I am dying for the presidential campaign to end so that I can relax; and I’m sure that many of you feel the same.
Most of all, I want to know the outcome. It needs to be Hillary Clinton. The anticipation is hard, like waiting for your baby to be born. You can’t wait. It’s beyond exciting, but you also carry that little bit of dread until you count her fingers, hear her cry, hold her in your arms.
The campaign has held me captive. Like an addict needing his next fix, I have watched TV news much more than ever before. I have read the newspapers and online journals like a starving man in search of food. Often, there’s nothing healthy to eat but I’ll eat anything. With each passing week, the need grows. Even as Hillary Clinton’s lead grows, I search everywhere for reassurance that this cruel, narcissistic, unstable man will not assume our nation’s mantle.
Do you recognize me in yourself? I’ve not only grown addicted and anxious, I feel dirty, fouled by his words, fouled even by looking at him. He is disgusting. I can’t stand to see his face. I can’t stand to hear his voice. I can’t bear reading his words. Yet I do. I read and I watch and I listen until I feel slightly nauseated. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t catch my breath and my heart starts to pump too quickly. I want to bring my pulse down.
Is this neurotic? Maybe. But the campaign has invaded our consciousness and polluted our minds. People tell me that they dream about it. It’s not just how dishonest and nasty he is, how much he speaks in word salad—has he ever spoken a coherent paragraph?—how mocking and preening he is, how dismissive he is of others. It’s that we are compelled—no, impelled—to watch. We choose even when it doesn’t entirely feel like it.
We are pulled into a world of misbehaving children. He responds to criticism as a child does. If you criticize him, he comes back at you: you do it too; you’re worse than I am. You are Putin’s puppet, Clinton says. No, you are, you are, you are, he responds in that whiny, accusing voice of his, trying to obliterate her message. No matter what you say in criticism, he’s right back at you and he’ll say anything. We are pulled into a playground with a big, big boy who lacks impulse control. We are ready to laugh at him or run from him or confront him—all at the same time. At the very least, he should have a “time out.” What a relief that would be.
We watch him the way we’d slow to watch a terrible car accident. It’s awful but we seem compelled to see the wreckage. There’s also a serious reason: he might win. The thought of him in the White House parrying childishly with foreign leaders, Democratic politicians, “advisors,”—all potential ‘enemies—is chilling. But that’s what would happen if he were not the center of attention, when he couldn’t have his way, if people don’t like him. Treaties and policy would be decided on a simple basis: you like me or you don’t. Hillary Clinton says we can’t trust him with nuclear arms. True. But, day by day, we cant trust him to deal decently or intelligently with the business of leadership.
Against our better judgment, we keep watching, as though the very act might stop him. Unconsciously we feel compelled to watch because we might be the last barrier to his destructive ends. We are afraid to turn away. He might say something to offend or endanger people we care about or encourage those who might endanger us. On the lighter side, he might miss him saying something so awful or stupid that we would miss our opportunity tell our friends. Gallows humor fills our conversation.
We can’t stop because he says that he won’t abide the peaceful transfer of power, the cornerstone of democratic leadership. He talks about the end of civilization and rallies his troops to revolt. He is preaching insurrection. We are too close to the era of Mussolini and Hitler, who rose precipitously to power by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of constitutional rules and processes, not to take his threats at least a little seriously. We know that insurrection, even in this great nation, is possible. We can’t stop watching because, however slim the chance of mass insurrection, it is possible. We need to be prepared. Crazy and paranoid as it may sound, we watch so we can sound the alarm.
He is so frightened of losing and being seen as a loser, that he won’t concede the election even after Clinton wins it fair and square. He calls on his followers to lift their arms to fight this outcome. He calls for “watchers” to intimidate voters. Much of these messages are barely coded are crystal clear to those who heed his call. The call to arms, the evocation of a Second Amendment army, is treasonous. It is dangerous. And I have to admit that I have occasionally wondered whether President Obama has a plan to put down the rebellion, to arrest those who violently oppose the legitimacy of a new president.
Some, maybe most people, believe he’ll calm down after the election. Or back off because he doesn’t like to work so hard. But I think he’s bitten Eden’s apple, that his craving for attention has been jacked up exponentially and that he’ll need it as badly as ever. Imagine what he’ll have to say and do to keep the attention focused on him as much as it now is.
In other countries, maybe even at other times in the United States, his treasonous stance would have led to arrest. It is ironic and it is fortunate that President Obama—and Democrats in general—won’t play the third world game of jailing their opponent. They won’t fall so low. They also don’t want to spook the election process which is finally going well. I would do the same. But even this kind of restraint is tiring.
Just being mature can be wearing. Any parent knows that sustaining a quiet, calm, and loving presence in the face of a child’s tantrums can be trying and tiring. It takes discipline, which we lovingly exercise with children we love. It takes even more discipline with other people’s children. And it takes a great deal of effort when the tantrum comes from a child we don’t particularly like. Like the presidential candidate. It takes work to remain calm, to remember that we love our country and its democratic values more than we dislike the candidate. So the discipline is extremely important.
Our vigil is exhausting. It is exhausting in the way that wears down battered children and wives. They know to be vigilant, to keep their guard up. They need to be focused and awake to the potential for danger. There is no rest.
Throughout my life, I have been spared this kind of experience. I have been spared the experience of sexual assault. I have not feared deportation and imprisonment. I have not been afraid. But I think I can identify just a little better with all of his victims and potential victims. And I want to be free of this exhausting vigilance.
Last night’s third debate feels like it may be decisive, and I already feel a little relieved. I find my body a little calmer. I am obsessing a little less about the campaign and its aftermath. I hope I’m not premature. Anything can happen. And, to show my true colors, I hope I’m not jinxing the campaign. It needs to conclude well. I need to be freed from its captivity. How about you?