We all know that life has changed since Election Day — and those changes have not solely occurred on the national stage. Trump’s election has affected the way many of us face our daily lives, causing deep and granular alterations in behavior. Instead of greeting the day with a steaming cup of joe and a casual perusal of my Facebook news feed, I now start the morning by immediately turning on CNN and pulling up the New York Times on my phone .I only read the articles about Trump, because every other piece of news seems like small potatoes. I used to get most of my news from NPR: now I subscribe to three newspapers. I used to channel surf when I got home from work. Now I go straight to MSNBC. There has been so much news, and all of it is bad: false claims of Obama wire taps; Jeff Sessions; the travel ban; Australia; Mexico; Ivanka Trump’s pumps; Russia, Russia, and more Russia. If you’re anything like me, you can’t look away.
Apathy used to be the great American way. I teach college students, and for as long as I can remember, many students have manifested a grand apathy, feeling that politics was something that occurred far away and to other people, that it was not relevant to their lives. I tried to fight that attitude by helping my students register to vote and giving extra credit for those who could show me their “I Voted” sticker. I would cajole, encourage, and even shame (just a wee bit) students into political engagement. But all that has changed: even with my compulsive cable news-watching and triple newspaper subscriptions, my students now often know more than I do.
And that’s a good thing. It’s more than that: it’s a paradigm shift. The young people I know aren’t apathetic anymore. They’re worried, experiencing increasing anxiety about the state of affairs in our great nation. Like me, they can’t look away. The fear is this: if you turn away for even five minutes, you could miss the tweet, the diplomatic gaffe, the executive order, or the FBI investigation that could lead to nuclear apocalypse. That sounds hyperbolic, but it isn’t, because we are living in hyperbolic times. Doesn’t life now depend on staying informed, every second of every minute of every day? Many have pointed out that Americans are awake now, and isn’t that a good thing?
It is a good thing — the only problem is that we can’t stay awake all the time. Vigilance, especially hyper-vigilance, is exhausting. And while it is crucial that we pay careful attention to Trump, we must also guard against a hidden danger: resistance fatigue. Many Americans are desperately hoping that Donald Trump doesn’t last the full four years. But the reality is that Trump has already done what most thought impossible: he won the election. And we need to face the reality that 2018 might not usher in a Democratic-controlled Congress. Trump may last the full four years, and God forbid, eight. If that’s the case, this is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, and the key to making it through a marathon is pace.
I am absolutely not suggesting that Americans turn off and drop out. We can’t. In fact, that may be just what Bannon and his henchmen are hoping we will do. If we stop watching, then that’s when the real mischief could begin. But for our own sake, and for the sake of our nation, we cannot exhaust ourselves. And that’s why I recommend a little bit of apathy, just a smidge. I’m not alone in this suggestion: activist groups have been sending messages to volunteers to get some rest, to take a breath, to look at green things. But even if you haven’t been logging hours in protest marches, I bet you have been thinking about politics a lot more than you used to. And mental exertion can be just as enervating as physical labor. We need to turn it off, for a while. Otherwise, we are going to be like little kids after a temper tantrum, too exhausted to do anything other than take a nap. My fellow Americans, we need to take it down a notch.
If you have ever cared for a sick loved one, you know that caregiving is draining. It’s emotionally and physically exhausting, between the physical duties and the chronic worry. So it’s time to practice a little ethical egoism, for purely strategic purposes. Give yourself permission to take a day, or even an hour off. Go for a walk, head to the beach, binge-watch the new season of Grace and Frankie on Netflix. To be a caregiver, it is necessary that you first care for yourself. If you are exhausted to the point of breakdown, you can’t take of anyone. And our country is now that sick loved one. We are the caregivers. And we have to take care of ourselves first, so that we can do our absolute best, when it is most necessary, to fight.
At first blush, this may sound irresponsible. But consider this: it’s only been a couple of months, and many of us are already bone weary. Bill Maher joked that time under Trump feels like dog years, that a month feels like a year. And it does. Which means that we have to pace ourselves.
The news has not been all bad: the refusal of the judiciary to let the travel ban (in either of its incarnations) stand. Hundreds of thousands of calls to Congress, registering objections from everything to the repeal of the ACA to the confirmation of Betsy Devos. The Women’s March alone demonstrated the vigor and energy of the resistance. And we are looking forward to more marches, perhaps most significantly the March for Science on April 22nd. The American people are not apathetic anymore, and there is evidence that the resistance is working, which might lead you to argue that I am dead wrong about this, that we can’t let up, even for a split second. But we cannot let Trump hijack our lives, sucking up every bit of emotional and physical energy. That is actually another way of letting him win. If we let him get inside our brains, all the time, we won’t be handle it. The effects of stress are cumulative, and we cannot afford to use up every bit of our will in the first stages of what might be not a battle, but a siege. So do something nice for yourself today. And allow yourself to look away, if only for a few moments. You could even do it in a planned fashion, letting a friend know, “I’m taking a Trump-free day, so make sure you watch the news today. I’ll do the same for you tomorrow.” The thing is, the terrible news will still be there when you look back. We don’t know what is coming down the pike. But we need to be battle-ready when it gets here.