Since I’ve returned to the United States earlier this year, I’ve been astounded by how much is the same as well as how much is different. However, one of the greatest shocks I’ve found in my time back is a tone of anger and hostility that pervades the political and social climate. Family rants and raves about politicians some to deeply moralistic arguments. Friends despair about social trends that seem to have no solution. Plus, everywhere is everyone’s favorite “T word” – Triggered.
To give some context, the last time I lived in the US was in 2008. I had seen the first black president elected but not yet inaugurated. The people around me were all incredibly hopeful and committed to support meaningful causes. Obama’s slogan, “Yes we can,” still rung in our ears and it felt like we could accomplish anything. Granted it’s my fault for leaving for China then and completely missing out what the Obama presidency was like from the inside only to return to, well, this… But you can understand why the difference in political climate between those two points could be so jarring to me.
It’s not surprising that there’s a lot to be upset about these days with children being separated at the border, diplomatic summit kerfuffles with everyone’s favorite despot, trade wars necessitating higher prices and lower interest rates, and just recently – a new addition to the Supreme Court who seems poised to overturn some of the most cherished progressive victories of the last century. What is surprising to me though is how immobilizing these raging emotions seem to have become.
I discovered this particularly American affliction recently at a friend of a friend’s house. We got to talking about politics (as it’s so hard not to do) and the rants commenced. As my host mounted his high horse I nodded in agreement with all of what he said, but I could see that he was getting worked up into a frenzy he seemed unable to come down from. His anger stayed with him as he ordered his children to clean up the living room, began setting the dinner table, and later when he competed with his wife to tell me the rules to a new board game. The entire evening I never saw that anger abate.
That’s just one time, you say? Well take my father for the next instance. Living in southeast Minneapolis in the 5th district represented by progressive, black, Muslim Keith Elison and likely progressive, black, Muslim Ilhan Omar later this year, he tends to share the beliefs I grew up with on how much of an abomination Trump is and what societal ills his presidency portends. But my father goes further to make deep and cutting declarations about what sort of immoral monster Trump and his cronies could be to the point of demanding the same thing Trump himself demanded of his opponent in 2016 – namely jail time. Again this seems normal in this day in age, but his fury often curtails his ability to discuss political policy and productive means of opposition. It’s not just that he’s a bad man. But that Trump is a scourge of the Earth that might be best off not only going the way of Nixon and Clinton, but of Lincoln and Kennedy.
Perhaps a more telling example might be with myself and several of my friends after finding out about Justice Kennedy’s resignation. As members of the LGBT community we were all deeply concerned about efforts to overturn the ruling against the ban on Gay Marriage. As women and human beings, we were also deeply disturbed about the possible reversal of Roe V Wade. Yet in the wake of this political discovery I noticed a decided lack of game plans coming from anyone’s mouths (including my own). Instead, we all were just too tired and emotionally battered to hold the conversation for very long.
One of the recent observations about the stock market earlier this year suggest and interesting parallel to the emotionally ill-adapted community I’ve found myself in lately. While initial responses to large scale tariffs have been much as you’d expect them to be. There have been a number of economics noting that the reaction are nowhere near the scale we’d generally expect given the scale of tariff wars Trump has been pushing. The economy seems to be continuing to excel, and stock market downturns (with the exception of massive ones this past February) are generally on the decline (Knock wood). While Rightists will take credit for the economic expansions, and Leftists will generally deny any correlation, I suggest a different explanation.
I have seen Americans all over who feel like my family and friends do. We have been beleaguered by prejudiced, incendiary, and misguiding tweets every other day. We have been shocked with news that Muslims would be banned entry in the US, relieved when we found out they wouldn’t be, shocked again to find out they would, etc. etc. We have raged at blatant fabrications in the media, spineless Republicans who continue to get convenient cases of amnesia, and Trump’s base that just won’t stop be-lievin (Hold-in on to that feeling). But we’re tired. Late night comedians the world over have commented on the simple fact that it feels like we’ve been through an ordeal many, many times longer than the time Trump has actually been in office, and with every new shock we are shocked a little less each time.
It seems to me that progressives across the country have succumb to a kind of battle fatigue in which they are overcome by emotions that never have a chance to be resolved or dissipate, and the result is a public that is less and less capable of sacrificing the energy to calm themselves and pursue meaningful, rational responses. No wonder Democrats whose number 1 platform is “Standing up to Trump” is on the rise. We ache for someone to do it for us.
One positive thing that we’ve seen in the wake of the Trumpocolypse has been the greatest mobilization of liberals in years. Female candidates are on the rise, gun control laws are a new mandatory talking point, and the #Metoo and #Blacklivesmatter movements are forcing increasing numbers to have conversation about implicit bias and all of the “isms” under the sun. People care and are moving in the direction they think best to fight back for the social values liberals know and love.
But no one can deny that nerves are frayed. My greatest fear now is that in this moment when a massive push is needed to take back the three branches of government nabbed by Republicans, we will feel too tired to fight back. We’ll put off researching representatives until it’s too late. We’ll make increasingly emotional arguments which accomplish nothing at best, and serve to further alienate the right at worst. I see my friends, family, and community talking about the world they live in more and more like the weather – cruel, unfair, and outside of our control, and wonder if that Blue Tide is actually coming after all.
Vox has some excellent advice on how to deal with such “Trump Fatigue”
Understand this is a long-term fight that won’t be resolved immediately.
Don’t let Trump set the agenda anymore.
Be mindful about media consumption, especially social media.
Take some time off, and be okay with not always knowing the latest about everything that’s happening.
But as it’s 2018 I would add a 5th, somewhat contradictory step
5. Channel your anger, your hurt, your sadness, and even your numbness into the single most productive thing we can do this year or any year – VOTE. That way, hopefully we can give our nerves a much needed vacation… some time down the road that is.