Guilt and shame are often blamed on others. “That person is making me feel guilty.” “This person is shaming me.” That isn’t to say that abusive people do not use guilt and shaming tactics. There are manipulative people who purposely use strategies that invoke guilt and shame in others. But that is not the type guilt and shame I am addressing. I am talking about the kind of shame we feel when we have made choices as demonstrated by my childhood scenario. That guilt and shame is ours to own. We made the choice and now we must deal with the consequences. Psychology often refers to cognitive dissonance theory to explain how we cope with the consequences of our behavior.
During his US Election campaign, President elect, Donald Trump was exposed as having made many troubling statements and he continued to behave in a manner for which as a child, I would have been compelled to tell an adult. These are the kind of statements that most people I know would not tolerate in their own lives. Here are just a few examples.
"You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the p**sy. You can do anything." –Donald Trump
"Women: You have to treat them like s--t." –Donald Trump
"You know, it really doesn’t matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of ass." –Donald Trump
"If she gets to pick her judges – nothing you can do, folks. Although, the Second Amendment people. Maybe there is. I don’t know." –Donald Trump
"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible." –Donald Trump
"I love the old days, you know? You know what I hate? There's a guy totally disruptive, throwing punches, we're not allowed punch back anymore. ... I'd like to punch him in the face, I'll tell ya." –Donald Trump
“Now, the poor guy — you've got to see this guy, ‘Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!'" –Donald Trump, mocking New York Times investigative reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has a physical disability
"Look at my African American over here!" –Donald Trump
"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems...they're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists." –Donald Trump
Behavior brings consequences good and bad. An onlooker not involved in the media saturation of the US Election might think that the statements and actions of Mr. Trump would bring negative consequences – a huge loss of votes. However, something very odd happened instead. People came out in droves to support a man whose behavior, by most ethical standards, is abominable. I have no doubt that today, there is much cognitive dissonance among many who voted him into office. In fact, I’ve seen it in the form of “Give it to g-d” or “Let it go” and “Can we please stop talking about politics?”
Some supporters are no doubt racists, sexists, nationalists, antisemites, eugenicists, and bigots in general. These folks are not feeling any dissonance; they are probably feeling empowered. But I am also sure there are those that tuned out the media noise and simply voted status quo along party lines. And there are likely folks who only tuned into outlets that preached to their particular choir. In this case, opposing viewpoints would have been dismissed and horrendous behaviors and quotes explained away. I imagine these are the folks feeling the bite of guilt and shame now as they see it directly affecting people they care about. Some attempt to blame the media, but it does little to absolve them from their own guilt. They know they had a personal responsibility to critically analyze what was presented before them.
Those who voted for Trump now have to deal with the consequences of their actions. The shame or guilt they feel is not imposed by those protesting; it is their own. Much like that of the child who allowed a friend to shoplift and did nothing, they are feeling negative emotions when they hear how the election has affected others. These emotions are consequences.
Shame and guilt are emotional consequences we all face when we do something for which we regret. As children we are taught to stop our peers from wrongdoing or turn them in – not to help them commit the crime. Unfortunately in the case of the 2016 Presidential Election, not only did many supporters do nothing to denounce Trump's wrongdoing, they helped promote his and others' repulsive behavior and then provided a get-away-car.