Becca Balint: Hidden histories, hidden traumas


When I first saw the article on the Washington Post website, I thought it was a piece from the satirical rag "The Onion" – "Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting 'Trump anxiety' among clients." But the article penned by Paul Schwartzman was legit, despite its being reminiscent of a Woody Allen film. Therapists have noticed that there's rising worry among their clients related to Trump's ascendency in the polls. This is not surprising given that a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that nearly 70 percent of Americans said the idea of "President Trump" made them anxious.

A relative of mine whose father was killed in the Holocaust is clearly shaken to her core by Trump's popularity. She has had several tear-filled conversations with family members about both her worry about the future and her trauma from the past. All those years since WWII offered a kind of layered protection against the fascism still lurking in dark corners of Europe.

America had been a kind of psychological bulwark for her against the terrifying past. But now, our country no longer feels like the same safe haven. American politics, always laced with scandal and theatrics, are nonetheless fairly predictable because we generally agree on the bounds of decency and civility. Not so this year. Personal propriety and dignity of the office are in scant supply, and that "anything could happen" quality is truly unsettling to many. And for good reason.

Trump laid the groundwork years ago for his flirtation with racist elements within the GOP and the American population as a whole. For years he has been the defacto head of the "birther" movement. Though groundless and disproven many times over, Trump's continued insistence that President Obama is not legitimate is a nod not just to other "birthers" but also to "The Birth of a Nation," the 1915 D.W. Griffith silent film which portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as heroic. Its narrative delineates who is a true American and who is not. It's ultimately an origin story about belonging and alienation.

When I moved to Vermont almost 20 years ago, I felt as if I'd finally come home. The landscape was inspiring, and the people-sized scale of the state and its government made so many things seem possible. I was so proud and pleased to call the Green Mountains home.

You can imagine my sadness when a work colleague pointed out to me that someone had "keyed" my car and scratched in large letters the word "dyke" on the driver's side door. My feelings of having arrived "home" evaporated. And instead of the anger and shock I should have felt, I initially felt shame. In an instant, this act of vandalism, intolerance and intimidation, emboldened a question within me: Will this ever feel like home again?

I hadn't thought about this incident in probably a decade. But watching clips from volatile Trump rallies (in which some reporters and protestors are roughed up, threatened and spit at) has brought this long-secreted memory back into my consciousness. Encouraged by the ringleader, the unchecked anger of the crowds has me worrying who'll be scapegoated next.

With the rise of Trump and his many acolytes, long held notions about ourselves as a nation are called into question. Many of us never imagined that a candidate who panders to our baser instincts could be the GOP frontrunner. But here we are.

Carl Jung named an embarrassing truth when he said, "Knowing our own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people."

Becca Balint writes from Brattleboro on history, politics and culture. She currently serves as a state senator from Windham County.


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