Desolation Row

Reflection on an Election

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Like many of you, I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night, or rather early Wednesday morning after the election results could no longer be doubted. Closing my eyes in hopes of oblivion, I found only more agitation. My stomach hurt, my bowels fluttered, my thoughts spun round and round without order or direction.

Questions crowded in: “How could this happen?” “Whose fault was it?” “Where do we go from there?” In my emotionally distraught state, no answers surfaced, just more questions and deeper unease.

At some point, it occurred to me that, for all my agitation, I had no name for what I was feeling. I long ago learned that identifying a feeling is the first step to coming to grips with it. Of course, I knew that my intense suffering was a reaction to Trump’s unexpected and appalling victory. But what exactly was that reaction? Anger, disappointment, betrayal, despair? None of these labels seemed to get at the profoundly wounding nature of my distress. Quite suddenly, in the way the mind works sometimes, I had the word I was looking for — “desolation.”

It’s a harrowing word for a harrowing experience. It encompasses feeling deserted, abandoned, bereft, joyless, disconsolate. Without in the least lightening my mood, this label gave me hope that I could regain control. Now at least I could ask: What exactly had plunged me into this morass of desolation? The answer was clear: I had just learned that I was not living in the country that I thought I knew. It wasn’t that someone had taken something from me: a veil had lifted and I knew that I had been a victim of self-deception. Why was this even slightly comforting? Because in feelings as well as in thoughts, there is a balm in truth.

And behind that truth lay another: I was not alone in experiencing desolation. I don’t mean only that everyone who despised Trump as a racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully was feeling, at that moment, what I was feeling. The desolation that had seized me felt too big to be so limited. The original question that had sent me into a spin was this: How could anyone, other than like-minded bigots and bullies, have voted for Trump? And it was clear they had. His hard-core supporters, who shared his world-view, had never wavered in their support, but they were not numerous enough to push him over the top in all the battleground states, from Pennsylvania to Ohio to Michigan. The votes that he needed to win came from people who should have been repelled by everything he said and did. Evangelical Christians who should have found his boasting about adultery shocking to their religious sensibilities. Suburban women who had to be appalled by his demeaning misogyny. Hard-working men and women who believed that “everyone should pay their fair share” and yet ignored his damning failure to release his tax returns. What lay behind the individual decisions of enough of these voters in enough states to ensure Trump’s election?

Trump supporters in front of Trump Tower. Photo credit: Marco Verch / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Trump supporters in front of Trump Tower.
Photo credit: Marco Verch / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

In an access of empathy that surprised and shook me, I realized that only now, having experienced such profound desolation over the state of the country, could I appreciate that this same feeling had motivated millions of other Americans to vote for Trump. What after all was the essence of his campaign? The slogan “Make America Great Again.” Along with my friends I had mocked it as either empty rhetoric or a dog-whistle appeal to the out-and-out racists and misogynists among his supporters. But what if it had another appeal entirely?

Psychologists have been telling us for years that despite appearances most people cast their votes on the basis of emotion, not reason. Seen in this light, Make America Great Again was a straightforward promise to relieve the inchoate feelings of desolation in an otherwise undecided segment of the electorate — people who over the last eight or 20 or 30 years have become alienated from the country they grew up in.

Now that I was awash in the same feelings I could understand what had prompted so many people — not the hard-core racists and misogynists and xenophobes but the others who spelled the difference in the election — to ignore everything that would otherwise have caused them to reject Trump.  And without in the least sharing their attitudes and tastes, I could understand the emotion that in the end decided them.

I hope it is clear that I am not equating their motives for feeling dispossessed in the country we share with my own motives. Their longing for an America organized by racial and cultural hierarchies, their nostalgia for unearned privileges they assumed as their birthright because of their gender or the color of their skin, can never be satisfied in today’s world. The specific well-paying jobs they mourn are never coming back. But their feelings of desolation are all too real. And when Trump alone promised to cure them, it was an offer they could not refuse. I believe that acknowledging this connection is important if only to obey the age-old imperative to know your adversary.

If this bridge of empathy, however shaky, also contributes to the national dialogue we must now embark on, the agony many of us are going through may have been worth it.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from road (glenn / Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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23 responses to “Desolation Row”

  1. M D Berkman says:

    I applaud Gerry Jonas’s eloquent argument for empathy and call for meaningful dialogue but I am less hopeful that there is a path to redemption after the Faustian bargain a number (although not a majority) of the American people have made. To my mind there is no excuse for electing a despicable creature to supreme power. Perhaps Democrats had to make it clearer how many plans to “float all boats” after the recession, and a better health insurance plan, had been blocked by Republicans. But there are also many who are faring okay economically who have revealed themselves to be racists and xenophobes, including people I thought I knew, and I personally can’t see how to go from there.

  2. M D Berkman says:

    I applaud Gerry Jonas’s eloquent argument for empathy and call for meaningful dialogue but I am less hopeful that there is a path to redemption after the Faustian bargain a number (although not a majority) of the American people have made. To my mind there is no excuse for electing a despicable creature to supreme power. Perhaps Democrats had to make it clearer how many plans to “float all boats” after the recession, and a better health insurance plan, had been blocked by Republicans. But there are also many who are faring okay economically who have revealed themselves to be racists and xenophobes, including people I thought I knew, and I personally can’t see how to go from there.

  3. House56 says:

    When the Dems decided to trot out that person in primetime at their convention they were saying they’re disconnected from reality. When you say those well-paying jobs are never coming back, you are declaring that you have conceded or worse (and I recognize that you said “specific”). These people know they’re getting screwed even if they don’t understand by whom, but they know Hillary certainly isn’t the answer. When all people see is despair do you really think they care about political correctness?

  4. House56 says:

    When the Dems decided to trot out that person in primetime at their convention they were saying they’re disconnected from reality. When you say those well-paying jobs are never coming back, you are declaring that you have conceded or worse (and I recognize that you said “specific”). These people know they’re getting screwed even if they don’t understand by whom, but they know Hillary certainly isn’t the answer. When all people see is despair do you really think they care about political correctness?

  5. Debamboozler says:

    I spoke too soon. It appears Trump is biding his time and very meticulously plotting a course to do precisely as he campaigned. He is up against the powers of darkness that have existed on this planet since the times of Babylon. He faces a task of epic proportions…ending the Age of Deception and Evil and heralding-in an Age of Truth and Righteousness. We are witnessing not only a historic event of monumental proportions, but also the fulfillment of prophecy. 1917 is the anniversary of Fatima. The warning of Fatima was that Russia must be consecrated to the Holy Mother if the world was to avoid a planet shattering Third World War. Putin is the fulfillment of that prophecy and has reopened the Orthodox Church across all of Russia. When Russia purged the Bolsheviks from their midst, they took up residence in the District of Criminals to carry on their campaign of evil and deception. The Battle between the Forces of Light and Darkness has been joined. See Washington’s Vision in Valley Forge for the glorious outcome. There will be casualties.

  6. Debamboozler says:

    I spoke too soon. It appears Trump is biding his time and very meticulously plotting a course to do precisely as he campaigned. He is up against the powers of darkness that have existed on this planet since the times of Babylon. He faces a task of epic proportions…ending the Age of Deception and Evil and heralding-in an Age of Truth and Righteousness. We are witnessing not only a historic event of monumental proportions, but also the fulfillment of prophecy. 1917 is the anniversary of Fatima. The warning of Fatima was that Russia must be consecrated to the Holy Mother if the world was to avoid a planet shattering Third World War. Putin is the fulfillment of that prophecy and has reopened the Orthodox Church across all of Russia. When Russia purged the Bolsheviks from their midst, they took up residence in the District of Criminals to carry on their campaign of evil and deception. The Battle between the Forces of Light and Darkness has been joined. See Washington’s Vision in Valley Forge for the glorious outcome. There will be casualties.

  7. 0040 says:

    America became “desolate” in 1963 after CIA assassinated a sitting POTUS . Most of the horrors that have occurred since can be traced back to those who took power as a result of that murder. After more than 50 years of constant propaganda to the contrary, a majority of Americans alive at the time still know that Oswald was indeed the patsy.

  8. 0040 says:

    America became “desolate” in 1963 after CIA assassinated a sitting POTUS . Most of the horrors that have occurred since can be traced back to those who took power as a result of that murder. After more than 50 years of constant propaganda to the contrary, a majority of Americans alive at the time still know that Oswald was indeed the patsy.

  9. Wipster says:

    Dylan had it right 50 years ago…

  10. VoxFox says:

    Obama was a Manchurian Candidate selected and groomed by Brzezinski.

  11. VoxFox says:

    Dig deeper. Expose the Ruling Elites that have eventually destroyed the USA.

  12. VoxFox says:

    Dig deeper. Expose the Ruling Elites that have eventually destroyed the USA.

  13. (Comment by reader @bilding1) Labels. Votes came from people who saw her for what she is. A DINO. A warmonger. A corrupt politician. A person with no ethics.

    • FTW3742 says:

      Yeah, but how much of Hillary’s “reputation” is the result of a 20 or 30 year assault of untruths and innuendo by the Right?

  14. (Comment by reader @juliefryer) TY for putting a name to what we’re feeling. Great read!

  15. Pissedoffalese says:

    Nuclear War=Clinton
    Peace (maybe) = Trump

    We got Trump. But we are not incinerated. Go Trump, go make deals, s**** the country, whatever, but thank you for wanting to get along with Prez Putin.

    The BS that has been said this election was UNRELENTING . Anyone who thinks Trump is one of “us” or is going to help, is deluded. But, he is not Clinton. No “no-fly” zones or war with Russia. That’s all that mattered to me.

    Either way, we’d have been ******, but hopefully, we won’t be ash in the next four years.

    Go Trump!

    Sigh…..

  16. Shawn West says:

    I am of the belief that the people that voted for Trump are desperate in many ways and they believe him when he says that more jobs will be created, that he will kill the free trade deals, and that he will stop immigration. Many are bitter about Obamacare and blame the democratic party for it period. Many people can’t afford the plans that are available due to a lack of regulation on the insurance industry and are worse off than ever because all health insurance has gone up. I don’t believe much if any good will happen over the next several years. I’m seriously concerned for this nation.

  17. Debamboozler says:

    “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” FDR
    I reserved a 10% chance that Trump was a shill. That 10% of doubt is proving to be 100% well founded. What the Obamanation was to the so-called liberal faction, Trump is to the right minded: just another two-bit political hypnotist. This was bar none – the most sophisticated U.S. presidential election psyop in history! The momentum of totalitarianism cannot be stopped and will inexorably run its full course to the bitter end. Trump will make America grate its teeth…again!