How Anxiety Helped Me Understand Trump Supporters
I’ve spent the last three years scratching my head anytime I’ve heard someone, including family members, say they supported Donald Trump. I couldn’t grasp what they saw in the man who was clearly racist, sexist, homophobic, and misogynistic, not to mention unqualified and incompetent. I couldn’t engage in any meaningful conversation with a Trump supporter because I couldn’t get past the inability to find common ground and our seemingly disparate world views, but once I looked at what he represents through the lens of my own anxiety, fears and shame, I began to see that what he offers people is an escape from their deepest fears.
When I was stuck in a worldview permeated by anxiety, everything was fearful. The next ride in the car, the prospect of being laid off, the next visit to the doctor, everything was laced with the potential for disaster in my mind. Anxiety made me give up my own power and agency because I was always looking for a quick fix to alleviate the panic that rested just below the surface. I literally searched the world over for the cause of my anxiety, never once suspecting that it lived inside of me and that my past unresolved trauma could be the reason why I lived in a constant state of fear. I looked for answers externally, much as I believe Trump supporters do, as they look for the quick fix which he offers in his rhetoric laced with easy outs and short-term fixes.
Recently, I experienced my own brush with leaders professing cures and antidotes for white people to address their racism and I began to understand the allure of Donald Trump. These anti-racism leaders appealed to my inner shame for being a white person with white privilege. I followed these leaders without question, suspending my own judgment and discernment because I believed they knew better than me what would help me be an anti-racist. I didn’t investigate their qualifications or their past work, I followed them solely because they offered me an easy way out of the shame I felt for being a white person, much like Trump plays to the inner shame of his followers offering them scapegoats and easy solutions to their problems. As a result of these interactions and my lack of judgement in these situations, I felt shame and with the shame came anxiety. Anxiety because I gave up my power and judgment to virtual strangers.
Even at the height of my anxiety I wouldn’t have supported Trump, but I now understand the inclination. Anxiety robs you of your agency over your own life and your belief that you have any control over it. When shame is so deeply held it can bend the mind into believing that the next quick fix is right around the corner and that you are not responsible for finding it. Doing the inner work of excavating our shame is grueling and painful and most people aren’t willing to do the work required to look deep into themselves and face their pain. I believe that Trump speaks to that deep inner shame in some people that makes them feel like they are seen and heard because for so long they’ve been buried beneath their own pain and aren’t willing to dig themselves out of it. I too wanted a quick fix to my deeply held shame of being white and having white privilege. For awhile, I thought there would be a quick fix, that I could just learn a few rules and suddenly not be a white person with racist behaviors, but that was wrong. I believe inner work is required to alleviate any and all symptoms of the ‘isms’ in our culture, whether it be racism, sexism or homophobia. These are all learned behaviors, but I believe we need to look deep into ourselves to determine why these fears, anxieties and behaviors set in.
The truth is I never would have been able to begin the process of managing my anxiety with any real progress or results without doing the tough work of facing the pain that was embedded deep inside of me. I understand people’s reluctance to look deep inside of themselves and face their pain and fear; it’s work that’s not for the faint of heart, but I believe this work is sacred and necessary and is what it’s going to take to get people to embrace their own humanity and to recognize the humanity in others. Looking deep inside myself is the only way I’ve been able to find the humanity in Trump supporters. It’s a humbling experience, but one that’s proven to be extremely valuable as I contemplate my own humanity.