There’s a Gray Matter column in the Gray Lady, from a few weeks ago, titled “Are Americans Experiencing Collective Trauma?” What ever could he be talking about? It’s written by one Neil Gross (ahem), a professor of sociology at Colby College, who is the author of “Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?” (I wonder what the political slant of that book is?….)
We’re all familiar with the notion of psychological trauma — damage to an individual’s psyche caused by an extremely distressing event. But there’s also another kind of trauma: a collective disturbance that happens to a group of people when their world is suddenly upended.
I repeat: what ever could he be talking about?…
Gross very briefly discusses various sociologists who discussed concepts of collective trauma, as far back as Émile Durkheim, before getting to the heart of the matter, and the whole reason he wrote the column (and why the NYT published it):
[T]hose who voted for Hillary Clinton may now be experiencing collective trauma of their own. In the aftermath of the election, they have been walking around in a daze. Some of this is because forecasts based on problematic polling strongly predicted a Democratic win. Some is fear or uncertainty about the future. But there’s more to it than that: For progressives, moderates and “Never Trump” Republicans, the political order they long took for granted — defined by polarization, yes, but also by a commitment to basic principles of democracy and decency — is suddenly gone…
In recent decades, Democrats and Republicans rarely agreed on substance, but all candidates for major office were expected to adhere to fundamental ethical norms, like “don’t threaten to jail your opponent” and “don’t celebrate sexual assault.” Mr. Trump’s victory signals that that world, with the assurances it offered that there were some lines those seeking power wouldn’t cross (or that the American electorate wouldn’t let them cross), is no longer. Rightly or wrongly, memories have been activated of historical traumas linked with anti-democratic politics, such as the emergence of fascism in interwar Europe and the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.
Oh…. Now I see.