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Toxic Politics Fatigue

Last year, Donald Trump ran for president. Now I'm a different person.

If nothing else, the last year and a half have been a humbling lesson on how some events, although utterly beyond my control, can alter my day-to-day existence. Can force me to adapt. Can change me, irrespective of my will. I paused today, just to notice the change. I tried to measure it. Which in turn prompted me to think back to the version of myself that existed before all of this happened. That guy was hardly any different than me! But I can’t help but feel that, in some way, he was healthier than I am.

It's not unlike remembering life before the onset of a mild but chronic illness. I can’t be entirely sure, but back then, I think I used to be able to concentrate just a little bit more. Back then, my undivided attention was just a bit less divided. My highs were just a bit higher. Back then, I might have been slightly less categorical and rigid in my thinking.

Although I remain hopeful that the worst outcomes of a Trump presidency will ultimately be avoided, I think I used to be more optimistic and less jaded. I think I was just a bit more willing to grant the benefit of the doubt. I was more confident in my ability to steer any political conversation, no matter how heated, toward common ground. I know I didn’t respond like a pavlovian dog at the mere mention of a stranger’s name.

It’s important and necessary to think about politics. We are an engaged citizenry, these things affect our lives, and it is fitting and proper to remain informed about them. But what used to be a sound habit of mind now feels a lot like the symptom of a disease.

I don't just follow, but actually consume this degrading and exhausting drama. It's hard not to crave, on some level, that heady melange of negative emotions—fear, outrage, sadness, disgust, conceit—that off-gasses from today's politics like a toxic cloud. And even when I want to turn it all off—to get away—I can’t. It’s on every screen, and there are screens everywhere. It's on the minds and lips of my friends and loved ones. Negativity and cynicism are addictive, and they are now the main course in my daily news diet. I'm being conditioned to live in—and perpetuate—my own nightmare. This feels like abuse.

I've already been changed and possibly harmed—simply by witnessing this vile shitshow—in ways I can’t quite enumerate or describe. I imagine that this is happening, in some fashion, to many others as well. I think it's changing, however imperceptibly, the way we understand ourselves in the world, the way we interact with each other, the way we approach our daily lives. I worry that it’s corroding our ability to govern ourselves, which rests upon our ability to generate empathy for one another—even those with whom we vehemently disagree. But then, I am also slightly less empathetic than I used to be.

We're six months into this term. I wonder if my country will even be recognizable in three and a half years. I wonder that about myself.

Eric Busch

2300 Red River Street, University of Texas at Austin, TX, 78712

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