In a recent article in the New York Times, Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, argued that people who pay the most attention to politics are most likely to be unhappy. While it’s indisputable that a lot of people have been unhappy since November 8 of last year, Brooks’ assertion paints an incomplete and misleading picture.
As the old saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there trying to get you. Similarly, in today’s political environment, there’s plenty to be depressed about regardless of the state of your mental health.
Americans who think government should provide help to the disadvantaged, disabled and in need, who believe in science and the threat of climate change, who are troubled by the growing level of inequality in this country, and who support equal rights for women and minorities must live with a president and a Republican-controlled Congress who are openly contemptuous of all those goals.
Donald Trump was elected president despite or, maybe, in part because of, a campaign filled with open appeals to prejudice and hatred, promises that could never be kept and a self-absorption for which the term “narcissistic” is barely adequate. Trump’s pattern of lies, bullying, unethical behavior and ignorance of our constitutional system has carried over from the campaign to the Oval Office.
Is it any wonder that many politically active citizens are struggling with emotions which range from rage to apathy to what surely feels like depression? Women, who have struggled for years to achieve equal treatment in the work place, the political arena and health care are facing attacks that seemed unthinkable as recently as 2016. Minorities are also facing more aggressive assaults on their right to vote and to participate in the political system.
In an economy that has disproportionately favored the most wealthy for several decades, the new Administration seems determined to put yet another thumb on the scale. Attacks on immigrants, the press and anyone outside some narrowly defined mainstream are, to many, assaults on the very essence of what has made this country special and, therefore, are deeply disturbing.
Contrary, however, to some people’s reading of Brooks’ article, the answer is not to avoid the news or to disengage from politics. Certainly it’s possible to overdose on Rachel Maddow or on like-minded Facebook posts, but’s burying your head in the sand, going off the grid, and cutting yourself off from others are not solutions to what ails you.
Despite the disdain in some quarters for facts, the problem is reality-based. Many of us see serious threats to our most cherished values, to institutions that have served this country well for a very long time, to the proposition that we are one country rather than a collection of gated communities.
More rather than less political engagement is the prescription for “Trump depression.” That will probably mean spending less time surfing the Internet or signing petitions and more time writing checks to causes that matter to you; calling, writing and visiting your elected representatives; going to rallies and demonstrations that make clear to the president and the members of Congress that the public is paying attention to what they are trying to do; and being part of a record off-year turnout for the 2018 elections.
The good news is that we are already seeing evidence of all these activities in numbers totally unprecedented at this point in the political cycle. People who told me how much trouble they were having overcoming their depression in the aftermath of the presidential election are finding ways to channel their energies and emotions.
We’re seeing spikes in donations to organizations like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. “Indivisible” groups are sprouting all over the country. People are showing up for rallies and protests. Also, we should not forget that there are lots of white males who don’t feel threatened by immigrants or women or globalism and who are concerned by the anti-democratic tendencies of the new president.
Sustaining that level of engagement won’t be easy although we can be confident that Trump and Paul Ryan will continue to provide motivation for us. Make no mistake, political activism was one of the key factors that contributed to the failure of the Republican health care initiative last week.
Anxiety about the 2018 elections will become increasingly more apparent among officials up for reelection. Public opinion polls, already showing records levels of disapproval of a president in his third month, will continue to plague Trump. Republican infighting and finger pointing for their failures will blossom as their struggles get more difficult.
Unfortunately, Trump and Ryan will do more damage before they are ultimately stopped, but there is at least a solution to their misguided agenda for all who are depressed by it: ever more political activity.