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Confusing Loss & Losing

November 11, 2016

About half of America is in self described mourning – many in very fearful, tearful mourning. No one died, but those who are grieving feel the loss of something in an exquisitely tender, personal, and yet very, very public way. I am old enough to have been present for 16 presidential elections. I was old enough to remember perhaps 13 of them. But this election was extreme.

It was between the most mockable freak who has ever won a nomination to run for anything since Jesse Ventura and perhaps the most Establishment-based candidate since George HW Bush. And the Freak won.

Mr. Outside beat Ms. Inside, and yet freakier, lost the popular vote. Trump’s bizarre unsuitability for anything except being a Celebrity did not matter because Hillary was fresh out of the crock pot of 30 years of creating the mess about half the country has basted in – largely without voice save in the last 2 off-year elections. It was epic weirdness gone nuclear and real.

But this piece is not about politics. It’s about the sweep of extreme emotional sharing of loss – best crystallized by John Pavolvitz in his blog.

“Every horrible thing Donald Trump ever said about women or Muslims or people of color has now been validated.”


When the loss of a potential first female presidency is thrown in, and the fact Donald Trump is a walking spew of uncontrolled oversharing of every and any political thought, conspiracy theory and schoolyard insult that pops up in his cranial Magic 8 Ball, this is as weird an election as I can think of – and, hey, I got an 800 on my American History Achievement test (and a 5 on the AP).

Every campaign’s results angers many: riots at the ’68 Democratic Convention, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, W, and Obama were loudly loathed, insulted, hated on every level, including the personal variety. Some folk have always taken politics personally. But this year, this week, is different.

Cultures tend to personalize the public – especially upon death. This is reasonable for heroes like Mother Teresa or JFK – but even those passing with pop-presence make for vapor-thin extreme mourning of the distractions in our lives. People deeply mourned Princess Diana’s death and elevated Michael Jackson to saintliness upon his passing. And now, the same depth of insight and breadth of exposure of a Trump tweet can share every emotion into stratospheric overblown self-indulgence.

The Internet can make news out of a picture of your dinner. It can wreck a Wiener, exalt a blubbering fan girl – some say it elected Trump.

The aftermath of this election is different. Worlds of “correct” thinking and prediction became folly. Trump’s obvious tone deafness was mirrored by our “thought leaders”: polls, commentators, political scientists were completely deaf to over 50 million humans, sprinkled about enough states to garner 300 electoral votes.

The national angst of a lot of Hillary voters has been blasted to every cell phone with deep pain, anger and most distressing to me, grief.

The depth and nature of their expressions take on a personalization and emotional intensity that signal a loss of faith. The grieving of so many may snowball as it rolls down Facebook Mountain into an avalanche, but the feelings, and what motivated them are real.

Of course everyone wants to matter, and breast-beating works for that – as does judgmental piety or prejudice. While narcissism is always present in every internet act of uncontrolled pontification, here the swell of grief is based on a large order perception of tragedy.

“Fear” is a universal bonding platform that makes all things threatening. Tragedy usually begats one of two responses: despair in the now or faith in a better future. Despair has won for many, and faith is simply seen as folly. And that mirrors a large order slide into where we become faithless but empowered in emotional expression.

First and less important is the loss of faith in the Constitution. The Founders were excruciatingly clever in creating a freak-limiting format – even with one party governance. With more than a score of Amendments, the Constitution has proven it can accommodate losses of faith.

But what makes the expressions of grief, hopelessness, personal injury and tragic loss so disturbing to me is that it deeply confuses losing and loss.

Losing is the bad side of a calculation. Your team has lost, you lost a job, maybe a romance is lost: all have the ability for redemption or replacement.

Loss is permanent. It is a thing or human you valued gone, forever. Loss in this election could be the final crushing of the “Hope & Change” that rendered more votes than any other candidate in history (a voting level that indicts both of this year’s candidates.) Missing in all this sense of deep personal loss is the reality that there is another election in 4 years – not forever. I still count four year old underwear as “new”.

The deeply sad reality of so many, so publically, so inconsolably bereft, over a presidential election means a great deal more to me than as an obvious indictment of Internet Over Sharing Vanity Engorgement. This gut-wrenched mass of mourning have lost something beyond the election.

Humor is the first casualty of losing and loss. Jokes about death happen at the wake, not in the hospital, so I am sure that will return.

What seems skewed, in the largest vector I can perceive, is that many, if not most, in our culture have no backstops for the moment’s consequences. If something goes well – triumphs are screamed into the Internet ether. But there seems to be nothing under the feet of the bereft.

There has been a slow continuous loss of Faith in the last generation of Americans. Knowledge, and its offspring, technology, elevates humanity from the miseries of disease and oppression. But it’s empowering distractions push us to have faith in knowledge, versus Faith in what we cannot understand.

I know culturally we have absorbed Kubler-Ross/Kessler’s Five Stages of Grief. Here, the glimmer of Denial is overcome by 300 electoral votes – but is alive in a petition to invalidate the Electoral College. Anger is there, as it always has been in politics. Bargaining seems off the table. Depression is so prevalent that Acceptance is nowhere in sight.

So where does that leave us? Some are still grieving, but the entire culture is losing faith in institutions – and, more significantly, we are sliding into the loss in the Faith that passes all understanding. Instead we are skating upon an electronic web, with nothing below us. When what we want does not happen, or we are threatened, or tragedy strikes we are connected to each other – as are all the grieving Hillary supporters are now.

But absent Faith, connecting often only makes for pain greater in the multitude of group depression: private angst becomes public hopelessness with no underpinning purpose or foundation of hope.

We confuse losing, where events betray our hopes or remove barriers to fear, with loss where love is broken, where we are separated, forever from part of our lives. No one has died in the 2016 elections, but grief and mourning is filling the InterWebNets. If a greater Faith was there for more people (versus fewer and fewer) there would be less desperation, less focus on the pain of dashed expectations, less fear of potential consequences simply because God was there before, during and after every event in this world. For the faithful, anyway.

Atheists would say people are overcoming a mass delusion, that only measurable, verifiable reality has hope for each human, multiplied by our common sense of purpose and values.

But as this election shows, more and more humans do not have a central purpose other than survival and personal expression. There is little to believe in when the facts as we know them fail us – unless there is Faith in a purpose we cannot understand.

If facts were the source of all legitimate faith, Hillary Clinton would be our next president. But the same belief beyond evidence that projects a Donald Trump into the presidency for some also can give all of us the understanding that losing is not loss.

Before the election, almost everyone understood, really knew, that Hillary Clinton would, of course, be our next president. That faith in knowing was killed, and the resulting mourning, grieving and sense of loss has no context other than its own pain, absent some greater Faith that seems farther away with each day.

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