The Anxiety of Living in a Democracy

I’ve been reading about anxiety because – well, because of the election and RBG and BLM and the Post Office and climate change and the end of democracy as we know it. Oh, and Covid. To say it has created a wave of depression and anxiety and need for more meds would be an understatement. And here’s what I’ve read – anxiety occurs because of people “subscribing to the belief that their suffering shouldn’t be happening: that if something external were different, they wouldn’t be struggling with anxiety.” Something external being different – like Trump should never have been elected, or DeJoy shouldn’t be in charge of the post office, or RBG should have lived longer, or white supremacy shouldn’t exist. Yes, all of these things are true, and yet, here we are – where all of those things have happened.

“The belief that anxiety shouldn’t be happening stops people dead in their tracks from doing the work that needs to be done.” (Wisdom of Anxiety by Sheryl Paul, p. 55) As Michelle Obama said, “It is what it is.” This is the world we have been given. Our troubles are real. We can be anxious, or we can accept that this is the new world and we have to find a way to live everyday with a modicum of hope and love, all while fighting for our lives. What we dreamed was a democratic USA is already slipping away and now the ongoing work of defending our democracy and recreating it anew needs to happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t fight like hell for Joe Biden to win this election. Still, listening to the debate, I found myself falling into an even deeper layer of anxiety and depression. Was I surprised the Trump was an egotistical, ignorant, bully? No, I was not. What depressed me was the undecided voters who were interviewed afterwards. People who after listening to that debate were still largely undecided. But then I thought – well if the last almost 4 years haven’t made them realize who Donald Trump is and what he stands for, a debate isn’t going to make a difference.

I did phone banking for Mondale when he ran against Reagan. It was an introvert’s nightmare, being yelled out by Democrats who continually told me “Reagan is a great president.” I wonder what they are thinking now – because Reagan was at the beginning of what brought us here. Protesting the first and second Gulf War, debating the size of the military budget, calling for more support of vulnerable populations, or an end to systemic racism, or misogyny has often, even in Democratic circles, felt like a lonely stance over the years. If Trump’s rising to power has jeopardized our democracy, it has also made more people care about what we stand for. It has made more people realize that democracy is not a spectator sport – we all need to be involved.

Part of my anxiety over the upcoming election is that I want Joe Biden to win so I can step back and take a breather from being an activist. But democracy is a group effort, and there is no stepping back. Once Joe Biden wins, our work is just beginning. So, here’s to living with anxiety by realizing the place we find ourselves in “is what it is,” and our duties and responsibilities as Democrats and citizens defending, creating, and fighting for our democracy will go on long past the election.