By Gaby Germanos, Harvard College ’18
Note: This piece is about pessimism and self-discipline in the face of the presidential election. If you’re looking for optimism, uplifting thoughts, or self-care tips during these trying times, click away now.
As I look around Harvard right now, there seems to be a rhetoric of post-election night “healing” permeating the campus. Students, faculty, and staff are in shock over the election results, and people are gathering in various spaces to pour out their feelings and lean on each other for emotional support. I get this phenomenon. I don’t just get it—I actively encourage it. It is extremely legitimate and underrated/under-appreciated way of reacting to trauma. (In fact, Black feminists such as Audre Lorde and Angela Davis have even framed self-care as a revolutionary form of protest, especially for women of color.) Unfortunately, this type of response is just not for me.
You see, I don’t want to “heal” right now. I don’t want to “cope.” I don’t want to figure out the best way to “deal with it.” I don’t want to engage in acts of “self-care.”I’m not watching funny videos to distract myself. I’m not opening the articles with titles like “5 Democrats We Should Elect in 2020,” or anything referencing the “silver lining” in the cloud that is this election. No, I want to dwell on this. I want to mourn. I want to experience feelings of disappointment with or even hatred towards those who caused this tragedy to ensue. I want to sit at my computer and scroll through my newsfeed absorbing the sadness of others. I did all of these things last night, as I sat in my room alone and watched the results come in on MSNBC for 5.5 hours straight. I’m continuing to do these things today. I’m going to do it all tomorrow, and the next day, until I feel I don’t have to anymore.
You might be wondering why I’m doing this. It sounds like torture, right? Well, maybe it is. But I have a concrete rationale as to why I’m “torturing” myself, and it boils down to two main things: the transformational power of self-discipline, and the twin motivational forces of fear and pessimism.
Self-discipline has always been a valuable part of my life. Growing up, my parents encouraged me in everything I did, and I was never punished for making a mistake. When I was in the 5th grade, I left my binder full of homework at school for the first time ever, and I cried. My mom offered to drive me back to school that night to get it, and I refused, believing in the importance of conditioning; if we went back for my binder, and I was able to do my homework, that wouldn’t teach me not to do it again. My mom thought that seemed a bit excessive, but hey, I wanted to learn a lesson. Lo and behold, it’s been over 10 years since that day, and I never again forgot my binder at school.
I’m taking a similar tack in reacting to the election. While I didn’t vote for Tr—p,* I am complicit in his victory, since I didn’t do much to stop him. I didn’t canvass, participate in phone banks, or try to convince many people to vote for Clinton. Until election day, I didn’t even post on Facebook about it (and even then, it was a pretty minimal post). I could make excuses about my social anxiety (which is a real thing), or being too busy, etc. etc., but those would be BS excuses. Frankly, I could have done a lot more, or at least something more. By subjecting myself to the reality of a Tr—p presidency, I’m disciplining myself. I’m pushing myself to change. If I don’t do this, there’s a real chance that the same thing could happen in 4 years, and I’ll be kicking myself yet again for doing the bare minimum.
So, I’ve decided that I want to be make a difference. Now what? Well, here’s where the fear and pessimism come in. I’m not easily motivated by optimism. I’m a pretty optimistic person, but that technique doesn’t often do much for me. It usually ends up hurting me, as I become complacent with the status quo. When I’m genuinely afraid of the outcome of something, I’m motivated to take action. This plays out on a daily basis. A few weeks ago, I wasn’t happy with the grade I received on a paper. That made me try extra hard on the next paper so I could still get an A in the class, and, spoiler alert, the grade on my next paper was much better. Just today, it finally dawned on me that a physical health issue I have been struggling with recently wasn’t going to get better on its own, so I finally hauled my butt to Urgent Care (despite my hospital-induced anxiety). It turned out that my issue is probably pretty minor, and that it was good that I went in today before the problem became worse. Basically, fear for the win (#outdatedexpressions).
That’s why I’m allowing and encouraging myself to feel scared about a Tr—p presidency. That’s why I’m not putting my energy towards envisioning how this will all be okay somehow. That’s why I’m not looking to unite with my fellow Americans to make a better tomorrow. Instead, I’m going to accept that the electorate (and the stupid electoral college) messed up and that the next 4 years might be terrible. I’m actively thinking about how terrible it will (not may) be. My pessimism regarding the consequences of this election prompts me to do something to stop it. If I tell myself that the terrible things that will happen will be difficult to stop, I’ll want to work harder to stop them. I won’t stand for complacency anymore. Hey, if this line of thinking worked for the Tr—p campaign—who bashed the state and future of our nation for months and months—then it can work for me, too.
I know these tactics are working for me already, because after less than 24 hours of experiencing a swirling mess of anger, sadness, frustration, and near total loss of hope, I had a revelation. For the first time, I don’t just want to vote; I want to be a hyperactive participant in the political process. This has been an option on the table for a couple years, but as of right now, I have definitively decided that I want to strive for a career in policy-making, be that as a political consultant/advisor, as a policy writer, or maybe even as an elected official. I want to have a hand in ensuring that nothing similar to what happened on Tuesday night ever happens again, at least not in my lifetime.
Going forward, if I do end up running for some elected position in public service, I’m not going to base my platform on fear and pessimism. That’s merely my personal way of doing things. I’m not looking to start a national “Make America Great Again…But For Real, This Time” campaign. I’m not asking people reading this piece right now to embrace how I have chosen to react to the election. I’m also not asking other people to discipline themselves. I want everybody to do what is best for them. Right now, I can handle the fear, pessimism, and harsh self-discipline, because I’m in an emotionally strong state coming into the next presidency. I’m white, I’m able-bodied, and I’m financially well-off. My spiritual/religious beliefs aren’t under attack, I have never experienced violent sexual assault, and I don’t have loved ones who are living here without documentation. While the sight and sound of Tr—p elicits feelings of rage inside me, I know that I am emotionally equipped to deal with this right now that and many people, understandably, are not. I also recognize that many people do want to enact change and take charge in shaping our country’s political future, but only through a lens of optimism. That’s valid, too. (I mean, you’re following in the footsteps of President Obama who, may I remind you, won the election twice on a platform of hope. I can’t argue with that logic.)
With all that in mind, I want to offer my support to everyone reading this. If you are my friend, family member, classmate, housemate, etc., and you want to think positively right now and would benefit from an uplifting conversation, I’m here for you. I’m also here for you if you want to rage with me, or grieve with me, or be pessimistic with me, or all of the above. I’m here for you if you want to stay up late talking about where to go from here, and all the wonderful things we can accomplish in the future. The wellbeing of those around me is important, and if I can aid in supporting that, I will try everything I can to do so.
*Though it is potentially quite hypocritical given what I’m writing about in this piece, I’m hereon refusing to acknowledge the President Elect by his name, given that I don’t want to participate in legitimizing/recognizing his presidency. If I have to refer to him in writing, I will write “the President Elect” or “Tr—p.” This is an act of intentional erasure, as I do not believe he deserves the presidency. While I respect the office/position of the President, I do not respect him.
Gaby Germanos is a junior at Harvard College concentrating in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality with a secondary in African American Studies.