A Turbid Wake: The Emotional Cost Of A Trump Presidency
"The blackness is speaking back to us, and from a podium."
This post discusses self-harm and sexual assault.
Call me Ishmael. A toupee wearing Burger Ring-tinged Ahab was just elected President of the US, and I feel like someone shackled to a ghost ship. I’m floating on a coffin.
On Tuesday night I went to bed confident that Hillary Clinton would win, but I also sat up at three in the morning sobbing. The lead-heavy dread of the Trump campaign was coming to an end: 18 months of belligerent bullying, threats, intolerance, and meanness was finally going to fall quiet — or at least be told to sit down, and hush.
The daily wet shart of Trump news rattled my fragile mental health like a cruel toddler with a birdcage; to my depressive mind, he was a screeching nightmare, a bully, applying pressure to the open wounds in my head. I thought his defeat would be like a trepanning. I was waiting out for that morphine-like release of pressure. Instead the drill has slipped, he’s Bully-elect, and my misfiring neural pathways have called it quits.
Donald Trump has had a very real effect on my mental illness. He and the environment he has fostered have triggered depressive and manic states in equal measure, heightened my anxiety, and have had me yelling and crying at strangers.
For those who sufferer mental illness or have survived trauma, he is a bloated sentient trigger. Nightmare-In-Chief. When your wellbeing hinges on a fragile sense of greater human decency and a hyper-awareness of feeling — particularly hurt and dread — Donald Trump and his power present a daily gauntlet of challenges. His posturing and thuggish attitude elicits nothing but fear — a fear that is felt acutely by those already struggling with empathy, connectedness, and isolation. He is a bulldozer slowly pushing us closer to the abyss.
In all the discussion of ‘who’ and ‘what’ caused the Trump phenomenon we are thrown a collective jumble of easily identifiable tribes — media, politicians, workers — or all too convenient dividing lines — class, race, gender. I feel my tribe is somewhat hidden in the thick shrub, and that our ‘us vs them’ dividing line has been trodden into invisibility. I’m talking about Us vs The Normallos: the nutters vs the neurotypicals.
People who rationalise Trump and the events of the past 18 months are usually oblivious of the privilege that that ability to rationalise offers. I can’t rationalise him. Like a lot of people, to me he is an abstract Rubik’s Cube that has seven faces instead of six, and which I’ll never solve. He is the reason I can’t make eye contact. Trump is the embodiment of all the neurotic fears and paranoia of the depressive, the deluded, the anxious, the manic: a rattle bag of indistinguishable human traits that leave us confused and terrified. He is a great flashing sign calling out our otherness and bafflement; both a reiteration and a reaffirmation of our inability to connect with people, thought, and emotion on what is generally conceived as the ‘correct’ level.
Is Trump the black dog or the guy the black dog is warning you about? He’s not wearing a collar.
Trauma In The Time Of Trump
I spent Wednesday night talking to fellow sufferers about the raw trauma of a Trump presidency. For many, his acceptance speech thudded out like the slow dull hammering of a nail into a coffin. Another block out of the Jenga puzzle that is depressive survival. When a disease is constantly telling you that life is futile, that existence is a fool’s errand, and that good is absent or unreal — the election of a man like Trump plays into a neurochemical-created confirmation bias. My god, I thought, the blackness is speaking back… and from a podium.
Those in my tribe of well-meaning lost kids sent out a collective gasp as our personal monster took shape and took office. There will be no trepanning. That Trump steak is going to keep on sizzling on our brains.
Those suffering from trauma, particularly trauma linked to sexual assault, were basically told to fuck themselves — that their hurt was whispered and worthless. A friend of mine in America told me she felt as though she had been locked behind bars. A man with a trail of alleged victims and an ego that led him to boast about molesting people is now leader of the free world. A friend who recently went to the police about a past rape told me Trump’s face was the face of everyone who’d doubted her, everyone who’d defended her attacker.
That face will be in the news every day.
Though I disagree with the public diagnosing of Trump, it’s a depressing thought that Trump may be in my tribe — the band of others. There are thinkpieces saying that he’s autistic, he’s bipolar, he’s depressed, he’s a sociopath or a narcissist. It’s futile to guess, but it’s safe to say is with us in his isolation. He embodies the very vulnerabilities that he aggravates. He is a raw-nerve of feeling. He is petty incarnate. He is not mad like us but he is small like us — put a small man on a pedestal and hear how shrill he screams.
Today I stood at the Indian Ocean thinking about the horror show that is 2016. Near Fremantle’s old whaling tunnel, I thought of Ishmael floating on the coffin, I thought of something Captain Ahab says in Moby Dick: “I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, wherever I sail. The envious bellows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass.”
I looked out at a place where I’d once tried to drown myself, thought of President Trump, and wondered if there were any harpoons left to throw.
If you’d like to talk to someone after reading this piece you can contact Lifeline 24 hours a day on 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
Feature image via Tony Webster/Creative Commons.
Patrick Marlborough is a writer and comedian based out of Fremantle. He writes regularly for VICE magazine, and has maintained steady work as a bullshit artist for some time. He’s on Facebook here and tweets at @Cormac_McCafe.