Examining the Post-Trump Malaise
The election was finally over.
I happily collected some initial thoughts, including pieces on voter suppression, the odds against Joe Biden, and the interesting relationship between the Murdochs and a fading Donald Trump.
But something was…off. Stories that previously took me thirty minutes or an hour to write suddenly took the whole day. Breaks outnumbered work periods by wide margins. I found myself wandering the vast landscape of electoral information without much energy. The scrolling, reading, and thinking seemed to be more a relic of former habits than an affirmative call-to-action.
My creativity was waning. My motivation was depleting.
Despite this, I marched on like all writers do. The show must go on. I overcame the efficiency gaps with increased amounts of time commitment. Productivity, measured in articles written, remained stable.
Then I noticed this:
Apparently, mentally checking out of the election was not restricted to just me. My viewership plummeted, even as the post-election analysis was churning. What, exactly, were we experiencing?
First, there was the win itself. Biden’s victory was officially declared four days after the election, depriving the Trump repudiation of a bit of sweetness. Second, while Biden’s historic thumping was thoroughly enjoyable, it did come with a bit of an asterisk down-ballot, as Democrats lost ground in the House and failed to capture a majority in the Senate.
There was an outsized amount of lead up to this year’s election. The real scandals of the pandemic and its economic impact, and the fake scandals of laptops and doctors profiting off of the coronavirus. (They didn’t.) The result was the highest voter turnout in over 100 years.
But interest is finite. Attention is limited. What if Americans simply used up all of their political fuel prior to the election, and it is just time for everybody to move on?
Trump’s flame-throwing “March to the Sea” took its toll on the nation. He launched every fringe conspiracy theory, demonstrably unproven lie, and tiresome culture war at Biden, at the media, at his phone, and ultimately, at us. Mud was thrown with the sole intent of seeing what stuck.
So yes, Biden won, but increasingly, it feels as if no one won. In one sense, Trump and his supporters are fuming over what they perceive to be a stolen election. And in the other sense, Democrats are watching in horror as a slow-moving coup fails spectacularly.
A crucial component of this mystery feeling is that not much has changed. In fact, the loss has only emboldened the already shameless. Powell is misspelling. Giuliani is leaking. Trump is pardoning. Emails are grifting.
I increasingly care less and less about Trump. I would imagine I’m not alone. What else can be written about the man after all? When you operate under the assumption that he will act in the worst possible way, none of his bizarre antics elicit shock.
Burnout is often associated professionally — the feeling of helplessness, lack of joy, and fatigue that employers are watchful of with their workers. What if we are experiencing burnout, but in a politics — news — Trump form. Perhaps, electoral burnout?
It would make sense. According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout in the workplace is caused by lack of control, unclear expectations, and “extremes of activity” such as when a job is too monotonous or too chaotic. Doesn’t this sound like the feelings a Twitter user would have when perusing, say, @realDonaldTrump?
A similar feeling would be Post Election Stress Disorder, an actual affliction that the American Psychological Association established four years ago. There are about half a million sufferers.
Whether it’s burnout or PESD, the post-Trump malaise is real.
And I’m right there with you.