Wipe away those Liberal Tears

It’s time to separate our emotions from politics.

In Chicago, the night of the election, people were crying on the streets. It was a surprising election, and it made me nervous about the future, but I wasn’t heartbroken. Yet for days and even weeks following the election, people were experiencing a gut-wrenching level of grief I could not understand. Entire office spaces were eerily quiet, folks shaking their heads in disbelief and consoling one another. It was a truly bizarre atmosphere.

Similarly, today people are crying tears of joy and lament, watching the last speeches given in the last days of Obama. They are also angry and terrified about the future — there is an air of desperation and imminent doom. Some are ecstatic and joyful, believing the future is bright and that necessary change is right around the corner.

Unfortunately, these are all warning signs of an unhealthy and codependent relationship with our politicians.

Codependency is a type of dysfunctional relationship characterized by intertwining reactionary emotions. A person in such a relationship emotionally invests in their partner to such a degree that they lose a sense of themselves, and act out in unhealthy ways. A hallmark of these types of relationships is that the participants cannot truly understand the dysfunctional dynamics from the inside. Usually it takes some form of outside help, or an extraordinary level of insight, to realize what is happening.

To be clear, emotions are not the problem. They are only a problem when they trigger behaviors that fuel a destructive spiral. For instance, you may feel anxiety about the future, but it doesn’t mean the world is actually headed for imminent doom and you must race out onto the streets waving your arms maniacally warning the masses. Emotion can help us realize that something is wrong, but by itself provides no insight into what the root of the problem actually is. Making this distinction helps build healthy personal relationships as it creates manageable boundaries. And we need to make this type of distinction with our political relationships in order to create manageable boundaries.

Our relationship with politicians has become unhealthy because our identities and emotions with them have become intertwined. We hold unrealistic expectations of politicians — either because we hold them on a pedestal or because we vilify their opponents. When our favorite politician loses, we cry and fear for the future. When they win, they attain god-like status. And by doing this over and over, we’ve completely lost ourselves and who we are as independent beings and we have turned on each other in the process. We are unable to construct a vision and strategy for the future independent of the current political climate, and so we remain stuck in an unhealthy cycle.

Stop for a moment and assess how you feel. Do you sense a rising anger, that my words are somehow invalidating your feelings? Are you racing to the comments, ready with a list of grievances and ad-hominem attacks, fueled by self-righteous indignation? Or maybe the opposite — you are ready to sneer, troll, and laugh in my face?

Or perhaps more optimistically, your gut reaction is to double-down and support your political party going forward? To join a resistance movement? Make calls, protest hate? These can all be potentially rewarding short-term acts, but why are you doing any of them? Maybe the most constructive action is to simply do nothing!

My critique of emotion in politics is that it festers unhealthy allegiances to politicians who can then exploit us. I don’t want my friends and family to be manipulated in such a way. It’s dangerous to drive when you are angry. It’s dangerous to be political when you are emotional.

Politicians do not care about you or me, they only use us for political power and gain. This is not a cynical perspective, but one of survival — we must not be manipulated by reactionary forces in petty political games.

It’s time to wipe away those liberal tears, and afford ourselves a moment of quiet introspection. It is a mistake to react quickly and with righteous anger, as it only fuels the manipulative cycle we are stuck in, ultimately benefiting those seeking power. We must not despair, but instead be resilient, critically aware, and start working hard to build a less fragile and more egalitarian future.