions. The grief process.

    The same faith describes our relationship with community and government.

    I always had faith that democracy was permanent and public servants were just that and Americans had inherited a permanent love for freedom and equality. I’m now in the grief process mourning the shattering of my faith in who we are and aren’t.

    Others might say the same relative to faith based assumptions about their culture be it a religious aspect or an economic aspect or a class aspect and they are grieving progress and revealed impermanence in what they had faith would always be part of their life.

    Shock and Denial
    Pain and Guilt
    Anger and Bargaining
    Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness
    The Upward Turn
    Reconstruction & Working Through
    Acceptance & Hope

    Which stage are you in?

  9. Death, change, and taxes are the 3 things that we all experience. In Dune, it is said “Fear is the mind killer.” In business, they say change or die. I just heard the oil companies are, of course, starting to move toward wind and solar and electric cars.

    Change for us humans has been increasing in speed over the centuries. I suppose that just as the animals are not adapting to climate change, we are not all able to adapt to the increasingly rapid change of our world. I recall a time with vinyl records, no ATM’s, no internet, no cell phones. I could only see a movie once unless I paid again and returned to watch it at the cinema. I recall a time of Jim Crow, of gay men being arrested, of blacks being lynched with impunity. The feminine mystique diminished women’s rights and opportunities.

    I also recall a time when all the stores and yes, gas stations were closed on Christmas. Only hospitals, police, and firemen worked on Christmas. People did not include the other holidays of light.

    That world existed in the 50’s and 60’s. I am pushing 70 and it is amazing to me how much we have discovered in my 70 years and how much technology has created more creature comforts for me. I am also amazed that I could get married if I had a sweetheart.

    Some people have not adapted to our increased diversity and the rapid changes in technology. They are afraid. They want the world of “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father knows best”. Fear will lead people to elect a demagogue, a dictator if you will who will slow down the progress and change,someone whose bigotry and lawlessness are ignored in the name of reversing the changes that some people fear are ruining the American way of life. I was appalled by their choice, appalled by the ugly divisive rhetoric of the former president and yes, stricken by grief when he was elected. I felt sick. He was elected on the day of my 65th birthday. The Americans who elected him cling to the way things once were and refuse to change. They are suffering and feel existentially threatened.

    I don’t know if the Amish vote or not but obviously this is one group of people who continue a life filled with the values of the 19th century.

    As for me, I am trying to ride the river’s current of change even as I grow older and to continue to care for Mother Earth in my own small way.

  10. Grief, from all causes, has a half life that will not be rushed. Each day that Trump is no longer President is a day to celebrate.

  11. One could argue that the political parties we have today are not political parties as commonly understood since one of the parties has no platform or set of guiding principles to treat what were once regarded as political issues such as taxes, foreign policy etc. That party, the party of mayhem and insurrection, is opposed to change and will not succeed in the medium or long run even if successful at the polls. Change is coming however rocky and despite all; only its arrival date is in question.

    Additional proof that we do not have “political” parties as we once had can be found in the antics of McConnell, who allowed hundreds of House-passed bills to stack up on his desk even as he played games with additions of Federalist Society recommendations to the Supreme Court. Senators have had little truly political work to do and have instead been grandstanding with their show of fidelity to their leader’s calls for a reversal of a 50 state certification that he lost by a near landslide of seven million votes.

    To do: Govern politically on real issues, prosecute those who were involved in any way, shape or form with the insurrection, do everything possible within the range of presidential orders in lieu of stalled legislation, protect our democracy and our Constitution from all enemies, foreign AND domestic, and I emphasize “all.” Finally, persevere.

  12. Yes, 2016 and all that followed is grief. For me, it recalled 1968 and the back-to-back deaths of MLK and RFK and the rest…

    My macro-grief is about our culture: ME replaces US, there are no curse words any more, men (and astonishing, women) freely and smiling use a word that (at least used to mean) rape/forced sex in everyday conversation, name calling of the worst kind, lying is fine, there is no truth except what I believe, my “brand” is all I am, etc.

    There…feel better now…I do…

  13. Change is. Impermanence is.
    For me amazement followed the ’16 election, but I had known Dumpy to be a “sick puppy, and master manipulator, ” before that. I had not been happy with how the electoral process ran, as I’m sure many, if not all, of those here, felt. And then he began with his clearly delusional messaging about the inaugural crowd. So, my issue was mostly anger, mixed with some undeniable disbelief.
    I did/do have grief, for the country, for the apparently long term cultural/political trend downhill, since Nixon. I will have more grief, and anger if McConnell as sandbag the John Lewis and the “For the People” bills. I’m trying to stay hopeful about the usually dreaded mid-term elections.
    Many people have difficulty accepting that those assumptions referred to above are not carved in stone. But stone changes too; becomes sand.
    Peggy’s reference to Dylan is spot-on. I recall when that first came out, and I loved it, rather resented those who were threatened by it, in my somewhat youthful (not yet 22y/o) naiveté.

  14. Thank you Bill Bailey for that.

    I thought the former guy’s election fit well into the seven stages of grief. The only difference here is that I was stuck in a repeating cycle of Pain-Guilt and Anger-Bargaining for four long years and am only now making my way through Reconstruction-Working Through.

    Acceptance-Hope isn’t going to happen until after the Midterm elections and possibly not until after the ‘24 Presidential election.

  15. It is time to leave the grief of 2016 behind.

    There’s a saying which goes: “Generals always fight the last war.” The idea is that a portrait of what the enemy is like and what tactics work best against him is created in the previous conflict, and then codified and turned into dogma.

    The GOP as it exists today is continuing to fight the Social-Cultural Wars of the past, as it worked for them. The initial fright of January 6th shared by some elected Republicans has been replaced by – Just Ignore It.

    What these elected officials soon learned was the GOP base was still controlled and directed by the Trumpet. The Trumpet did and continues to claim he was defrauded of the presidency. Thus, he is still the rightful president. A quarter of Americans, including a staggering 53% of Republicans, believe Donald Trump is the “true president”, a May Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

    The “Big Lie” that the Trumpet was cheated out of the presidency is not just some “Tin Foil Hat” conspiracy. The GOP has reorganized itself to make certain losing does not happen again.

    Audit after audit confirmed Biden won. A quote often mis-attributed to Joseph Stalin is: “It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes.” Lesson learned now who gets to vote and who counts the vote is where the fight is.

    How Trump’s big lie has been weaponized since the Capitol attack
    Immediately after the riot Republicans continued to object to election results – and efforts to restrict voting and push the big lie have only grown in the six months since.

    You can stay stuck in the grief of 2016, or learn the lesson that it will take a supreme and diligent effort in every election to defeat Trumpism.

  16. Monotonous; the “grief of 2016” lives on in our Senate via McConnell and all others who support the grief of the 2020 big lie which is keeping 2016 alive!

  17. Thanks all! Especially Sheila, Bill, Robin, ALG, Linda, and Gerald! Step up and take a bow!

  18. Thank you Betty. Lester did you know that one of the nastiest cuss words derives from Fornication Under the Command of the King? Yeah, a lot of women were sexually assaulted by that command.

  19. First – Sorry, Robin – urban myth on the source of that cuss word.

    So – grief – we all experience grief, but how do we react?

    If we lose a loved one, do we withdraw? do we dedicate our life to show the influence our loved one had on us?

    Are we somber? Is it a celebration, like an Irish Wake, or a little of each, like a New Orleans funeral, where a single hymn can sound somber going in one direction and celebratory on the return trip?

    So political grief – I can concede that both sides feel it, but on one side, you have violence, and those who justify, excuse, or deny the violence

    On the other side, you can have anger, but it turns into “kvetching” on a blog post, or organizing to try to win the next election.

    Also, as pointed out, one side assuages their grief with lies and fantasies.

    Everyone is entitled to feel their grief and react in their own way, but while we are not responsible for the source of our grief, we are responsible for our response, our mode of grieving.

    If someone’s response to grief is to try to harm me, well, maybe it is my “age has privilege” attitude, but to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, I can’t tolerate intolerance.

  20. The news media went into a literal meltdown over Trumps election. Many of those people who called him a friend and especially in the entertainment business railed against him from the day he went down the escalator and began attacking him even more. It was those hated Hollywood and the media that rallied behind from various groups seeing him as a victim fighter. Unlike Clinton who continually sought to win the other side over he began pointing out his view of their hypocrisy. It was the tweets that gave fire. Somehow many people who didn’t like him personally liked how he fought for the working guy. It was painful and added to the grief of those who are on board to change America from whats written in the constitution from personal freedom, the economy which forgot about the rural businesses, and the middle class worker who saw their jobs go over seas to a centralized government pushing for more control that secured not only liberal ideas about the family, but a protection of the environment, a new social justice.
    The news media fo four years picked up on every tweet and he enjoyed the battle, not trying to compromise or win anyone over. Never seeing the grief of the other side caused the helped with the political divide the media continued to push. Groups reacted to the grief and new challenges arose as political activists began marching in the streets, some burning businesses of minorities to the ground. With a virus on the loose he continued his political battles with the media that continued in their grief through a campaign against him wher 90% of what was reported was done in a negative light. From Hughley to Levin you heard polarizing political views. Somehow how Trump thought he would overcome all of this not realizing the political style was feeding the grief if those who opposed him. Instead of acknowledging their grief ignored it.
    He kept promoting his accomplishments of low unemployment, working for the middle class through an economy that was beginning to boom. He played into revisionists hands, the grief was too hard to bear as many wanted change. Although popular to many he was like a magnet that drew those that hadn’t voted before to the polls to vote.
    Many this year are seeing their financial futures fail. The working class is seeing a new grief. Several people are wondering how the economy will go forward. No one is addressing the national debt, political and economic commentators are seeing a new grief inflation hitting everyone and more importantly the poor we wanted to help by getting rid of him.

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