“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” President Trump said in a Coast Guard commencement address this week. He was, of course, referring to himself, and he was just a few words off from the truth. No politician in recent history has treated our country worse or more unfairly.
A majority of Americans — 58%, according to the latest polling — disapprove of his actions. Though for many of us, “disapprove” is too light a word. We are apoplectic, and the anger comes in waves. The shock of his hasty ban on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries made me forget my indignation over his corporate conflicts of interest. I was still fuming over his choice to hold a sensitive national security briefing at his private golf resort when I saw the news that he had characterized journalists as enemies of the people. Rage supplants rage.
And then he axed FBI director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into his associates’ ties to Russia. Shortly thereafter, news outlets began reporting that Trump also revealed classified intelligence to Russian officials. The outrage cycle began again.
We knew this was coming. In the dread-filled period between the election and Trump’s inauguration, pundits warned that panicking about every White House policy change and misstep would prove unsustainable. Just 17 days into his presidency, Arianna Huffington, the clickbait queen-turned-lifestyle guru, offered advice on “How To Get Out Of The Cycle Of Outrage In A Trump World.”
Now that we have experienced more than 100 days of this administration, I’ve realized that the stages of Trump grief are easier to identify than they are to transcend. They look like this:
Onset of the first stage usually occurs with the “ping!” of a push notification, bringing with it new information that the president has violated either federal law or common decency, or perhaps both at once. This stage is marked either by conscious denial (thoughts like “What the hell?” or “This can’t be real.") or unconscious denial, when I reflexively put my phone on silent and slide it back into my pocket. Until moments later, when I pull it out again...
This second stage begins after I click through to read the breaking news, or perhaps after I consume a next-day report featuring more shocking details and a reaction quote from White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who is doing his best to feign that he is still back in the denial stage. The anger stage lasts through several fresh updates and tends to deepen with each White House statement that the Washington Post is not to be trusted. I lose hours of my day reading tweets, which is like pouring gasoline on my fury. It continues to smolder after I’ve closed my laptop.
I realize this is no way to live, and also that I am annoying my loved ones with my apocalyptic pronouncements and inadvertent teeth-grinding. The bargaining phase tends to be the most productive. If I just call my representatives, send House Speaker Paul Ryan an expletive-laden postcard and make plans to attend a march this weekend, maybe this crisis will be averted. I increase my monthly contribution to the ACLU. I tell myself, “OK, it’s bad, but maybe this will be the scandal that finally inspires Republicans to grow a spine and pursue impeachment? Maybe this is where it all turns around?”
It becomes clear that things are not turning around. In fact, I am now certain that nobody cares about this scandal or any other scandal. Well, nobody except for me and my other liberal-bubble friends. Why bother checking the news or calling Congress? The Constitution is a deeply flawed document, representative democracy is a sham and unchecked capitalism has ruined everything. We are all going to die thanks to loose nukes or healthcare “reform” or an environmental disaster. Even if Trump is impeached, the line of succession is ghoulish. The best thing we can do is begin researching our immigration options and document this moment in American history as a cautionary tale.
This stage is tricky; it doesn’t really exist. Just when I think I’ve reached it, the cycle always begins again with fresh outrage-inspiring news, sending me back to stage one. Perhaps this is an unexpected upside to living under a presidency in a perpetual state of scandal: It’s impossible to reach a phase of calm acquiescence. I can accept that this is the country we live in right now, but not that this is the way things will always be. Nothing would be worse or more unfair.
Ann Friedman is a contributing writer to Opinion. She lives in Los Angeles.