“Donald Trump is finally gone from the White House, so you must be filled with joy, right?”
That was the type of question I heard from various people after Inauguration Day. Yes, I was happier the day after Joe Biden was sworn in. But even now, days after Trump is out of the White House, I’m still not “filled with joy.” And as I learned from countless others—in addition to three psychologists I spoke to in in connection with this article—I’m not alone. There’s a deep unease that still lingers that is consistent—as the doctors explained—with suffering an emotional trauma that may take an extended period to resolve.
Dr. Sam Roth, a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of experience, explained that for many Trump’s presidency was a “slow rolling trauma over a four-year period.” This trauma, per Roth, was made more painful for many given that Trump was in essence able to get away with his horrific behavior—lies, bigotry, bullying, and corruption—while in the White House, adding to a sense of powerlessness many felt.
Clinical psychologist and part-time lecturer at Harvard Medical School Dr. Tim Davis echoed that sentiment, noting that for many who opposed Trump, his presidency was “an extraordinary emotional ordeal.” Davis added that when people are subjected to a trauma that extends over years, it “takes time for it to really sink it that it’s truly over and where people allow themselves to feel joyful.”
That was the very sentiment I saw when I posted the question on the Facebook page for my SiriusXM radio show asking how people were feeling now that Trump was out of office. In a matter of hours, there were nearly 200 comments detailing that the emotional toll inflicted by Trump was still very much with people. Here’s a small sample:
Claire: I'm finding it surreal. Hard to grasp. Is it really going to be ok?
Donna: I’m still uneasy, often near tears which is unusual for me. Knowing 70+ million people voted for him leaves me dumbfounded and unable to take deep breaths. I think I’m waiting for the ‘other shoe’ to fall.
Rodger: Emotionally I am exhausted numb from the hate that was spread. I have friends, acquaintances, and family who supported Trump that I may never trust again.
Gia: Strong sense of relief but at the same time, can't believe it's over (sort of). Keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, like he will still do something terrible.
Malalai: It’s like divorcing an abusive spouse and remarrying a decent person—so many emotions at hand, including relief, joy, some trauma.
Mary: I do feel like I have PTSD and it is exacerbated by the fact the Republicans continue to close ranks around that horrible man.
Callie: Trump might be gone, but "Trumpism" isn't...I feel like we've won a temporary battle, but the war is still looming.
Others expressed concerns that Trump supporters would engage in more political violence against the federal government—or even come after them personally. None of this is or should be the typical response when a president leaves office. But this what Trump has visited upon so many of us who were emotionally invested in resisting and defeating him.
When I take a step back, I see that none of this should be surprising, given that our fight against Trump wasn’t just political. It was personal. For example, Trump’s unabashed bigotry inspired hate crimes against many communities he targeted, including the Muslim community that I’m part of. I even had Trump-loving neo-Nazis smear me with lies, claiming I was a terrorist. From there they threatened to kill me. It doesn’t get much more personal than that.
For those not in communities targeted by Trump’s hate but still feeling the same emotions, all the doctors I interviewed touched on the likely reason for that. Trump shook to the core the sense that our democracy couldn’t be destroyed. Dr. Davis explained that Trump’s attack on our democratic institutions, which reached a crescendo with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, caused a “horrific bursting of security.” Consequently, many “no longer felt safe” that the bedrock principles of our nation—such as democracy—would continue given Trump’s actions and the support for them by so many of his supporters.
Alarmingly, the worst part may be yet to come for people who felt an emotional toll from Trump’s years in the White House, as Dr. Jack Foehl, a psychologist who is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, noted. He offered an analogy that he hoped would be instructive: “The citizens of London during the bombings by the Nazis would carry out their tasks, dutifully pile bricks off their streets.”
However, he added, “It was only many, many months after the fall of Berlin, of Tokyo, that the stress of actual ‘Post-Trauma’ took hold.” It was then that people experienced “the nightmares, the sleepless nights and the ‘irrational’ foreboding of a return of upheaval.” Foehl remarked that with Trump—and we can probably throw the pandemic in there, too—“it’s going to take a while to hit a ‘Post.’”
The emotions many are feeling (or not feeling) should not be a cause for alarm as the doctors noted. But Dr. Roth added that if your emotional state “interferes with your ability to engage in your normal daily life, then you should seek professional support.” Roth’s best advice is to not check out, but “to join something.” By that he means a club, organization, etc., so you don’t feel alone—even if just online given the pandemic.
The Trump trauma sustained was painful for many of us, including, candidly, for me. Trump’s bigotry directed against my community and others, as well as our democracy, caused me countless sleepless nights. Literally my blood pressure over the past few years has climbed and a big part of that was Trump.
And oddly, Trump made me realize how deeply I love this country. I sincerely felt it a patriotic duty to defend our nation against Trump’s efforts to transform America from a melting pot that enticed my my late Palestinian, Muslim father to immigrate to America in the 1950s in search of a better life to a white nationalist state that literally banned Muslims. Yes, fighting Trump was personal for me. Very personal.
Now if, like me, you want to take steps to ensure we don’t experience this again then maybe take a short time to recharge and unwind. But don’t check out permanently. We absolutely need to stay active to prevent Trump or any other Trump-like figure from ever occupying the White House. None of us wants to or should have to go through this type of nightmare again!