Collective trauma is “a shared experience of threat and anxiety in response to sudden or ongoing events that lead to some threat to a basic sense of belonging in society,” says Jack Saul, the director of the International Trauma Studies Program. “It usually is a disruption to the social and moral order.”
One could argue that those who opposed Donald Trump’s election have been through a collective trauma that has left them feeling rattled and afraid. Women and people of color have good reason to be anxious, given the sexist and racist things Trump said during the campaign, given his threats against the women who accused him of sexual assault, given how he has painted Mexicans as criminals, given that he was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, given so, so many things. People have very real fears rooted in policies Trump has promised to enact in office—including a ban on Muslim immigrants and the deportation of millions of immigrants.
It’s more than plausible to interpret the election of someone who openly espouses such views to the nation’s highest office as a disruption of the social and moral order.
Of course, this fear and anxiety is not universal—while many in the country mourned, Trump's supporters were celebrating. But the particular blow some felt on Election Day is only the tip of an iceberg of fear and anxiety that extends across the nation and across political divides. People felt threatened and anxious throughout the campaign, but “we’re seeing a fracture in our society which preceded the election,” Saul says. Collective trauma comes from not only sudden events like terrorist attacks or natural disasters, but also from “long-term chronic oppressions,” he says. The weight of institutional racism and sexism has weighed on Americans since long before Trump. Some white Americans already felt threatened by the loss of jobs and the diversification of their country. Trump’s election is just “an exacerbation of some basic factors that have already existed,” Saul says. “Now we’re at a dangerous point because when you have these kind of ruptures in society you can have healthy or unhealthy responses to these ruptures. Depending how the public reacts, and how the leaders react, it can lead to a regression to violence as a solution.”