Is Trump fatigue inevitable? Can something be done to alleviate it – apart from not reading his tweets and not listening to his speeches?
This is very similar to another well-known psychological problem: Compassion fatigue. That is the clinical name for what we are increasingly suffering from in this age of 24-hour news that makes us constantly aware of all the appalling events around the world. When we are saturated with pleas for attention, we grow numb.
Numb is the operative word here. And the one Susan Sontag used in her short work about pain, called Regarding the Pain of Others, published in 2003:
“Flooded with images of the sort that once used to shock and arouse indignation, we are losing our capacity to react. Compassion, stretched to its limits, is going numb.”
This week, the UK Guardian has an excellent piece of long journalism on the subject, written by poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert who’s written a book about disasters (soon to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux). She presents us with psychologist Charles Figley’s definition for compassion fatigue:
“A state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress”.
A nice definition that conceals with abstract words what really happens: too much “proximity to trauma” can itself be damaging “like second-hand smoke”. Figley knows what he’s talking about: He has served in Vietnam and has observed what happens to caregivers attending to veterans affected by PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder): They themselves become anxious and start exhibiting similar symptoms.
That’s what has happened to me – and possibly to others in the United States. Prolonged exposure to Trumpian stress is causing Trump fatigue, biologically, psychologically and emotionally.
It is now well established that compassion fatigue in healthcare workers can lead to increased clinical errors and high employee turnover. And here’s what needs to be done to avoid the worst, as Elisa Gabbert notes:
“Caregivers are coached to follow various established guidelines of self-care in order to ward off compassion fatigue, or to recover if it has already struck. These include physical, psychological and social commitments such as maintaining healthy eating and sleeping habits, making time for relaxation and meditation, and building a social support network, including at least two people who can be counted on to be ‘highly supportive’.”
It even looks like Trump’s own administration is suffering from Trump fatigue and stress. The New York Times reported that there is a rising dissonance between what the President says and what his administration does.
Trump is friendly with the world’s worst autocrats while Congress and his administration are not. This week it became clear that “be it Russia, NATO, Iran or North Korea, Mr. Trump’s staff and his party projected a radically different message than the president himself.”
Incidentally, this plays in the hands of U.S. adversaries – not a good thing. Trump is viewed as “weak”, for example, North Koreans much prefer to deal with Trump than with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
So who is right, Trump or his staff and the GOP? Is the administration prone to more “errors”? From Trump’s standpoint, the answer is yes. Look at how angry he is with Attorney General Jeff Sessions because he recused himself from the Russian investigation. And it certainly looks like we are witnessing “high employee turnover” at Trump’s White House.
The pace of turnover is dizzying. 40 percent of the staff that worked for Trump a year ago is gone. Trump has worked his way through several chiefs of staff, national security advisers, economic advisers etc. As shown by a Reuters analysis, the turnover over a comparable time period is particularly extreme regarding top officials: 56% for Trump vs. 13% for Obama. Rex Tillerson who was supposed to haul over the State Department and foreign policy is gone, and I wonder how long Mike Pompeo will last.
The stress arising from the Mueller probe is mounting for Trump and necessarily, for everyone around him:
So how should we resolve Trump fatigue? The answer for compassion fatigue is to follow the guidelines for healthcare givers. We should do the same for Trump fatigue. Eat well. Sleep soundly. Take time off and have fun with friends. Build a “social support network” so you can vent out about Trump with at least two close like-minded friends.
Be careful though not to make your breaks too long or too frequent. It could become avoidance. And above all, don’t succumb to fatalism, don’t believe you’re screwed, no matter what you do. You’re not (screwed) and you don’t (want to stop worrying). And you need to continue with action (like voting, like calling your representative, like participating in protests). Trump is a BIG problem and he’s not about to go away.
Hang on in there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE BY IMPAKTER.COM COLUMNISTS ARE THEIR OWN, NOT THOSE OF IMPAKTER.COM
Feature Image Credit: Alison Curtis Flickr