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The Problem With Donald Trump Jr. Naming His Book 'Triggered'

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Recently Donald Trump Jr., son of President Donald Trump, released his first book entitled, “Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us.”

If you haven’t heard what the book is about yet, here is a description from Amazon: “This is the book that the leftist elites don’t want you to read — Donald Trump, Jr., exposes all the tricks that the left uses to smear conservatives and push them out of the public square, from online ‘shadow banning’ to rampant ‘political correctness.’”

Essentially, Trump Jr. is using the word “triggered” — like many political figures and pundits do nowadays — as a reference to so-called “snowflakes,” aka people who are “too sensitive” and get “triggered” too often. From the subtitle, he also seems to imply that people on the left use getting “triggered” and political correctness to emotionally manipulate politics, smear conservatives and make political gains. In fact, he defines the term in his own opener (a chapter called “Trigger Warning,” which is available on Amazon in the preview). He writes:

I guess I should probably include a note about the title of my book, because it’s probably not a term you hear every day. In fact, if you’re over the age of about thirty-five or you haven’t spent the last few years on a college campus, on Twitter, or in an asylum (and really, who can tell the difference anymore?), you probably have no idea why this book is called Triggered.

He then goes on to explain that, in his opinion, “trigger warnings” are used to describe something that “blows up the fragile sensibilities of the liberal Twitterverse.” He says people freak out at small things, and the bar for what’s considered triggering “gets lower and lower” each passing day.

Political parties aside, I wonder if he and others who’ve co-opted the term “triggered” know where the word really comes from. Because it’s not a new term, as Trump Jr. seems to imply, nor is it an experience that only happens to people on the left (or to people in “asylums” — a stigmatizing statement in itself). Getting “triggered” is not the same as reacting to something you don’t like. It’s not the same as disagreeing with someone politically. Although politics and statements from public figures can actually trigger people with a history of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — someone who reacts strongly to something you say isn’t necessarily getting “triggered.” Getting triggered is a real experience that happens to people who’ve experienced trauma when they encounter something that brings them back to that traumatic event.

Mighty contributor Hanna Lee Gile explained what it’s like to be triggered in her piece, What You Need to Know If You’ve Ever Said ‘I’m So Triggered’”:

A trigger is not something that mildly pisses you off. A trigger is not something that mildly annoys you. A trigger is sometimes not even tangible. It’s a look. A glance. A haircut. A noise. A laugh.

A trigger is something that violently throws you into a sea of emotion and memory. A trigger is something that pulls you down, hard. A trigger is something that brings up everything you’ve worked hard to hide under the surface, shoving it into the light until you’re not just floating on this sea, keeping your head above water. No, you’re scared you’ll drown.

A time I was really triggered is when Alton Sterling was shot and killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA. I saw videos showing the murder all down my social media newsfeed. I’m from New Orleans, so Baton Rouge is extremely close to home. Philando Castile was shot and killed right after him. His murder was also all over my social media newsfeed. Seeing it all unfold made me extremely anxious, angry, depressed and my whole mood shifted for weeks. To this very day, I react strongly when these shootings are mentioned due to my own experiences in these communities. When I say I’m “triggered” by police shootings, that doesn’t mean I’m weak or overreacting. It’s a real physical response, and it’s not something I can control. Although sure, your personal triggers can inform the politics you support, my reaction itself is not for political gain, as Trump Jr. would suggest.

Anyone can develop PTSD — from wars veterans to survivors of physical, sexual or emotional abuse and assault. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lives.

Sometimes triggers can be more obvious, like a sexual assault survivor can get triggered by a scene in a movie depicting sexual assault. They can also be more subtle: a smell, a sound or a certain taste can all trigger a trauma survivor. Although politics can be triggering, political opinions aren’t the same as severe anxiety attacks, sweaty palms, night terrors, flashbacks from traumatic situations and possibly even suicidal thoughts.

Our current political climate has changed the definition of the world “triggered,” making it harder for people living with PTSD who truly might need accommodations for triggers to be taken seriously — and the word splattered on Trump Jr.’s book only exacerbates that. It’s important to remember that real triggering situations can have serious impacts on a person’s life. Let’s agree to keep the conversation about being triggered in its rightful place. 

Originally published: November 20, 2019
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