politics

When do we panic?

For those who don’t want to read more than one sentence, the answer is: never.

If you, like me, find it [fill in your own set of adjectives and adverbs; I’m going to go with:] staggering that Donald Trump could be re-elected given the massive damage he’s done, you might also, like me, feel some panic rising. Or a lot of panic. This is understandable. This is natural.

This is also harmful. Don’t do it.

Panic is your brain scrambling to find one last option to save a hopeless situation. Panic is hoping for a miracle. Panic is an awful strategy for politics and personal welfare. Don’t do it.

The fact that Donald Trump still has a realistic chance to be re-elected may feel it warrants panic, but what good will that do you? If you decide to panic, you’re like Wile E Coyote when the smoke clears and he looks down at the canyon floor, a thousand feet below.

(It’s not the fall that’ll kill you but the sudden stop at the end.)

One of the reasons I feel panic is the recognition of how little I can do to impact the outcome of the election. Even if I didn’t vote in November (I will, of course), Joe Biden will get Oregon’s vote. So even doing the most important thing a citizen can do hardly counts for much. I could contribute some money, but it won’t move the needle. Yes, my contribution would add up with what tens of millions of others are giving – Biden raised an astonishing $365 million in August – but this can’t erase the knowledge of how insignificant, as an individual, that I am.

Me, alone here in my covid-isolated room, can do almost nothing to stop Donald Trump. And that makes me feel helpless. And helpless is a place where panic sets in.

Hopefulness is not a good counter to panic, by the way. Some years ago, I was driving down a snowy mountain road with my dad and my two young sons. The road was straight and then made a long sweeping left turn. I was going very slow, but not quite slow enough to satisfy inertia. I could sense the car refusing to follow the road and instead choosing to head for the guardrail, and a possible death roll down the mountains.

Oh my god, my brain so wanted to panic! It had every right to panic. I felt the fear, but I also knew I had to do something other than freak out. I lightly tapped the brakes, didn’t try to turn, and just trusted that what I was trained to do in such situations would work. I also didn’t not waste any time hoping we’d be saved; I did what I had to do to save us. I brought the car to a stop well before the guard rail; it was a Tercel, so not a lot of vehicle weight to deal with. I looked at my dad. He had seen what was happening and understood what I had been able to do. I think he was glad not to have died in a horrible car wreck on a snowy mountain.

The kids were oblivious, which is exactly how they should have been.

Panic is a terrible choice to make when things are going badly. Panic is how people die. Panic is almost guaranteed to bring defeat. Panic takes a bad situation and makes it immeasurably worse.

Panic makes you feel hopeless, helpless, and weak. Panic is what you do when you don’t believe you are going to survive.

Neither you nor I can drive Donald Trump from office single-handedly. Neither you nor I, however much time or money we give, will be much more than a snowflake in a blizzard – and we won’t feel terribly powerful however much we are told that each snowflake is invaluable. I will watch this election unfold from here in Portland and, no matter what I contribute or what I do, I will still be stuck with nothing more than hoping the dumbfucks in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania who elected Trump in 2016 won’t make the same mistake again.

That feeling sucks. That feeling leads to fear, and fear leads to panic, and that’s the reality of this situation. We are living through a time of fear with the possibility that the hellscape of 2020 will only be a prelude to worse.

So while panic may feel like an understandable response, I can’t go there. I have a life to live, and panic kills life. Whether Trump wins or loses, I still have to live my life. We in Oregon still have our own state to care for. Portland voters might prove stupid enough to elect an unspeakably unqualified person as mayor, and I’ll have to live through that, as well.

I cannot control what others do and what the world turns into around me. My control over anything is limited – if it even exists at all – so I need to use it where I can: how I spend my day, the things I put my effort into. I can do nothing if I panic, so, despite how inviting panic may feel, I’m not going to do it. 

I have no need to find myself standing on thin air and hoping for a miracle.

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