The Stages of Grief

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With Clinton’s victories in New Jersey, California, South Dakota and New Mexico,  Hillary Clinton handily beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination, winning the most pledged delegates and having a sizable lead in virtually every measurable variable.  Only if the s0-called super delegates turned against Clinton and defied the voters would Sanders have a chance.

Meanwhile on the Republican side, despite controversies about his remark that an Indiana born judge of Mexican ancestry was ‘biased’ against Trump and thus couldn’t make a fair judgement – a claim Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called text book racist – Donald Trump keeps amassing delegates on a sure path to his nomination.

It will be Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton in the fall.

But that doesn’t stop those who oppose each from engaging in a wild orgy of speculative conspiracy theories, fanciful scenarios and ultimately a kind of reality-defying wishful thinking.

OK, I get wishful thinking.  The Minnesota Twins are 18-40 this year, last in the AL Central.  Yet I still harbor dreams about a couple of long winning streaks, a come back, and hope that despite this horrific first third of the season they can make the playoffs.   That’s not rational, but when one is a fan, wishful thinking takes over.

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Wishful thinking is common; I still believe the 18-40 Twins can come back!

But wishful thinking of this sort has a kind of normal run, much like the stages of grief identified by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in her study of death and dying.

1.  Denial.  Today many Sanders supporters are claiming there are massive amounts of uncounted votes in California that would give Bernie the victory.  Others assert other bizarre theories to make the claim that Hillary really didn’t win – it was some conspiracy by big media in cahoots with the Clinton cabal.

Denial was earlier in the Trump campaign.   Even as it was clear Ted Cruz had no chance, many were convinced that Cruz would sweep remaining GOP primaries and deny Trump the nomination.  As long as it’s in the realm of possibility, denial is a powerful psychological force.

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2.  Anger.  The second stage in anger.  “Hillary that corrupt demon-woman has somehow cheated the good Bernie Sanders out of his nomination!”  Or “Trump that faux-conservative immoral con man has somehow usurped the Republican party and threatens true conservatism!”  The anger leads to the “Never Trump” and “Never Hillary” movements.  This is not the reality that should be!  The more idealistic the person, the more intense the anger – the world is wrong, and we must not accept it!   Alas, reality bites and for most people, anger fades.

3.  Bargaining.   Maybe there’s a way to avoid this result!  On the Trump side it was the hope that some independent, a cause championed by that almost always wrong pundit William Kristol, could rise and save the party and the country.   Sanders people hoped the super delegates – once the scourge of democracy – would now “see the light” and choose Bernie due to his better poll numbers against Trump.   Maybe Bernie can run as an independent!  Perhaps a write in campaign?   The bargaining goes on until it becomes clear it leads nowhere.

4.  Depression.   The Sanders people for the most part are not at this stage yet, but many of the “Never Trump” folks on the right are.  They see GOP leaders fall in behind the new party standard bearer and they proclaim the end of the Republican party.  Trump, maybe in cahoots with Hillary, has found a way to decapitate conservatism.  Let it burn, all we can hope for is complete destruction and then maybe the way will be clear for the politics we prefer.  Some Sanders people are there as well, down and depressed, in disbelief that their holy cause has yielded failure.  “Let it burn” is the cry of the depressed – the world is pointless, who cares if it goes on?

5.  Acceptance.    “OK, it’s Hillary.”  Sanders supporters grimly accept the inevitable and find silver linings.   Yes, she won, but we have a movement.  That movement cannot be ignored.  We’ll go to the convention, support Hillary, but continue to fight for our ideals.  We are still changing the party, we are still making a difference…even if a President Sanders would have been optimal.

On the right it’s similar.  “Trump is crude, liberal on many issues, and certainly not a paragon of virtue, but if he’s President he’ll name Supreme Court justices, he won’t veto bills passed by Congress, he’ll undo the bureaucratic rules that President Obama implemented in the last few years.  He can undermine Obamacare from within.  With Trump we can move forward on our agenda…even if he’s not someone we like.”

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Reagan took his 1976 challenge against President Ford to the GOP convention – but came on board to campaign vigorously for the incumbent.

And so it goes.  It happened in 2008.  Hillary supporters, stun by losing to Obama, formed “PUMA” (Party Unity my ass!) and vowed never to support “Barry.”  They came around.  Even when Ronald Reagan took his 1976 fight all the way to convention floor he and his followers ultimately voted for President Ford, who lost by an extremely narrow margin.

It will take awhile.   It took months for Clinton supporters to shift to Obama.  In a campaign it’s natural to have negative views of the opponent, with strong emotions in a close fight.  But time grants perspective, whether one faces death or simply a losing political campaign.

So for now we get to watch as activists whose candidate lost go through their stages of grief over the result.   Then, as the campaign heats up and the ‘other side’ looks like a scarier option, people will coalesce around each party’s standard bearer.

The campaign is on!

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  1. #1 by List of X on June 9, 2016 - 18:39

    I was in the Acceptance stage even before the Iowa caucuses. 🙂

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