Magazine

US Election 2016: A survivor's guide to unexpected voting results

  • 10 November 2016
  • From the section Magazine
Clinton supporter crying in London Image copyright Getty Images

The election of Donald Trump has left some Americans thunderstruck in the same way as the UK's vote for Brexit stunned those British voters who could not imagine a future outside the European Union. But disappointed Remainers have found ways of coping. What survival tips can they offer to their counterparts across the Atlantic?

"I was basically in shock initially. I really didn't think it was going that way," says Ravi Palanisamy, remembering the morning after the Brexit vote in June.

"I was immediately struck by this realisation that the country that I thought I lived in - progressive, multi-racial, tolerant, forward-thinking, outward-looking - was just London, and not the UK as a whole. It felt unsettling."

But as time went on, he began to get used to the idea.

"It's just like a grieving process - there are different stages. That day it was the shock, the disbelief but then quite quickly - within a few days - I'd read a lot and rationalised or understood it more."

Image caption Ravi Palanisamy: I'm really worried about the UK and the US

Through reading, he began to grasp some of the factors that might prompt someone from a different background to vote for Brexit. But he still compares the period to a funeral - a moment when there can be no more denying that the worst has happened - and he is still grieving.

"I'm not sure I've ever really got to the acceptance stage," he says. "I don't like how it's played out."

Ravi has taken solace in the companionship of those dear to him - family and friends, and the local community - but he also thinks about leaving the UK.

"I'm really worried about the UK and the US, more seriously than at any time in my life," he says. "I'd contemplate moving to Sweden or somewhere that feels more progressive, more how it seems to me the world should be."

Image copyright Getty Images

Another Remain voter, Luke Jones, found work and travel provided a useful antidote to the pain of Brexit, which he says left him "resentful and confused".

"I tried to get over the Brexit result by talking to young people I support in my work," he says.

"I found that the vast majority of them were dumbfounded as to how it happened - this gave me some hope for the future.

"I also did a bit of travelling over the summer and was delighted - even as a politics obsessive - to find that Brexit was never brought up, and people overseas still loved the fact that I was British. It seemed our 'brand' internationally had not been as tarnished by the result as I feared!"


Survival tips

  • Read around and try to understand why other people voted differently
  • Focus on how much you love your friends and family
  • Work hard and travel
  • Break out of the "echo chamber" and engage in dialogue with people whose opinions differ
  • Question your own views - and accept that you may not actually know best
  • Acknowledge that the problem is beyond your control
  • Do whatever relaxes you

Alice Fermor-Hesketh, who after the vote became the director of a group called Common Ground, that campaigns against what it describes as a "destructive Brexit", says one lesson she has drawn is the importance of dialogue with those she disagrees with.

She draws inspiration from Jo Cox, the MP murdered in the run-up to the Brexit vote, who always emphasised that people were united by more than divided them.

"One of the things that became obvious to me in the wake of the referendum vote was the extent of the echo chamber on social media, and the way we have fewer and fewer conversations in person, and with people who hold opposing views to us," she says.

"It's been a lesson for me in challenging me to do those things. It can be difficult to have a conversation with people who don't agree with you and the tone can quite quickly degrade into angry voices and shouting, so it's been an exercise of personal discipline as much as anything else."

On social media there are now forums where Leavers and Remainers can come together, she says. But she also makes an effort to read a broader range of newspapers, not just her favourites "where things I agree with are reflected back at me".

"I don't always like what I read but it makes me realise that people don't always like my own opinions and I'm not yet at a point where I have lots and lots of fantastic solutions, but in broadening the lens of what we're prepared to listen to it is very very helpful. It is the first step on a journey to improving the way we communicate."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Reading more widely could help foster better understanding of others' views

Psychologist James Oliver makes a different point about the media echo chamber: this is where we absorb most of our political views, he says, and we should be prepared to accept that these views may be wrong. Things may actually be much better than they seem.

"The level we are at as a member of the public, we haven't got a clue what is really going on. For all we know, it will be far better having Trump as president.

"Obviously he is a bit of a fruitcake, a volatile, personality-distorted man but many great leaders have been many many sandwiches short of a picnic. It's more of a case of the other way round - find me a leader who wasn't a few sandwiches short of a picnic.

"The fact that he's a fruitcake doesn't mean anything. That's about the one thing we could know for sure. Beyond that, we really don't know anything. We don't know who his advisers will be. We don't know what his policies are going to be. We don't know how history is going to pan out."

His advice to anyone experiencing raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, is to realise that the problem is beyond their control.

Image copyright Getty Images

"Do the things which lower your cortisol levels. Do yoga, watch a box set or have sex - do whatever relaxes you.

"But what's going to solve it is truly grasping you're making a big mistake in having really believed that you know what's best."

@HarryLow49

Additional reporting by Samuel Bright

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