As conceived by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Of course, as Kübler-Ross herself has said and as anyone who has ever lost someone knows, those stages aren’t linear or fully distinct. They all kind of jumble up in surprising and unpredictable ways. Grieving is a complicated endeavor.
Interestingly, while Kübler-Ross began her model through working with terminally-ill patients, she later expanded it to encompass any form of loss. Loss of a loved one, loss of a job, even loss of an election.
In some ways, that last seems ridiculous – while the Kübler-Ross model has been used to describe the loss felt by fans of a losing sports team, “election grief” seems like it would most likely fit into this category. You wanted something, you invested time and energy trying to get that thing, and then you didn’t get it. It is sad, you grieve, you move on. There’s always next year.
Or, perhaps, four more years.
But I think election grief – particularly around this election – is different. It feels different. My grief, my sadness, my anger, my bargaining – it’s not because we didn’t win, it’s because of how much we still have left to lose.
The sense of loss isn’t about a candidate and it isn’t about a party – it’s a loss of country, of community, of place.
What is this world around me and why do I suddenly not belong in it? Why is everything upside-down and unpredictable? Why does the future suddenly seem so unclear?
Everything is different now and it won’t ever, ever be the same.
Of course, the current election grief faced by liberals isn’t the first or only grief of this kind to be felt in this country. I imagine that President-elect Trump’s victory was fueled in part by Americans who felt this way before the election.
It is, as Joy James has said, the nature of black life under white supremacy, “being denigrated and victimized by your designated protectors is shocking to the core.”
And this, perhaps, is the most tragic thing. It’s hard to see a way forward when so many of my friends and neighbors are fearful for their very lives.
It’s hard to see a way forward when my way of living and thinking, when my very concept of America, is antithetical to the views held by so many in this country. When their views are so antithetical to mine.
After the election, there was an explosion of thought pieces about how the American experiment has failed. But when I went to look that up, I instead found this piece from 2012: The real conclusion of the American Experiment is that democracy ultimately undermines liberty and leads to tyranny and oppression by elected leaders and judges, their cronies and unelected bureaucrats.
Having alternating halves of the country feel like their way of life is being threatened is no way to run a country.
But part of me also feels like this whole thing is a bit melodramatic. Democracy is hard. Our democracy is always failing. I wonder if really, there was ever a time when democracy just worked great and we all just got along.
It seems unlikely.
But that’s not a reason to give up; that’s not a reason to walk away. That’s not a reason to declare that the great American experiment has failed and there is nothing more to be done.
It’s a reason to fight, a reason to roll up your sleeves and work, a reason to talk with and listen to those who disagree with you. It’s a chance to engage in the hard work of democratic living.
Our democracy isn’t failing; we are continually building it as we go.