Unless you spent the past five years in a coma, blissfully unaware of the world around you, you know the news has been deeply weird and distressing.
I genuinely believe that the past four years have left a profound impact on my mental health, and that of many people across the nation. I have friends who have stopped reading the news entirely so they can go about their day without feeling hopeless. I’ve read articles about the Biden administration by journalists that seem positively shocked at how boring the policy details are. These past four years have left this country traumatized, a trauma we only now can begin to reckon with.
I was still in high school when Trump was elected. I vividly recall my blind confidence the weeks before the 2016 election, when my young, dumb, optimistic self bet my best friend ten dollars Trump would never be president. Fast forward to that infamous night. I was crying as I stared at the television screen, watching the electoral votes tick upwards as I envisioned the worst. That night I contemplated walking into traffic to spare myself the agony that awaited a mixed-race queer in the new America.
Time passed. I handed over the money. I went to the Women’s March. I learned that democracy was a sham. For the next four years, I checked the news, I opened social media, I watched television and every single day it was something new.
The president said white supremacists were good people. The president threatened nuclear war with North Korea. The president suggested that people inject bleach. It was never enough to simply enforce policy banning transgender people from the military or pulling out of the Paris Agreement. He always had to say things, truly hateful and outrageous things, that became the news because of his position.
I genuinely feel that some level of emotional abuse occurred. Gaslighting, threats, and wild accusations were common enough, and the hypervigilance that victims of abuse develop was certainly there. I was constantly looking to see what new damage to democracy has happened now.
Even when it wasn’t exactly bad, it would be strange, and the absence of news and its terrifying unknown would leave me more worried than ever. Bad news was addictive. I had to know what horrible things were happening so I could stay informed, and once I was informed it was my responsibility to stress about them.
For four years we lived under the constant anxiety that maybe today we would glance at the news and hear martial law declared. Maybe today we’d see World War III. Maybe today we’d lose the Civil Rights Act. It’s only now, when I look up the name of the current president of the United States and don’t see tweets accusing political rivals of treason, I realize that the news cycle wasn’t normal. We aren’t supposed to have panic attacks whenever we glance at NBC. That’s what CNN is for.
I know bad things happened under the Obama administration. I know bad things continue to happen under the Biden administration. I know it’s an incredibly privileged take to say that if Hillary had been elected, we’d all be at a coronavirus-free brunch reading about how world peace was declared. We will still have climate change, inequality, poverty, unemployment, corruption, and, oh yeah, a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. But the truth is, it isn’t healthy to see a constant stream of bad news all day every day for four years. It’s even less healthy to read the rantings of a man who believes in his word over facts and his ego over human lives. While this section is probably near the back and it’s a bit late to hear it, please put down this paper. Remember that you don’t have to steel yourself like a lab rat for the next shock. What happened here wasn’t okay, and we need to heal.