The 2016 presidential election was contentious, to say the very least. No one can dispute that our country was divided on its political ideologies. Opinions were very vocal, and debates about the best candidate to lead our country were being played out in many forms: discussions around the office water cooler, debates on the sidelines of the soccer field, talk around the dinner table, discourse during cocktails at happy hour, lectures in classrooms, comments on Facebook and word wars on Twitter. Yet, even when the votes were in, the delegates were counted and the announcement was made, the debates continued. Post-election incidents were playing out across the country and spotlighted by the media. In December, a pilot on a United Airlines flight to Puerto Vallarta urged passengers to let “cooler heads prevail” after a fight broke out among passengers on the plane. A Minn. woman was pulled over for drunk driving and blamed her overindulgence on President Trump winning the election. Even the president’s daughter was accosted by a college professor on a commercial flight with her family during the holidays.
Whether you voted to “Make America Great Again” or you were “With Her,” there is no doubt the election impacted all of us in distinct ways. The onslaught of political coverage by the media, the political overtones of everything leading up to November 8, 2016, and the aftermath resonated with every American and left many wondering … can’t we all just get along?
According to Aparna Iyer, MD, PLLC, board certified psychiatrist at Frisco Counseling and Wellness and an assistant professor at UT Southwestern, major national events, like a contentious election, can cause anxiety in profound and pervasive ways. “People are often left feeling high levels of emotional distress, fear and uncertainty about the future. I recall one patient expressing her relentless fears that she would not be able to cope if things did not go as she had hoped.”
While the future of a Trump presidency fills some with hope and causes others anxiety, the outcome of the next four or eight years remains uncertain and is the topic of discussion on many social media forums. Frisco resident Samantha Perez-Moren says she feels the political climate in the country is “much worse” after the election. Ms. Perez-Moren voted for Hillary Clinton, which differed from her husband’s choice. She says her choice for president also differed from that of a majority of her family members, but they avoided conflict by not discussing politics. She says, “People in my family who disagree with me are not very open-minded and I am sure they would say the same about me. I think people are quick to argue with people without supporting facts and often things quickly escalate to name calling.” Ms. Perez-Moren says she is part of a liberal Facebook group that offers her a lot of support. She says she has hidden many people to avoid seeing their political posts. “People posting fake news or serious propaganda are difficult to tolerate. I feel that hiding their posts on Facebook makes the relationship more tolerable.”
People typically report increased stress when it comes to anything related with politics. “Voting is known to be associated with higher blood levels of cortisol, which is a known marker of stress,” says Ms. Iyer. “With regards to the 2016 political election, the American Psychological Association reported that 53 percent of American adults said the election was a significant source of stress for them. Studies have shown that this election caused significant stress that extended across all ages, races and political divides.”
The Maloneys, a family in the The Colony, are avid Trump supporters. Frank, a registered Republican, his wife, Carmen, and all their grown children voted for President Trump. Mr. Maloney felt the divide among opinions even in his own family in Pa. “I am originally from one of the hottest democratic strongholds in the country, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, and my family and friends there are diehard Democrats. The Trump movement reversed a century tradition in that area in a powerful way.” Mr. Maloney says he feels the media played a large part in how his extended family and friends differed from the views of his family in Texas. “For the few members in my family who regularly watched CNN, MSNBC and read The New York Times, it was very sad. It was apparent in our conversations that they were not being shown the same facts in an objective way. To me, it seemed like they were in another foreign country with the government restricting their information during the entire election process. How in the world could they be expected to make an informed decision based on the facts?” Mr. Maloney also said he did not feel comfortable expressing his opinions outwardly on social media and in demonstrative ways. “This election was so racially and politically divisive that I was concerned about the likely damage that others might inflict on our vehicles if they displayed a Trump/Pence bumper sticker.”
Mr. Maloney was vocal about his choices among his family and co-workers at Gateway Mortgage Group in Frisco. “I work in a corporate atmosphere that is very open and we are all connected like a family,” he says. “We had quite a few political discussions at the lunch table and there was always strong support for everyone’s opinions at our office.” Mr. Maloney’s strong opinions about President Trump helped sway some of those around him. He invited fellow mortgage broker, Jay Hohman, to the first Trump rally in Dallas in September 2015. “I was on the fence about Trump,” says Mr. Hohman. “I wanted to see what he was all about for myself. I found my opinions being formed that evening when I listened to him speak about change for our country and his experiences as a successful business person.” Mr. Hohman says his political choice differed from those of his sister living in Portland, a liberal supporter of Mrs. Clinton. “We avoided political discussions when we spoke on the phone. I prefer to discuss these things face-to-face and have an honest, candid debate.”
Ms. Iyer says healthy levels of debate and differences are helpful. “It helps us learn from each other and broadens our horizons. On the other hand, opposing political views within a family, particularly during the time of this election, can feel divisive and polarizing,” she says. “Several of my patients have expressed serious reservations about having discussions about the election with their friends and families due to a perceived fear of confrontation. One of my patients did not want to visit his parents for the fear that his father would bring up the election, since they had differing political views. I recommend taking an approach that is open and actively listening to the concerns and interests of the other person to try to understand his viewpoints. Engaging in a discussion like this could help with feelings of validation and being understood.”
Frisco husband and wife Joe and Adrianne Hudson each supported different candidates. Mrs. Hudson says this led to a number of interesting dinnertime debates. She says they moved past their differences by understanding and agreeing that the time for dissection ended with the election results. “Agree or disagree, it was healthiest for us to move on, in support of the direction that our country had chosen.”
At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We are Americans first — Democrats and Republicans second. 2017 can be, if we all choose to accept each other and differing opinions, a time of healing for our nation. There is so much that makes America a great and powerful nation. Our founding principles hold us together. Next time you feel that unrelenting angst inside of you or you want to argue an opposing view by posting an aggressive comment on social media, think about the negative impact you may be making. Are you feeding into what you may actually want to change about our society? Take a stand and help boost understanding and compassion for everyone in our community.