The Pandemic of Dread

December 17, 2016

I believe that we are indeed experiencing collective trauma, at least among our Progressive friends and colleagues. We arise every morning later than we ever have, and with such a blackness of spirit that we frighten ourselves. We move as old people move, slowly, full of undetermined pains and crotchets, and we sit, disbelieving and almost catatonic, in front of national news programs that make no sense even to the figureheads on the screen. We slowly realize that they are merely playing at parts, reading scripts they were never meant to read, moving their lips as they alternate from one vapid comment to another to keep down their own panic. We shake our heads as our world tips over onto its side. Up is down, down is up. All the norms that kept us on a somewhat steady course have disappeared. There are no more lights at intersections. The railings on the steepest ramps of the freeways have been pried off, and the roads are tilting precariously toward a looming drop with nothing to keep us from the edge. We feel like sheep waiting for the inevitable culling, not just for shearing, although we suspect that will come first, but for the sound of the axe-grinding that foretells slaughter.

This must be how it felt to be a farmer on the coast of England and Ireland in those dark centuries when Vikings prowled. You knew that the Danes would come for your land, your church, everything you’d worked for and loved, because they’d promised they would. You knew they’d murder and pillage and rape because they’d already done it up and down the countryside. And yet you plowed and planted and fed your animals anyway, trying to move through your daily life with some semblance of normality because you didn’t know what else to do. You would surely have wondered what you’d do when you first spied dragon ships in the harbor. Would you see them in time to save yourself and your family? Would you run into the hills leaving everything, or would you stay and fight and die? Where could you really go without food and shelter? How far was far enough?

There is a dread among those of us who see what’s inevitably coming, the destruction of our beloved democracy, of what we once thought of as basic decency, of tolerance and acceptance of others that is now scoffed at as weakness by the new President Elect, by the KellyAnne Conways and Mike Flynns, by the racists, misogynists, and bigots who wrap themselves in hatred and call themselves the alt-right. We try not to think of what will happen to our planet, our country, our institutions, to our credit and monetary systems, to schools and hospitals, to minorities, to women and girls, to gays, so we live in dread. And we wait.

So yes, this is collective trauma, I suppose. Sometimes we talk about it among ourselves. Because we never know who the enemy is outside our circle, we have found ourselves keeping quiet much of the time. We have lost friends and family members who have been fooled and lied to, and who have eagerly jumped on the winning horse with whips in hand to beat their way through the stumbling sea of emotional refugees who were once their former friends. We fear having people we thought we knew turn on us and mock us for having lost this election. We have recently been called terrible names we never heard uttered before, and we vow among ourselves to resist. But how, and for how long? It will not be easy. We may wish to leave, but where can we really go?

And so we sit and wait, millions of us, dreading the future that awaits us in this ‘brave new world’ we used to call America.

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