Tensions, tears, trauma: the Democratic voters suffering under Trump


New York (AFP)

Some broke with pro-Trump friends and family. Many quit social media and now refrain from talking about politics. Others say they had old emotional wounds reopened by his presidency.

The anger felt in Democratic strongholds like New York towards Donald Trump since he was elected three years ago has been on ample display in street protests and on social media.

But what is less discussed is how Trump's victory has affected many Americans at a personal, psychological level -- an impact that speaks to the country's profound divisions with a year to go until the next election, on November 3, 2020.

Ruth -- not her real name -- is a Democrat-supporting architect in her 60s who lives in Arizona and who rejects Trump "with every fiber" of her body.

When the naturalized American citizen, originally from Canada, discovered three years ago that two of her longtime friends supported Trump she said she was "mortified."

"It was devastating to me. I really had to do a lot of soul-searching as to how I was going to handle that in terms of our friendship," Ruth told AFP.

"In the end, I couldn't do it. I could not turn my back on these people. We are still friends but not as close," she said. "There will always be an obstacle between us now."

Cody Mayers, a software developer in North Carolina, wrote on the online forum Quora about how after he posted a humorous anti-Trump video he and his girlfriend fell out with her father.

Contacted by AFP, Mayers declined to talk about the incident so as not to "reopen wounds."

- 'So toxic' -

Donna Ramil, who works at Cornell University in New York State, is one of many people who now avoid all talk of politics to avoid drastic breaks with friends, relatives or new acquaintances.

"In the past we used to joke about politics, people who knew I'm a Democrat would put a Republican sticker on my back and we would laugh. If somebody did that to me now I would be very offended," she said.

Ramil says she now has to be ultra-sensitive to the fact people may have different political views.

"What you do is you just don't talk about politics because it is so toxic. It's crazy, it's depressing," added Ramil.

Jacqueline Daly, a retired New Yorker and practicing Catholic, gave up chatting about politics to mostly pro-Trump friends in her parish so as not to risk losing them.

"A few times there has been a heated disagreement, like about immigration, caged children.

"After a few minutes, everybody sees that nobody is going to change their mind, you just stop it. You just want to keep a friendly relationship," she added.

Many have dropped Facebook: "It made it difficult for me to like people whom I had previously liked," said Brigid Beachler, a colleague of Ramil's.

Darrell West, author of "Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era," says the polarization goes way beyond politics into society and culture.

While researching his book, released in March, West said he was "amazed" at the "outpouring of mail from strangers telling me about the divisions in their own families."

"People suffer," he said. "It did not start with Donald Trump but he has made it worse," added West, a Democrat who has maintained good relations with his pro-Trump sisters.

- 'Traumatized' -

More serious perhaps than tensions between family and friends are people whose mental suffering may have aggravated under Trump.

Betty Teng, a New York therapist, counts several sexual assault victims among her patients.

She says the arrival in the White House of a man who boasted of sexually assaulting women, in a video made public just before the 2016 vote, brought back trauma for some of them.

The 2018 battle over the Supreme Court appointment of Trump-nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault by university professor Christine Blasey Ford, was another reminder of what they had suffered, she said.

"It's like getting a layer of skin ripped off and then being exposed to all this. It makes our job harder," said Teng.

She says the most vulnerable to trauma are migrants and racial, religious or sexual minorities who have been targeted by the Trump administration and its supporters.

For Matt Aibel, a fellow analyst in Manhattan, politics was long considered "taboo" in therapy sessions but not since 2016.

Like Teng, he is convinced the current climate is bad for mental health.

"Who is able to stay healthy and balanced in this context? Other than the Dalai Lama, I'm not sure," he said.