Recently, one of the couples I work with as a therapist in D.C. came to me to with a new concern. The couple (let’s call them Sally and Steve) had been working to strengthen their communication and feel more connected, and the relationship was improving. But something was bothering Steve:
“Sally and I value that our political views are compatible. We have always enjoyed discussing current events, and our careers relate to politics, as you know. I initially took comfort in the fact that we went through the shock of Trump’s victory together, but something has changed. Sally is constantly reading news updates on her phone and watching CNN, even in the middle of the night. It’s gone too far. It’s no longer something that connects us; it’s now a wedge between us.”
It’s a dynamic I’ve seen with other couples and individual therapy clients I work with. To be sure, a heightened political anxiety has been with us since the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump voters in D.C. feel like outcasts, shunned by family and friends. Both Democrats and Republicans who oppose the president are struggling with a sense of uncertainty. A remarkable number of clients report experiencing nightmares in which the president makes an appearance. It’s not unusual for a client to recount their personal challenges in a calm and contained tone and then burst into tears while describing their concern about our current political climate.
One particular aspect of this stress is, in my experience, increasing — the stress associated with news consumption.
"I've fucking had it with the news."
That's something I hear over and over again. The installment of Trump in the White House--and the subsequent inability of Republicans to remove him now that we can all see, with our own two eyes, how terrible of a president he is--has become a crystallizing event. Democrats and sane Republicans are in agreement all over the country--we have to stop this. It is causing tremendous stress in this country. You would think that these so-called professional politicians would catch on. It is much easier to run the country into the ground if no one is paying attention. Think the first four years of the George W. Bush administration. No one was paying attention, everyone was assured that the wars were being won and the terrorists were being chased all over Kingdom Come. Victory was right around the corner.
And then, after Katrina, people started paying attention to the government again.
We are all paying pretty close attention to the government right now. Nobody is supposed to know who the Deputy Attorney General is, who is on the National Security Council, what the Secretary of the Interior is doing with helicopters and all that. But we are all now acutely aware of things that the vast majority of Americans have never really given a fig about. Trump changed all of that. Trump made collusion a household word.
Everyone opposed to Trump is in pain; the people who still support him exhibit the symptoms found in people who double down when caught lying about stealing a cookie from the cookie jar. They are divorced from reality and enjoying themselves. Who knows what they think anymore? Will anyone ever reach them? I suppose some will never come to their senses.
It's as if the country is trying to ride a tiger by holding onto its tail while keeping one foot in its mouth and the other in its ass. This is not going to work, of course, but no one knows how to extricate themselves from such a horrible situation without being eaten by the tiger after losing one good shoe.