Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload

I don’t know about you, but late last week I hit the wall about the midterm election: the swirl of attack ads, the endless urgent fund appeal emails, the feverish palaver about polls. Not to mention the shocks of the Khashoggi assassination, the mail bombs, and the massacre in Pittsburgh. When the funerals there were basically crashed by the uninvited  ghoul, my internal needle bounced into the red “zone marked “Overload.”

I’m not dropping out: already voted (first day of early voting); urged all & sundry to do likewise; sent several hundred dollars to a list of pleading, promising candidates. And I’ve been reading & listening to the nonstop chatter & prognosticating. 

Then finally it became too much. It was driving me nuts. Had to get away.

But where? In every direction, there was TNT (Trauma & Triggering).  I didn’t even need a screen to see it: Memories crowded in like visual earworms.

The most vividly ominous were from a road trip in late October, 2016: Philadelphia back to Durham. Leaving the interstate in western Maryland, I turned onto US15, which drops almost straight south across Virginia, 240 miles of farmland and hillocks and small towns, before veering southwest and passing through Durham about a mile from my place.

Before long, I started seeing Trump signs. Big ones, that people spent good money for and put time into erecting. By the time I hit the North Carolina line, I had tallied well over a hundred & lost count. Oh—plus two each for Hillary and Gary Johnson.

At the time, I had swallowed the conventional wisdom: yard signs meant nothing, the wise people said, Hillary has this in the bag, etc. 

My head “believed” it. But as US15 unrolled through hills and fields, that secondhand conviction settled in my belly like a growing lump of lead. I still clung to the wise people’s assurances, but my gut lost all conviction. Election night, I stayed up til near dawn, hoping it was a nighttime hallucination; Hillary did carry Virginia, just barely. But the gut turned out to right.

Surveying the rubble in the bleak post-election dawn, I realized that my loss was a double one: not only had Hillary’s campaign crashed and burned, but nearby was another smoking pile of debris: that of the plane carrying all, or almost all, of the wise people. Not just the partisan flacks, but the “independent” pollsters & most “analysts,” including many who were officially “conservative.”

Despite their deep ideological differences, they had long since forged a confident consensus that what had just happened simply couldn’t happen. And I, posing as a worldly-wise semi-sophisticated reader, had stifled my misgivings and accepted it. I did get fooled again, and was now left with neither a political success nor the mechanism I had leaned on to make sense of this campaign turned catastrophe.

The wise people survived, and should have resigned in shame and be pursuing rehab driving for Uber and learning HVAC at community college. Instead they crawled from the wreckage, dusted themselves off, checked their Twitter feeds and went back to “work.” Nowadays they pretend to be chastened, more guarded, though the Democrats among them are already certain that their blue wave is about to crest. For me, the specter of their epic 2016 collapse is still very real.

With effort, I managed to push this 2016 flashback to one side. But it did no good to stop listening to this season’s incessant chatter. I still knew, could almost hear, a giant invisible clock ticking down to D-Day, with seemingly endless days of it still to go. 

I tried distraction: a birthday lunch with the Fair Wendy. A stroll to the park with my grandson, granddaughter, great granddaughter & Sassy the dog. 

That was good, but it was still shadowed: look at them: all except Sassy would someday qualify for Social Security, Medicare, and one was already eligible for Medicaid.  But would it be there? 

And what about the rush of climate change? They’ve been through two hurricanes this year; all lucky this time. Next year?

By nightfall, they had headed home. Wendy went off to an architect’s meeting. I felt tired: ready to sleep — sleep! Probably the best way to muffle the ticking of that damn clock, foreshorten the wait.

So I went to bed.

Actually, I went to bed three times.

Didn’t work. I got back up three times. Read several chapters of a biography of the French writer Colette. (Once, her sexual adventurism seemed daringly “transgressive”; but now, she’d likely be atop both the #MeToo and #HimToo target lists, with a D. A. on the trail.) Not exactly a cure for insomnia.

On further thought, I began to have doubts about the whole scenario the wise people were now serving up: come November 6, or the  morning after, it will all be over.

Really? The more the clock ticked through that night, the more doubtful I became.

Consider: the word on the street is that a big cabinet shuffle will quickly follow the closing of the polls, aimed above all at derailing the various probes by one Robert Mueller,  a confrontation typically mentioned in the same sentence as “constitutional crisis.”  And how many new indictment bombshells can Mueller drop even as they’re trying to push him out the door?

Or what about the budget showdown that looms in early December? You know— the Wall versus the caravans. And speaking of caravans, what if rocks start to fly at the thousands of Army troops? And what if maybe a few bounce off and hit one or more of of the hundreds of vigilante “militia-persons” doing their freelance patrols with their over-the-counter big guns? And as for guns, how many days til the next big mass shooting?

Am I exaggerating, or is this what the last two years have been about: a succession of shocks that shows no real signs of slowing.  In which case, on reflection — of which maybe I’m doing too much in these long hours — the election, even if it goes the way I much prefer, is unlikely to really settle things down. There seems an equal chance it may add more fuel to many fires.

See? No wonder I can’t sleep.

5 thoughts on “Trauma & Triggers: Coping With Campaign Overload”

  1. The ” Friend speaks my mind meme”. though overused ——
    One thing Chuck, the miasma of fear and squashed hope sitting on me for so long now is not lifting with the blandishments of the New York,just can’t get the big stories right Times. But I am really looking forward to wenesday when some of the cards hit the table. This time I think that everyone who isn’t a completely committed non participant in our elections is gonna show up. This to my mind can go badly as well as goodly, ahem. However I do look forward to being able to make up my mind a little better about who and the the fuck we are and what the fuck is going on and how I might fit into it. From moving to Vancouver or taking up the righteous sword—- elections, like courtrooms dramas do cleave through a very small amount o the bullshit. I can’t leave my situation, I’m too old and all my eggs are in one basket, but maybe my brain quietly working away behind the scenes with the light -might- —make up it’s mind wtf to do. Thanks for this share, it really made my life a little better this morning.
    Ben Schultz
    The Desert Tower

    1. Hi Ben, thanks for the kind words. I understand about staying put; I’ve done some checking out of the grass that looks greener over there, but age, health, lack of wealth, and family/friends ties hold me back. (Though if the “Republic of Gilead” appears, I think I could still make a run for it.)

  2. Hi Chuck and his fan club who “follow” him; (Does that make us fan-atics?)

    I am happy to say, I feel much better today, but not because of the news. It is because I got (gave myself) 11 hours of sleep!

    On a positive note, I’ve been working for 15 years to improve my local county’s government and have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I am friends with all my local elected county officials and even with my State Representative (who is a Republican). Chuck, thank you for helping me to understand that Quakers need to focus on our local issues if we are to have any chance of success in bringing the Light to our communities.

    Hold Douglas County in the Light as we continue to send the “White Male System” back to the private sector and reclaim this part of the South for African Americans to lead us out of our local “swamp”. On the Federal/National scene I am less hopeful. But as an optimist and as a refugee who entered the USA at the age of 1 with my twin bro and mom, I’ve a different view of our country than most of you “Born in the USA”. (That song makes me feel sad for our country and the rest of the world. )

    Yes, the USA and its many States and Counties and Cities are ripe for disappointing Friends who lean to the liberal end of the political spectrum.

    My question is whether President Trump has finished his real “job” or is he still needed to “educate” our country about the reality that we are not what we think we are or even have been! What “real job” can I be thinking of? The one that God gives us, of course.

    If one believes that “there is that of God in everyone”, then we must include Donald Trump in that Quaker “meme”. So I have been trying to understand what part of God resides in him. What role has the Spirit chosen “The Donald” to play in our reality show called the United States of America?

    I’ve decided he is playing the role of “Mr. Roto Rooter”! Yes, I am speaking of those men who come to your home with that snake like plunger. It is used to unblock our personal solid waste as it was going into our backyard septic tanks or into a series of pipes that carry it to a “distant land -far-far away”. (usually a Waste Treatment Facility. )

    Trump is helping to dislodge lots of the crp that has been preventing significant change to happen here in America. We have been “full of it” for decades. I’ll list a few examples and you probably have a few you could add to this blog.

    The USA pretends it cares about human rights even as we build a larger military-industrial complex every decade. Trump has finally explained that we need to be friends with dictators because they are some of our best customers for the sophisticated weapons we create to “protect us” from the latest “enemy invasion”. Even our (beloved by Friends) last President Obama, who was given the Nobel Peace Prize (as a bribe?) went on to expand the use of unmanned drones to kill suspected “terrorists” claiming they would have “less collateral damage” than “conventional” armament. So the idea that the USA is the ” Saviour of the Planet” is just plain crp. As Global Climate Change was getting worse faster and faster, Trump has cleared up the illusion that government on its own can save us from our addiction to overconsumption.

    Another piece of “crp” that was stuck is the belief that our “legal” system can be used as a cheap way to treat people with mental illnesses. (if they can’t get jobs running our governments, that is.) Our county built a new jail that opened a few years ago that has automated much of the labor needed to man the jails. At the open house, I was shown a wing of an entire floor that was designed to house the county’s mentally ill. It looked alot like solitary confinement with a bit more room. Oh, it was also a “Green” building.

    Note the decline of unions and the middle class as well as public school funding as greater share of our taxes go to support mass Incarceration of poor and young and people of color.

    Then there are the “Neverending Wars” we are fighting. I am going to a panel discussion here in Atlanta in a week or so about why the Korean War is still considered an “Active War”. (hint: One reason is that can be used to justify putting US forces all over the Far East.)

    So, perhaps President Trump is the man who was supposed to stay “behind the curtain”, who like the Wizard of Oz, has been unable to maintain the charade that he knows it all. .

    Well, I’ve used up my “extra hour” today and perhaps some of yours. Off to walk our dog and feed our cat and bask in the glow of Janet’s love.

    Blessings to all and to all a good night.

    1. Thanks for this, Free: you’re right about the value of local work; I’ve been doing some of that too. There’s plenty of such work available. Keep at it.

      1. You are a wonderful teacher. Thank you for coming to SAYMA YM for all those years and sharing your Light.

        Yes, local is where it is at! Friends need to hear that only 1 (one) Quaker is needed in each County Party Committee. As nasty as interparty discourse is, in house angst can be much worse unless someone who knows peacemaking is present.

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