A physician’s poignant election thoughts

I took a long walk with my dog today, and then I took a shower.

I like showers. I’ve always found them soothing and comforting. I can think in there. I can relax. I can’t hear the phone ring. I can’t see a television. Generally, no one bugs me while I’m in there.  I come out clean, refreshed, and smelling and feeling good.

A shower can relieve aching muscles while removing the dirt and sweat from a long hike or a hard workout or a stint fighting weeds, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. Showers are powerful for me, so much so that the combination of just a single 200 mg ibuprofen with a long hot shower will knock out even my worst, sick-to-my-stomach headache.

So although my shower was not able to negate the outcome of the election, it helped me to gather my thoughts and to process them a bit.

Here’s what I’ve got:

People really suck at communicating. And people are hurting, which tends to decrease their communication skills.

People are hurting. And they are not hearing what is being said. Which leads to more hurt. Which leads to more closing off and even less ability to hear what is being said.

People are hurting. And they feel that they are not being heard. So they yell. And other people don’t like being yelled at, so they don’t listen, and they yell back. Which leads to more hurt and more feelings of not being heard. Which leads to more yelling.

With full recognition of the fact that my children will see it as quite ironic that these words are coming from my mouth, although a yell or scream is at times necessary to grab attention, yelling tends to lose its at first attention-grabbing power when it is done too frequently. And although there are circumstances under which someone must continue to scream because their life depends on it, in most situations, there are far more effective means of communication.

It has been a long election season. I am a heavy user of social media in that I am a heavy lurker. I listen. And I listen. And I listen more.

There are countless posts about how people have deleted people from their social media circles over politics. There are myriad political discussions which devolve into name-calling spats. There is vilification and dehumanization of those affiliating with a particular political party or supporting a particular candidate. On both sides. And within both sides.

So I listen. And I think. And I don’t unfriend or unfollow, because I want to know what other people are thinking.

And I occasionally say something, in a blog post, or in a private message, or in conversation with others.

What I hear in these personal conversations and in my lurking observations continues to affirm my initial assertion that people suck at communicating. And the reason is that they don’t listen — they don’t listen to what others are saying, neither on their own side nor on the other side, nor at times do they listen to what they themselves are saying.

I have many people whom I am close to on both sides of the political aisle. During this particular election cycle, most of the folks close to me, even those who generally vote conservative, voted for Hillary Clinton. But a few voted for Donald Trump.

The people I know well who voted for the president-elect are not racists. They are not xenophobic. They are not homophobic. Not even in a closeted-but-belying-underlying-prejudice-with-behind-closed-doors-remarks kind of way. Every person is by nature subject to carrying some bias, but beyond this basic condition of being human, these particular people are not –ists or –phobics. They happen to be smart, kind, highly educated, giving people. They support their local schools, they help feed the hungry, and one has given substantial financial support to LGBTQ causes. Their arguments tend towards the economic in general, and they allude not infrequently to frustration with the “political elite” and stifling bureaucracy. They uniformly decry unfair labeling by the general media and “liberal elite.”

The labeling hurts them. And they hear it even when it is not there. A statement about the white supremacist groups that support the president-elect evokes not an immediate repudiation of the white supremacist group but a defensive response of “I’m not a racist, and the fact that I am fed up with career politicians doesn’t mean you and all the liberal elite have a right to cast me as a xenophobe.”

I hear plenty of people lump all President-elect Trump supporters together as xenophobes, but plenty of people don’t lump them all together, and it’s not fair to assume that everyone does lump. Anyone else see the parallel to what our Muslim citizens deal with? And does anyone see the parallel of what many of our president-elect’s supporters deride as “political correctness” (if it involves not offending a minority or disenfranchised group member) to the defensive response to the perceived offense in the example here?

People want to be understood, but they don’t always want to understand. People want to be heard, but they don’t always want to listen. People don’t want to feel vilified, pigeonholed, and dehumanized, but they don’t always want to give that same consideration to others. And when people don’t understand, don’t listen, and instead vilify, pigeonhole, and dehumanize others, we get the cycle of viciousness that accompanies every election but that we’ve watched grow exceptionally heavy over this past year-and-a-half.

Our president-elect is a successful businessman. He has had business failures, but he certainly has grown his financial empire overall. He knows how to work a system, how to get what he needs or wants. He worked the country successfully to get the votes he needed. He did this with divisiveness, with name-calling, with insults, with threats, and with plenty of lies. I do think he is smart and knew very well what he was doing at all times. He knew his viciousness and his baiting would tear groups apart and drum up a certain base that he would need to get the numbers he needed and get them where he needed to get them in order to win.  He has his work cut out for him if, as he stated in his victory speech this morning, he intends to be a president for all Americans.

It’s funny — at the very beginning of his bid for the presidency, Donald Trump was so over-the-top and so much like a caricature that I seriously thought he was doing what he was doing to make the Republicans look ridiculous and boost up the Democrats. It seemed satirical. This whole experience has been surreal. And frightening.

Words have consequences. Words are powerful. And some of his words have caused pain and fear that will be very difficult to heal. And some of his words have emboldened those that are, truly, deplorable in their malice toward others, and the rest of the country will have to work together, all of us, to halt whatever momentum they’ve gained. I can only hope that the demagoguery will be kept in check now that the deal has been closed, so that those flames of animosity and malice will not be fanned.

I take hope in the fact that a significant portion of his votes were based on economics and frustration with bureaucracy, that the overwhelming majority of voters in the youngest demographic did not vote for him (as this group voted on social ideology as opposed to financial dissatisfaction — a luxury those in the older brackets are not necessarily afforded), and that it appears that he did not win the popular vote — it doesn’t keep him out of the office, but it makes the statement that there is significant work to be done, that support needs to be earned.

We will have to fight hard to keep our rights. We will have to fight hard to keep hatred at bay. We will have to work hard to listen, to understand, to see the humanity in one another. We have been shown that we cannot be complacent, that we must keep our eyes open and keep on our toes, that we have further to go than we may have thought.

I hope we have a big enough hot water tank.

Abigail Schildcrout is founder, Practical Medical Insights, and blogs at DocThoughts.

Image credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

View 43 Comments >

Most Popular

Join 150,000+ subscribers

Get the best of KevinMD in your inbox

Sign me up! It's free. 
close-link
✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers 
✓ Get KevinMD's 5 most popular stories
Subscribe. It's free.