I’ve by and large avoided talking about the election so far for several reasons. First, it just seems too insane to even wrap my mind around. Two, I was hoping that if I just didn’t talk about it or think about it, it would all go away. I’m still holding out for number two, but I’m also coming to realize that I am not alone in having serious concerns about this election and the state of my mental health. When you’ve been living for 8 years under the leadership of the guy who you know you would have wanted to kick the hell out of your class the first time he tried to call you by your last name or some other vaguely condescending nickname, you do develop something of a thick skin. And that’s a good thing. At some point you realize there’s really nothing more this guy, who probably asked his professors over and over again if he had “missed anything important” when he skipped class due to a hangover, could do to surprise you. I mean, every now and then, he does, because he was not in class on the day they talked about…I don’t know if he was ever actually in class. But there’s a comforting sameness in knowing you’re stuck with the guy who just thought the reading was stupid and that’s all he can really say about it, surprise, surprise, for 4 + 4 more years.
But then the sun breaks through the clouds, and the time comes when this guy may actually graduate, and go on to whatever privileged life he’s going to have “working” for his dad and making more money than you’ll ever see, but nonetheless, you will no longer have to cultivate the numbness you’ve developed over the past 8 years. Hope springs eternal. And that’s the part that’s dangerous to your mental health. The hope. And the special kind of hope in this particular election. Yes, we “liberals” were dancing with glee, when we were not arguing about electability, to see our two presidential prospects come down to a white woman and a black man. Who can deny that was a beautiful thing to see, even if it did get kind of nasty towards the end? So we had not just hope in the general negative sense, that the annoying guy whose presence seemed to literally suck any ability to put together a rational and well-informed thought out of the air might finally graduate, but that we might actually get some diversity in our classroom in his place. And some intelligence. The female student who has copiously highlighted every square inch of the reading and the male student who speaks with confidence in class, and actually knows what he’s talking about when he does.
I don’t know what to say about this new girl that hasn’t already been said. From all my other liberal friends comes a gradual trickle of Salon.com articles and New York Times editorials written by other bewildered liberals who are fumbling around in the dark, trying to make sense of the rising panic they’re feeling. “Is this really happening?” they seem to be asking. And I have a vague memory of asking that question myself before. “Can this really be happening?” And running through these articles, sometimes as a subtext and sometimes right out there in the open is the lingering question: “Is this really the country we live in?” And, “If it is, where the hell do we fit in?” Why does it feel like conservatives are like the ground on which we stand, permanent and difficult to move without the aid of a bulldozer or backhoe? Why does it feel like liberals are like UFO sightings—rare and fleeting, touching down quickly but fairly likely at any moment to never return to our planet again? Why does it feel like we’re always losing? Does the other side feel that way, too, or is it just part of their liberal media bias argument? The conservatives I know seem to treat the election like an interesting and amusing game. They talk about it in the same tones they use to discuss their fantasy football leagues. Why does the election seem like life and death to me?
Which brings me back to the mental health issues. I didn’t particularly want to write this because I’m really not sure what to do. Should I begin figuring out how to obtain some Zoloft or Prozac now? I hear there’s often a period of adjustment with new medications, and if this new girl wins with her old man, I’m going to be both anxious and depressed. I’ll be anxious wondering if I should be building a secret room in my basement for my books and then, perhaps, myself. I’ll be depressed because, well, I’ll have my answer to all of the questions above.
I do still have hope. I cling to it. I think the clinging to it is part of what makes us liberals such dumbasses and maybe so easy to beat in elections and maybe fistfights. We hope for things like voting decisions made on the basis of rationality, rather than a base appeal to the lizard part of our brains. We hope for things like a voting system that’s actually fair and democratic, in the sense that there’s some semblance there in the polling stations of the belief in an individual’s right to cast their ballot, regardless of who they’re going to vote for. We hope for things like honesty, intelligence, and compassion in our leaders, and the specific kind of compassion that includes everyone, even the folks you think might be out of their minds or after your copy of The Catcher in the Rye. I have hope, but I’m keeping my eyes on the sky, too. I don’t know where those UFOs go, but if this new girl gets her way, it’s bound to be better than here.