“Winning is easy, losing is never easy – not for me, it’s not.” President Donald Trump said this right before the election. As he has shown, this was an understatement. In fact, for him, losing is the worst fate anyone can experience. It is a form of death. And he is as upset as it is possible for him to be. He is grieving. He is grieving his election loss. And grieving has a known course which helps explain his actions since that loss.
Elizabeth Kubler Ross famously posited five stages of grief. And President Trump is going through the first four but has not yet (and may never) reach the last. Unlike most however, he is going through them on a world stage and bringing his followers and therefore the rest of us with him on this journey.
The first stage of grief is Denial. This is marked, says Ross, by disbelief. This can’t be happening to me. Therefore, it is not. Trump did not and does not accept that he lost the election. It was a mistake, a fraud. A steal. In fact, he won in a landslide. The more people he can convince of this, the more his denial can be made to seem real to him.
The second stage is Anger. In this stage of grief, the person feels that the loss is unfair and unjust. This stage is characterized by frustration, anger, and even rage. President Trump is clearly here. The election, being fixed and fraudulent and therefore unjust, naturally leads to anger. After all, it should not have happened. It’s not right. It’s not fair. In extreme circumstances, the person can display powerful rage. If the person already has a tendency to feel aggrieved, this becomes more likely and the rage more powerful. We are witnessing this now. The President is reported to be furious with those he perceives are not supporting him, regardless of reality. The government, the press, the insufficiently loyal, and so on. The more people he can bring on board, the more proxies he can have for this emotion, the more justified his rage becomes.
The next stage is Bargaining. Now the person is desperate and will do or say anything to turn things around. The President engaged in this directly and concretely. He called various officials and tried to convince them that the election was rigged. He told them that if they agreed, good things would happen for them. If, on the other hand, they did not agree, the consequences could be grave. This can (and apparently did) devolve into threat thereby combining this stage with that of anger.
Next is Depression. As sadness and inevitability set in, the person often pulls inward and seeks to isolate himself from others. Trump is doing this as well. He is not communicating with very many people. He only wants to be around those who agree with his grievances and view of reality. People are dropping out of his orbit and he is not talking much to those who have remained. He is clearly not a happy man.
The final stage is the healthy culmination of grief, acceptance. Now reality is accepted and the person can be at relative peace. Sadness still exists but efforts to change reality diminish strongly. Kubler-Ross and Kessler recently posited a sixth stage, meaning. Here the person finds meaning in the loss or awful experience. Victor Frankl wrote of something similar when he discussed his Holocaust experiences. Many people never reach these stage and go kicking and screaming into the night. Apparently, this is where President Trump is. He has not and may never get to these stages. He has not yet and may never accept or find meaning in this experience. It is possible that he will go to his real death without these sources of peace and acceptance. If so, he will have a very unhappy, discontented, rest of his life as he cycles through the first four stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression endlessly. Whoever remains with him will have to go through it with him.