I had a brother die about a year and a half ago. When my father called me to let me know I thought he was leading up to one of his standard bad jokes, the worst one yet. Understand, that there was absolutely no reason he should have died that I knew of. He was younger and healthier than I am, as far as I knew he didn’t engage in any risky behaviors, and I had just seen him a couple of days earlier and everything was absolutely normal. So when I got the call I went so far as to lose my patience with my father and yelled at him to knock the bullshit off and tell me what the hell he really wanted. The shock was so extreme that on some levels it still hasn’t completely sunk in, in fact I’m not sure if it ever will. My brother and I were very close, and the pain is always just under the surface like bruise that still aches sharply to the touch.
A couple of days later I was at a function and I let the people there know what was going on with me. At least I think I let them know, looking back I realize I have very little memory of the days that followed. Everyone was great, there was plenty of compassion and understanding. Then a week later I was with the same group of people when one of them came up to say hello. He asked how I was doing and I numbly replied that I still wasn’t doing very good. When he asked why I told him about my brother’s death (I had no memory of seeing him the week before and didn’t know if he knew), and he looked me straight in the face and said “Yeah, but wasn’t that last week?! I mean sooner or later you’re going to have to get over that shit. You can’t mope about it forever.”
To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. I literally was taken so off guard that I actually agreed with him and shuffled away, and just went and sat down and stared at my feet. By the time my brain had processed what he had said he was gone and I was left to sit there and stew in my own anger. I mean at that particular point in time we had visited my brother’s house only once just to get a few items for the funeral, which itself had only concluded a day or two earlier. There had not even been a burial yet because of the time it takes for the cremation to occur.
I’m quite sure that more than a few people reading this probably thought “What an insensitive asshole! It had only been a goddamn week. Give the guy some time, his brother just died?!”, am I right?
I understand that the person meant well, but what is clear to me now is that, for whatever reason, he clearly had never had that level of an emotional blow in his life before. He just didn’t understand how it can effect people. Some can heal quickly, some more slowly, for others it can take years, and some never get over things. For those who can never accept or get over the blow, they slowly die a little bit every day until they finally run out of days.
We all process emotional trauma differently. From the John Wayne types who suck it up and stoically go about life, to the trembling pillars of jell-o who might get over it in a few years if they’re lucky… and everything in between. We all do it differently and all of it takes time.
This brings me to politics, specifically the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. It was a different campaign. It was so unique that it will be studied for years. Why? Because he went from barely any name recognition to filling 30,000 seat arenas in a matter of weeks. He was able to fund his campaign and out-raise his opponents by massive amounts, and he did it by doing something everyone thought impossible: by only relying on his donor’s meager support donations, which averaged $27 a piece… no big money were allowed. None. In the age of Citizens United that is nothing short of a modern miracle.
So how did he do all of this? Well for one, he is an New Deal Democrat who has been running as an independent because these days a New Deal Democrat translates to a Democratic Socialist. And so he registers as an Independent. Bernie has a very long and very solid reputation of being a man of his word and a man of integrity. He says what he means, and he follows through. And I mean this in a way that goes beyond normal even for regular people, for a politician that kind of integrity makes him a bonafide freak of nature!
And the people responded. Boy did they respond! The sheer amount of first-time voters who flocked to him was mind blowing. His supporters we so emotionally invested in him that they were willing to go out of their way to educate themselves on the issues and debate anyone on the spot. They were willing to distance themselves from acquaintances once they realized where they stood on issues. They saw Bernie as a once in a lifetime candidate and they were willing to do whatever it took to make him president. In other words, they felt as though there was a chance that someone was actually going to be able to do something that would directly affect their daily lives for the better. For those who saw this about Bernie, they saw him as something bigger and more personal than just some politician. He felt like a friend, a father, and a savior all in one. And the more this happened, the more humble Bernie became. People couldn’t help but love him.
And because there was a lot of suspicion that his campaign was not being treated fairly by the DNC (suspicions that have now been proven true) people felt that not only was their friend under attack, but the possibilities he represented in their lives was also in danger. They were emotionally invested in this, they were paying for it out of their own meager paychecks and realized that if he lost, they lost. It wasn’t about the candidate, it was about them. It actually was a revolution, because it was about the voters themselves.
So when it all unravelled at the Democratic National Convention you saw people protesting, people refusing to change or give in, you saw people walking out during roll call, and you saw people literally crying. Suddenly everyone who was supporting HIllary Clinton, or was genrally supporting The Party, began to berate Bernie’s supporters. They told them it was time to unify against the evil Darth Trump. They told them to get over it, Bernie never had a chance anyway. They stood on stage and pointed directly at them and said “To the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people, you’re being ridiculous.”. And all of this was within minutes of the final nomination, not a week later. In fact, it hasn’t even been a week as I write this.
Now I realize you can’t even compare the sudden death of a brother to a political candidate losing a nomination. But what you can compare, if you are willing to put your opinions aside, is the reactions that happen in situations where people are emotionally bound to something, and then lose it. They lose the hope, they lose the spark, they lose their reason for being there. They lose all of their time and energy, they lose their money, they lose the psycological dependence on the thing they were counting on. Psycological dependence is a real thing, and it is a core part of you and I and every other human. When we lose something suddenly and tragically, we actually experience a withdrawal of sorts, and it takes time and effort before we can heal and move on. And remember, not everyone is capable of that kind of acceptance. But one thing that is key in the emotional healing process is that it requires time. It rarely, very rarely, happens overnight, let alone instantly. So to stand up in front of people and tell them their being ridiculous when they built this thing from the ground up and just had it smashed.. well frankly that doesn’t do anyone any good and it was a dumb move.
Give people time. Give them space. Let them be angry, let them wallow in denial. Allow them to get upset and depressed. Eventually they will come to accept the results. And when that happens maybe they will be ready to join in with you in the defeat of Darth Trump. But if you berate them, belittle them and demean their feelings you’re not going to make any friends, let alone gain voters. There is plenty of time between now and November, so why not back off and give people a break. Goldman Sachs didn’t pay for this campaign, those very upset voters did. So why not let them take the time to accept this on their own terms. When they’re ready to talk, you’ll know.