The Longest Nooooo!
Maryland therapist Steven Stosny described a condition he terms "headline stress disorder", a more virulent version of the "election stress disorder" that he detected prior to November 8, 2016. Ever since he won Donald Trump's been on the brain of his patients and it's not going away soon..
Alas, from Nov. 9 onward, we’re now having to cope with a kind of “headline stress disorder.” For many people, continual alerts from news sources, blogs, social media and alternative facts feel like missile explosions in a siege without end.
In my Washington area-based practice, women seem especially vulnerable to headline stress disorder. Many feel personally devalued, rejected, unseen, unheard and unsafe. They report a sense of foreboding and mistrust about the future. They fear losing the right to control what happens to their own bodies. Their male partners are disappointed and angry by the news (there are few President Trump supporters in the D.C. area) but don’t feel the same kind of personal betrayal. Because they don’t get it, they have a hard time sharing the emotional burden, which makes their partners feel isolated. The shock and anger that followed the election threatens to give way, as shock and anger usually do, to anxiety or depression.
If former vice-president candidate Tim Kaine can be believed, the condition is real. "Headline stress disorder" is particularly acute among liberals, some of whom are in a state of paroxysmal rage over Trump: over what he is, stands for, how he looks, etc. A kind of self-sustaining chain reaction may now be taking place. It is energy and anger looking for a place to go.
Kaine said "Howard Dean tweeted at me the other day 'Tim, the base is getting ahead of the leaders.'" In response Kaine argues the Democratic leadership must get ahead of the base. "What we’ve got to do," Kaine said, "is fight in Congress, fight in the courts, fight in the streets, fight online, fight at the ballot box, and now there’s the momentum to be able to do this."
Though such pronouncements have been interpreted as rabble-rousing, incendiary statements they can with equal plausibility be the words of frightened politicians trying to stay in control of their routed army. "The base is getting ahead of the leaders" is probably Dean's way of warning senior Democrats of the dangers of "leading from behind", of watching things get away from them. The two biggest perils are the party will split into ever-more radical factions feeding a demand for revenge from an enraged base; and that old-school leaders like Kaine and Dean will be proven impotent in the face of a counter-liberal juggernaut.
Both those dangers came measurably closer with the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. With DeVos' accession the juggernaut has moved one step closer to investing the key liberal redoubt of education. The core fortress, the upstream of culture and politics -- may soon be under siege. It demonstrated, if further proof were needed, the growing inability of the old time Democratic bosses to slow, let alone stop the Deplorable advance. In a sidebar to the DeVos' story the New York Times sourly noted that Barack Obama was off kite surfing with Richard Branson, fiddling as it were while Rome burned.
The closest parallel to the Democratic party's predicament were the choices facing the British Labour party following its defeat in the 2015 general election. After the ground had shifted under its feet the party faced the dilemma of either making themselves unelectable or rejecting their creaky ideology. Labour opted for the true faith; to renew their pledge to the old-time religion even at the cost of accepting the leadership of the dinosaurian Jeremy Corbyn.
Support for Corbyn, who entered the race as the dark horse candidate, and the release of opinion polls which showed him leading the race, led to high profile interventions by a number of prominent Labour figures including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, David Miliband, and Alastair Campbell, among others, many of whom claimed that Corbyn's election as leader would leave the party unelectable. Nonetheless he was elected in a landslide in the first round, with 59.5% of the votes, winning a solid mandate, and all three sections of the ballot. Less than a year later, the party headed into a second leadership election, where Corbyn again won in a landslide victory with an increased share of the vote, 61.8%.
The Democrats are arguably trapped in a remake of the same movie, with Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the role of Jeremy Corbyn. Hillary Clinton, Tim Kaine, Nancy Pelosi and Al Gore would all be auditioning for the parts of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair. While getting ahead of the mob may temporarily keep the progressive Base from complete dispersal, a bleak future under Sanders or Warren is hardly a long term solution. The more fundamental problem, as John Harris notes in the Guardian, is whether the left has a future in its current form. "All over the west, the left is in crisis," he writes. "It cannot find answers to three urgent problems: the disruptive force of globalization, the rise of populist nationalism, and the decline of traditional work."
What if time has passed the Left by? What if its future is the past? The frightening question must be faced. One solution says Harris, is for the Left to completely rearchitecture itself, starting with an abanonment of the proletariat by accepting that traditional work no longer exists. Having left the greasy workplace it should become instead a lifestyle party. "This is a hell of a knot to untangle," Harris says. "But for the left, a solution might begin with the understanding of an epochal shift that pushed politics beyond the workplace and the economy into the sphere of private life – a transition first articulated by feminism, with the assertion that 'the personal is political' ... People on the left should be thinking about extending maternity and paternity leave and allowing its reprise when children are older; reviving adult education (often for its own sake, not just in terms of “reskilling”); assisting people in the creation of neighbourhood support networks that might belatedly answer the decline of the extended family; and, most obviously, enabling people to shorten their working week – think about a three-day weekend, and you begin to get a flavour of the left politics of the future."
In short, Harris is exhorting the Left is to openly become what George Orwell once disparagingly called fruit juice and sandal faction of socialism. In 1937 the author of 1984 already saw the tidal wave of pantheism, sexual politics and a bizarre middle-class cultism that was about to overwhelm socialism. In his book the Road to Wigan Pier Orwell described the middle-class takeover of what was then a working-class movement:
Socialism, in its developed form is a theory confined entirely to the middle classes. The typical Socialist is not, as tremulous old ladies imagine, a ferocious-looking working man with greasy overalls and a raucous voice. He is either a youthful snob-Bolshevik who in five years’ time will quite probably have made a wealthy marriage and been converted to Roman Catholicism; or, still more typically, a prim little man with a white-collar job, usually a secret teetotaller and often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting.
This last type is surprisingly common in Socialist parties of every shade; it has perhaps been taken over en bloc from the old Liberal Party. In addition to this there is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.
If the cranks cannot save the Left but represent the final degenerate phase of Western socialism -- what Shakespeare called "a lightning before death" -- then what fills the vacuum? Two possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the space formerly occupied by the Left will be taken over by the populists themselves. John Daniel Davidson argues Trump simply took over huge sections of the Democratic party by daring to act on promises the Clintons made for years but never meant. The second is that a totally new ideology will rise in the West not just in the United States, perhaps with radical Islamic elements, to fill the void.
Either way it will take a long time. Steven Stosny's patients are in for a long period of election stress disorder, without the prospect of immediate relief, as the Democratic party temporizes in the face of an historic crisis. This may be the longest noooooo!! in history.
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