It’s now months later, and Caffrey, like many others, still feels “overwhelmed with despair.” Her feelings are familiar to many liberals, to whom political news resembles a multi-car pileup that it’s impossible to look away from. (I found Caffrey and other Trump opponents through my extended online network. Some of those quoted here are acquaintances and others are strangers.)
Even months after the election, these Trump opponents report feeling chronically sad and unrelentingly angry, signaling a major shift in the mental state of a substantial portion of the country. About half of Americans tell pollsters they disapprove of Trump, but for some, the “disapproval” borders on clinical depression.
It’s easy to mock reactions like these, but for liberals and conservatives alike, losing at the polls can produce an all-encompassing sense of despair. Conservatives experienced something similar after the election of Obama, whose socially liberal platform was anathema, for example, to many religious people.
As Senator John McCain conceded to Obama in 2008, Kevin Neugebauer of Katy, Texas, told CNN he was “distraught” and struggling to understand “how it could happen.”
And in 2012 Mitt Romney supporter Marianne Doherty of Boston told the Washington Examiner, “It makes me wonder who my fellow citizens are. I’ve got to be honest, I feel like I’ve lost touch with what the identity of America is right now.”
Today, Trump supporters are rejoicing, especially as Trump has shown that he was serious about the policy proposals he seemed to ad-lib on the campaign trail.(Strangers in Their Own Land is actually the title of a book by Arlie Russell Hochschild about the grievances of conservative Americans.)
“We are jumping up and down saying, finally we got someone in there who is rooting for the everyday, hard-working American,” said Steve Bentley, a retired man I met in a Lowes hardware store in Elizabethton, Tennessee, recently.
Liberal hand-wringing about Republican administrations is also not historically unprecedented, as Zachary Karabell, an author and investor, recently pointed out in The Washington Post. “One Cornell activist and supporter of incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter spoke for millions when he said Nov. 5, 1980: ‘The election of Ronald Reagan is a disaster for the country because he’s a fascist,’” Karabell wrote. “I can vividly remember my high school history teacher walking dazed through the corridors convinced that the end of the republic was at hand, a phrase he muttered throughout the coming days in dead seriousness.”
Still, Trump’s outlandish personality has heightened the ideological animus Democrats would have felt toward any Republican president. Antagonism toward George W. Bush was severe, but this feels, well, different. A gym in Scranton, Pennsylvania, had to ban cable news from its TVs after “several locker room and gym disputes over politics and news turned so heated that some members feared for their safety,” as McClatchy reported.