On border walls, shutdowns and mental health

Originally, this editorial was supposed to be about Donald Trump and the ongoing battle over the government shutdown and his long-promised border wall. After Trump’s nationally-televised address from the Oval Office on Tuesday, a temper-tantrum in a meeting with Congressional leaders on Wednesday and a tasteless public relations stunt in Texas on Thursday, I knew I had plenty of material to work with.

So, in the early hours of a chilly Friday morning, not long after the drunks came home to roost, I began to draft a scathing condemnation of the 45th president.

I described him as a petulant child and an incompetent fascist. I noted that his refusal to reopen the federal government was putting families on food and housing welfare programs at risk of losing their benefits. I highlighted the 800,000 federal workers–over a third of which are veterans, according to the Office of Personnel Management–who are furloughed or working without pay and the thousands of government contractors who will never get paid for their lost hours. I wrote with horror that the Food and Drug Administration was suspending inspections of food-processing facilities, putting everyone at increased risk of being poisoned by our food. I furiously typed sentence after sentence about the blatant stoking of racial fears in his address to the nation–he described would-be asylum seekers as “vicious coyotes” and claimed that Black and Latinx communities are particularly vulnerable and threatened by undocumented immigrants.

My fingers–illuminated only by the glow of my laptop screen and the Christmas lights I still haven’t taken off my porch–trembled as I admitted my deep, existential fear that Trump would give two tiny middle fingers to Congress and declare a national emergency to build his stupid wall, finally succumbing to his worst authoritarian impulses.

Of course, that was the original plan. But, by the end of that Friday–after a hellish first week of classes, little restful sleep and no less than three different conversations about the true meaning of stress dreams–I realized an important truth.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of writing, hearing, talking and thinking about Donald Trump. I’m worn out from the endless parade of scandals, the televised campaign rallies, the rambling speeches and the abhorrent, racial fear-mongering. I’m bored of Robert Mueller and his investigation, of Russia and Vladimir Putin’s electioneering, of tepid and spineless opposition from Democrats that somehow still believe they can achieve some sort of compromise with an unhinged con artist with fascist sympathies.

I am so, so sick of Twitter.

I’m too young to feel this jaded. I’ve got too much of a future to waste on the neutered nihilism I picked up as a teenager and continue to lug around with me. I love people too deeply to be this distrusting and cynical. I’m reminded of a line from a song that I once scrawled on a bathroom wall in thick black permanent marker:

“Cynicism isn’t wisdom, it’s a lazy way to say that you’ve been burned.”

I know I’m not alone. We’re now in the third year of a collective American nightmare; a reality suddenly and inexplicably distorted in a funhouse mirror. Creeping existential dread has evolved into a psychological horror that would make Rod Serling’s voice quiver. Our national mental health–already on shaky footing long before Trump’s Taj Mahal went bankrupt–is being rapidly eroded by a firehose of poorly-written tweets, executive orders and televised partisan bickering.

Depression is now an aesthetic, anxiety is haute couture, paranoia fits us like our favorite pair of jeans.

We’re so desensitized to mental and emotional turmoil that schools aren’t even sending students home after shootings anymore–as Cascade Middle School here in Eugene demonstrated just last week. After all, one in 13 Americans will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives, so why not give the kids a head start on their mental illnesses?

There’s hope, though. There’s always hope that this nightmare, like all nightmares, will soon come to an end. We’ll wake up suddenly, drenched in sweat, heart pounding, bloodshot eyes stung by the cold inside our room. Dazed, we’ll sit up, wait for our eyes to adjust to the darkness and take stock of our surroundings. If we’re lucky, the person next to us in bed will pull us in close and whisper something calming in our ears: It was just a bad dream, it wasn’t real, nightmares can’t hurt us.

This one felt so real, though.