Acute American Anxiety

Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017

By Reed Galen

We are well into our second year of Acute American Anxiety. Everything: every utterance, every act, every Tweet is viewed through a diametric prism. It is good or it is bad. It is the height of greatness or the depths of depravity. Spirited exchanges exist, but they’re debate. They’re rhetorical fusillades aimed only at responding in-kind and forcing one’s opponent to open new, different and loathsome lines of attack.

In what serves as modern American political discourse, we’re the Real Housewives of Twitterville, sitting on a couch screaming at each other as our host grins and sips his Manhattan. We succumbed to the charm and easily digestible nature of reality television more than a decade ago — that same simple-minded ugliness now propels too many people on a daily basis. Too much time is split between relishing schadenfreude and seething with burning envy. We’ve completed the transition from a country that experiences reality to (half a) nation that suspends its disbelief as we watch President Donald J. Trump sit in the Oval Office.

While many blame Trump for our current collective short-circuit, he is but the catalyst of a long-coming national nervous breakdown. As I’ve written previously, we can call the first 16-plus years of the 21st century the American Uncertainty. Black Swans like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown have left us in a constant state of narcissistic agitation. I’m right and you’re wrong. If you’re winning, I’m losing. I don’t want to lose and you’re not allowed to win. We live to play this zero-sum game writ large — from sea to shining sea.

Instead of finding our happy place and chanting “Serenity Now” we’re doubling down. Cable news is enjoying a surge in their ratings as viewers decide that watching a bunch of talking heads yell at each other — repeatedly and with the same generally poor arguments — is somehow a substitute for both knowing and understanding what is happening in our country and around the world. Consuming two-and-a-half minute segments of vacuous chatter is a poor substitute for reading, absorbing, assessing and forming opinions on matters of national import.

This heightened level of sensitivity is unsustainable for everyone. Anger, a wave of which Trump rode to the White House, is not typically a long-lasting state. It burns hot and fast because the stress and emotion involved are exhausting. Many of us have accepted agitation as our new permanent condition. This is unhealthy for the body and for the body politic.

Our elected leaders in Washington, many of whom have used widespread discontent to their own advantage, are either willfully ignorant of what’s happening, are apathetic or hope the situation will accrue to their political or personal benefit. President Trump is fine with chaos because that is his natural state. He likes the adventure of waking up every new day with mind a tabula rasa — a blank slate upon which he will scribble his legacy and history will write its story of him.

That’s not what leaders are meant to do, though. In times of great uncertainty, individuals and communities look to their leaders for reassurance, even mild reassurance, that we’re going to come through a difficult time intact. That’s not what this president, or apparently this government, is either interested in or capable of. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to assist in a national course correction. Republicans, in charge of two-thirds of the government, appear incapable of even basic legislative strategy — leaving their supporters exasperated. The Democrats in the minority, united only because of their collective Trump-induced PTSD, are biding their time for November 2018 when they hope to recapture one or both house of Congress. Then they can really get down to the business of full-scale obstruction.

Opponents of President Trump should welcome the fact that he is unable to pass any legislation that would substantively begin dismantling the Obama legacy or put in place any of the more worrisome statist policies his past utterances would lead us to believe he would like to install. As long as we’re living on the razor’s edge of outrage and exasperation, we’ll never be able to crystalize an alternative vision for the country that someone, anyone, might be able to use to either convince Trump to act differently or put guardrails around his more base and upsetting instincts.

Many Americans are grieving over something. It may be a lost career or way of life. It may be the idea that Donald Trump is indeed leader of the free world. It may be the uncertainty of not knowing how your children will fare in a country and world markedly different from the one in which we grew up or expected. We are stuck in the anger and disbelief stages of grief and we need to move on to acceptance. That is not to say if you oppose President Trump, you shouldn’t continue to do so. It does mean, however, that you wake up in the morning and rather than railing at the television, you find something constructive to do to show your opposition and express your beliefs. Note I said constructive. Twitter screeds and Facebook rants don’t count. There are plenty of things out there that need fixing that Washington, or the statehouse, is neither interested in, nor capable of.

Conversely, if you believe that American needs to be made great again, you owe it to yourself, to your neighbors and even those with whom you vehemently disagree to begin looking for ways in your own hometown to make things better. That very well may mean worrying a little more about yourself and a lot less about how others are living their lives. You wouldn’t want someone sitting in your living room telling you what you can and can’t do with your own existence more than anyone else does.

We must, must find our way through our anxiety. It is mentally and physically exhausting. Too many of us are spending far too much time worrying about things that might happen — causing us to live in a constant state of fear. Operating in this mode is simply unsustainable. Today, tomorrow or next week, something that truly requires our full attention and energy will be upon us. If we’re not ready, we’ll find ourselves mourning much more than the few ties that bind we have left.

Copyright 2017. Jedburghs, LLC.

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