Empathy Protest Sign
Credit: MTSOfan/Flickr

One of the most difficult challenges that many of us face in the Trump era is the danger of outrage fatigue. Things are coming at us so fast that it is hard to cope emotionally. There have been times when I simply had to blow off steam or walk away temporarily just to preserve my sanity. Both of those things can be effective coping mechanisms.

The one thing that we cannot afford to do is to dive deep into cynicism as a way to deaden our anger, grief or fear. In writing about the Trump administration’s family separation policy, Adam Serwer explains why. He starts with one of the most accurate descriptions of what that policy has all been about.

The policy’s cruelty is its purpose: By inflicting irreparable trauma on children and their families, the administration intends to persuade those looking to America for a better life to stay home…

To preserve the political and cultural preeminence of white Americans against a tide of demographic change, to keep America more white and less brown, the Trump administration has settled on a policy of systemic child abuse intended to intimidate prospective immigrants into submission.

It is hard to read those words, much less incorporate the reality that this is what the current administration has been doing. It is not only painful and enraging, it is exhausting—especially coming on the heels of all of this:

…Trump has failed the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria; deliberately revoked the immigration status of hundreds of thousands of black and Latino immigrants; retreated from civil-rights enforcement; applied an immigration ban to a set of predominantly Muslim countries; attempted to turn black athletes into pariahs for protesting the unjust killings of their countrymen by the state; and defended the white nationalists who terrorized Charlottesville, Virginia.

Those are simply a few examples, and by no means represent an exhaustive list.

What makes cynicism so dangerous in response to all of that? While not attempting to answer that particular question, here’s what Serwer writes:

Few of the Trump administration’s policies better exemplify the Trump campaign’s commitment to restoring America’s traditional hierarchies of race, religion, and gender, than family separation. That commitment—and Republicans’ muted opposition to or vigorous support of the administration’s actions —has plunged the United States into a profound moral crisis that will define the nation’s character for decades to come. To harden oneself against the cries of children is no simple task. It requires a coldness to suffering that will not be easily thawed. The scars it inflicts on American civic culture will not heal quickly, and they will never completely fade.

The pain of that “profound moral crisis” is very real. I find myself in tears as I read those words. But turning to a cynical coldness will, as Serwer writes, “not be easily thawed.” It takes a lot of strength and courage to look that pain and outrage in the face and let it take hold. But I worry that we’ll never heal from this trauma if enough of us aren’t willing to do that as the outrages pile up.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.