The 5 Stages Of Grief Explain The Rise Of Trump

03/02/2016 11:45 EST | Updated 03/03/2017 05:12 EST
Andrew Harnik/AP
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shields his eyes as he listens to a question as he speaks on Super Tuesday primary election night at the White and Gold Ballroom at The Mar-A-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

I'm not a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV, but I have read enough pop psychology and watched enough episodes of Oprah and Dr. Phil to know that there has to be an easy explanation for the political phenomenon that is Donald Trump. One explanation that comes to mind is the Kübler-Ross model that describes the five stages of grief.

Back in June of last year, when The Donald announced his candidacy, the common reaction among the commentariat and the Republican cognoscenti was denial. Few believed his announcement was real and those who did acknowledge it insisted that his campaign wouldn't last long.

As the months passed, party insiders and conservative pundits entered stage two: anger. How could this happen? Why was he actually leading in the polls? Who was Trump to turn everything upside down and deny traditional Republicans their rightful chance at the presidency? And how could he be so cruel as to make Jeb Bush cry?

It's not entirely clear whose death is being accepted. If it's the demise of the Republican Party, that may be a good thing. If it's the end of America, then it's probably not.

Then came the bargaining stage. Maybe if we just adapt and refine our policy positions a bit, thought some, Trump will go away and someone like Bush or Rubio or Christie will come to the fore. If we promise to bomb ISIS more or be tougher on illegal immigration or temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, Trump will withdraw from the race and all will be well again.

In December, depression -- the fourth stage -- took hold as Republican insiders recognized the mathematical possibility of Trump actually winning the nomination. Instead of waning, he was actually gaining in poll after poll. Conservative commentators grew sullen and silent as they mourned the passing of their early erroneous predictions.

With the advent of the new year came the final stage -- acceptance. Party insiders and media types alike finally started rationalizing their positions and accepting the inevitability of Trump being the Republican presidential nominee.

What was initially deemed impossible, unthinkable and unacceptable is now considered likely and maybe even OK.

You can see it in the words of some party faithful who now say Trump's positions make sense and really aren't that bad. You can see it in someone like CNN's Erin Burnett who apparently drank the Kool-Aid before praising Sarah Palin's generally incomprehensible Trump endorsement speech. You can see it in those who now say that at least Trump is not Ted Cruz.

Or as former McCain-Palin adviser Nicolle Wallace observes, you can see it among members of the Republican establishment who now say that Trump "would refine and recalibrate his proclamations in a general election or as president."

The Kübler-Ross model presupposes that acceptance is a good thing. Accepting your own death or the death of a loved one is a healthy and liberating step. In the case of Mr. Trump, however, it's not entirely clear whose death is being accepted. If it's the demise of the Republican Party, that may be a good thing.

If it's the end of America, then it's probably not.

Next week we'll examine how the psychological concept called the Stockholm syndrome (or capture bonding) may help to explain why many Americans empathize with the man who has kidnapped their hearts and brains.

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