Last week the inescapable Lena Dunham posted the following quote on her Instagram account, now making the rounds as a quasi-meme in certain liberal corners of Facebook. Dunham attributes the quote to Rabbi Joel Simonds of University Synagogue, a Reform Jewish congregation in Los Angeles, “incorporating the words” of the renowned early 20th century Torah scholar Rav Abraham Isaac Kook:
Today marks the seventh day of grieving and sitting Shivah for the loss of our country and the woman who inspired us, reads the post.
As Judaism teaches us, after seven days of Shivah we stand up, we emerge from the dark, we do not have to accept, we do not have to move on, but we stand up! So today we emerge from the darkness. We are taught that the righteous do not complain of the darkness but rather create light. Today we begin to create light and we do so as the resistance and we fight and fight and fight for good, for love and for justice.
I’m all for the part about resistance and fighting, which is all well and good in the standard activist tradition. This is a high-class text-only meme with a liberal arts degree, with neither an accompanying photo of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka nor any sarcasm at all, but — leaving aside the questionable assumption that Hillary Clinton is the moral equivalent of Gandhi or the Dalai Lama— I’m deeply offended by the grieving and Shivah bits.
I don’t want to make this post about me or my particular problems, but I suppose it can’t be avoided because since my wife died 10 months ago I have become an unwilling member of a special interest group: call it Widower Americans, or Recently Bereaved Americans (RBA for short; let’s define “recent” as up to two years, at which point it’s generally deemed socially acceptable for your family and friends to start telling you to suck it up and start dating again, because it’s time to move on). How can I get non-members of this group to understand how I feel when others say they’re “grieving” or “in mourning” or, gag me with a spoon, “sitting Shivah” as a result of the 2016 election (which gets double bonus points for offending me both as a bereaved person AND a Jew)?
Please, people, let’s clarify our terms: saying you’re “in mourning” because your candidate lost an election is an insult to the genuinely grieving.
Even if approximately half of the US population now knows something of what it’s like to be a widower (because Hillary’s candidacy died, along with their vicarious hopes and dreams that went with it), that still doesn’t make it OK to say you’re grieving.
You go into mourning when your spouse dies, or your parent or sister or best friend. Not when your favored candidate blows an election. Period.
I’m not denying that people are lately feeling upset, devastated, horrified. So am I. I don’t lack empathy for what they’re feeling. I don’t deny that a lot of people are in shock. When they talk of sleeping an excessive amount (guilty of same since Donna died), or gaining weight (I’ve packed on some 20 pounds this year), I can relate.
Still, when liberals say they’re “grieving” it hits me like cultural appropriation. That’s what I’d call it whether it comes across as insensitive mocking or grief tourism, hanging with the cool kids— the way I imagine Native Americans feel when they see Cleveland Indians fans donning headdresses and war paint at the ballpark — or a more complicated case of a misguided but apparently sincere desire to “pass” as an oppressed minority (see Rachel Dolezal). You want identity politics? You’ve got it. If you’re not an RBA, don’t try to come off as one.
As this Boston Globe article makes clear, grief counseling for despairing liberals is a real thing — as is the predictable response from Trump supporters in the comments section, as they crow about the need for boot camps for the “snowflakes” and “wimps” who have been cosseted their entire lives with participation medals and talk of being “special” and are totally unprepared to deal with defeat of any kind, and need to, as many Star Trek fans have been told for years, “get a life.”
Although I don’t think people who say they’re “in mourning” should be mocked in this fashion (that’s Trumpstyle bullying, plain and simple), I do see them as seriously misguided. In general, I’d say to anyone: if you haven’t lost anyone close to you, STFU. If you have, you should know better than to equate personal loss with political defeat. Death is permanent: your person is gone from the world, forever. Politics is transient and temporary; today’s victor may be defeated in a couple of years, forced to resign, even sent to prison. If your candidate lost the election, you might want to organize, recruit, and work for a better candidate next time. That’s not to say I’m not deeply depressed about this election and the coming horror show that seems as inevitable as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami: at this point we can all see that the ocean has withdrawn, and we’re waiting for the deluge to flood the village. But to me, talk of “grieving” and “mourning” is still insulting.
When McCain lost in 2008 and when Romney lost in 2012, to my knowledge no Republicans went around saying they were “grieving” or “in mourning.” This is one reason why they ridicule liberals. Yes, I know: Donald Trump is different. He’s appalling, ignorant and dangerous, the people around him are appalling and dangerous in similar degree and a real threat to democracy as we’ve known it for our entire lives. I’m still offended by talk of “grief” over an election. Grief is when your spouse or parent or child dies. Politics is temporary stuff, it is. The pendulum swings back and forth.
People have picked fights with me on Facebook recently when I expressed these feelings. You’re not respecting or honoring my feelings, they say.
Since when are your feelings sacrosanct or beyond discussion, I’d reply. You seem not to respect mine at all.
As I wrote in a previous post, we need a new word or term for the feeling this election has engendered. Not mourning or grieving. Perhaps ‘electoral shrouding’ would be OK, or ‘election-loss hangover.’
And if we can all be a bit more sensitive toward each other’s perspective, that would be a good place to start to plan our next moves.