For those youngsters out there who don’t remember the beautiful, carefree internet days of the early 20’oughts, “Fisking” (or, through long use, “fisking”) is a point-by-point refutation and/or analysis of some piece of writing that, in the view of the fisker, is so inaccurate or outrageous that they just can’t let it go. The eponymous Robert Fisk gave us the verb in a rather roundabout way; in 2003 David Pryce-Jones wrote in The Spectator that
‘fisking’, mean[s] the selection of evidence solely in order to bolster preconceptions and prejudices. Just as cardigans or mackintoshes are named after an inventive individual, so fisking derives from the work of Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent of the Independent, stationed these many years in Beirut.
Shortly thereafter, though, “fisking” came to mean the line-by-line analysis, criticism and refutation of a piece of “journalism” full of “preconceptions and prejudices” as exemplified by Mr. Fisk. It was often a tool of bloggers on the right as they made their ways and reputations pushing back against the narrative that the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were failing, but really it was an equal opportunity pastime, for those with the gumption to hack through dense terrain.
This all came to mind when I read Michelle Goldberg’s Fear, Anxiety, and Depression in the Age of Trump.
A real fisking would require a comment, or just pointing a finger and laughing hysterically, at each line, but I don’t know if I can stomach quite that much. Some ellipses may be inserted for sanity’s sake. Overall, I want you to realize that you’re witnessing an historic event here, though. This article represents the apotheosis of “Therapy Culture.” There’s no where to go from here but down, down, down.
Let us begin the onerous, but necessary task:
(My comments in red, the color of fear, anxiety and depression)
Carol Wachs, a psychologist in private practice in Manhattan (aka The Center of the World. Of course, we begin here because, really, where else matters?) recently started seeing an old patient again. The client had first sought treatment for anxiety following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Now she was worried about a new menace: Donald Trump and his zealous supporters. The patient, Wachs says, comes from a family of Holocaust survivors, and “it feels to her like all the stories she heard from her grandparents about how things feel normal and then all of the sudden, oh my God, here we are.” (Donald Trump is somewhere between 9/11 and the Holocaust in evil and gravity. Probably the Holocaust)
According to Wachs, the election casts a shadow on many of her patients. “If I have seven patients in a day, it comes up in six sessions, maybe five,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll have a session where people will say, ‘Let’s not talk about what’s going on in the election, it’s so upsetting.’ ” ( I take it these are adults. Supposedly, 75% or so want to talk about the election with their shrink. I thought they were supposed to talk about their penis envy or their urge to murder their father. At $250 an hour.)
With the presidential race staggering into its final stretch, the once inconceivable prospect of a Trump victory is becoming, if not likely, then definitely possible. (As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight gives Trump a 42.4 percent chance of prevailing, though that might change by the time you read this.) As that reality sets in, a hallucinatory sense of slow-motion doom is descending on many liberals. (Though not only on liberals.) Victims of Trump-induced anxiety describe nightmares, insomnia, digestive problems, and headaches. Therapists find themselves helping their patients through a process that feels less like an election than a national nervous breakdown. (If liberals are actually so weak that they can’t fucking sleep at night because Trump has a 42.4% chance of getting elected, how have we reactionaries been losing to these pussies all this time? WTF? They fold like a cheap suit. They have no STAMINA. We need to get on with kicking their weak asses, FFS!)
“People are scared,” says Fiachra “Figs” O’Sullivan, a psychotherapist in San Francisco who specializes in relationships. “People are distressed, and it’s affecting their level of presence in their relationships with their significant others.” Dorie Chamberlain, a 54-year-old stay-at-home mom in Los Angeles who says she talks about Trump every time she goes to therapy, says watching the election “is like living in a house where everybody screams.” (I remember my friend’s house as a kid where everybody screamed. They were Italians, and they were a pretty goddam happy family. Also, who the fuck has a nickname like “Figs”? I’d rather see a shrink nicknamed “Biff” than “Figs.”)
There is, of course, no way to quantify the scope of mental anguish caused by Trump’s campaign; these stories are entirely anecdotal. There are, however, a lot of anecdotes, as I discovered when I started speaking to both therapists and panicking voters. I’ve covered four elections as a journalist, but this is the first one to regularly poison my dreams; at least once a week I wake up in the middle of the night in clammy, agitated horror. I was curious if other people were suffering in similar ways, so I reached out to a therapist I know. She queried two email lists of mostly New York–based colleagues, asking them to contact me if they’d seen Trump-related distress in their practices. Responses quickly started pouring in; soon I had almost a dozen. (So Goldberg herself is “suffering” from Trump Derangement Syndrome. I suddenly realize this article is her own pathetic attempt at therapy. Oh shit, the phone call is real and it’s coming from inside the house!)
Some of the therapists told me they are talking their patients through their Trump terror while trying not to succumb to it themselves. “The therapists that I know are pretty overwhelmed by managing their personal feelings, which we have to do and we’re doing, but it’s a lot,” says psychologist Heather Silvestri. She belongs to a meditation group for therapists and says the election comes up in every session. (This only proves we need some right-wing therapists with their fucking heads screwed on tight!)
Of course, not everyone beset by Trumpian maladies is in therapy. About two weeks ago, Liz, a 45-year-old photographer in suburban Minneapolis who asked to be identified only by her first name, started noticing alarming symptoms: headaches, jitteriness, tightness in her chest, sometimes even difficulty breathing. (I can’t BREATHE!) She went to her physician, who said it sounded like she was suffering from anxiety. “I thought, huh, I don’t even have a stressful job. I don’t know what that can be,” she says. Then she went home and turned on the news, “and all the sudden the symptoms came back with a fury.” She realized that thinking about Trump was affecting her health. (For God’s sweet sake, it’s like not thinking about a pink elephant. She should read Atlas Shrugged. It’s really long and will take your mind off the present. Except that would probably trigger her even worse than Trump…)
Liz hasn’t agreed with past Republican candidates, she says, but she didn’t think they would “ruin my country, or cause civil war, or cause World War III.” But her fear also stems from her incredulous realization that so many of her fellow citizens inhabit a reality that barely intersects with her own. “I can no longer see where they’re coming from,” she says of Trump supporters. “I feel like I’m in The Twilight Zone.” (Personally, I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone every time I hear Bill Clinton refer to Hillary as a “change agent.”) Even if Clinton wins, she’s terrified of Trump’s followers responding with violence. “We’re getting closer and closer and closer to something that seems so insane,” she says, “The thought of him winning, or even the thought of her winning and parts of the country imploding in chaos as a result—it all just seems like a nightmare.” (See libs are just so negative. And blind. Parts of the country are imploding every day right now–Charlotte, for instance. I suppose they’re feeling depressed and emotional about that too. Cripes, I am actually on the verge of feeling sorry for this chick–except the entire bizarre edifice in her mind is completely self-inflicted.)
(Captains’ Log, supplemental: If Hillary wins I presume Trump supporters are going to be civilly obedient. They may even celebrate with fireworks, barbeques and peaceable assemblies. I’ll bet it doesn’t involve looting Footlocker or burning down their own neighborhoods, either.)
The anxiety is encroaching on her relationships, Liz says. Sometimes she’ll delay putting her 9-year-old daughter to bed because she’s so caught up in the news. (So has Michelle called Child Protective Services yet? YOU have a DUTY TO PROTECT! And of course, Daddy’s not around to take care of business like putting the kid to bed while this Precious Flower frets. Daddy left for his own mental health some time ago) Socially, she can’t always focus. “I’m strained in my conversation because of something I may have just heard” about the campaign, she says. She’s making an effort to cut back on her news consumption and is thinking of taking up meditation. “There’s a true need here to figure out ways to cope, because as the next 50 days count down, I don’t anticipate it’s going to get any better,” she says. “Probably far worse.” (I always recommend Scotch in these cases. Or Gin. I’ve heard Gin called “the lonely girl’s best friend.)
But meditation, for all its benefits, is not a panacea. Sharon Salzberg, the renowned Buddhist meditation instructor, was teaching this past Sept. 11. “During the lunch break I checked my email or Twitter or something, and it just said, ‘Hillary Clinton fainted,’ she tells me. “And I almost fainted. Oh my God!” Salzberg certainly finds profound comfort and stability in her meditation training, but she’s on edge like other liberals. “When I see my mind starting to trip out, I remind myself, just come back, deal with what’s now,” she says. (Keerist Almighty. “Renowned Buddhist meditation instructor” almost faints over #SickHillary. It shows you how much this mumbo-jumbo is worth. Do you think she even lifts? That would help.)
Fear of a Trump presidency is a normal human reaction, of course, not a clinical condition (THIS, right here, is the essence of the profound sickness that marbles this entire piece. “Fear of a Trump presidency is a normal human reaction”? Does she not realize the pure, unadulterated stupidity of this statement? I could say I’m stunned by the complete lack of self-awareness, but I’m really not. never, ever forget this bit.) A vertiginous sense of unreality is a symptom of an anxiety attack, but it is also a symptom of being a thinking person in America in the fall of 2016. People with anxiety disorders tend to imagine that catastrophe is imminent, but in this case they may not be wrong. “You can’t pathologize this anxiety,” says Andrea Gitter, (Yes, you sure as hell can. I’m doing so right now. More lack of self-awareness–and extreme lack o a sense of irony) a New York psychotherapist and member of the faculty at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute. “People who are marginalized to begin with know that they are targets because of the hatred that’s been unearthed.” (“marginalized people” like those that visit New York psychotherapists. Sure.) Gitter says the election comes up daily in her practice.
Still, therapists have to help their clients manage their feelings and live their lives, however astonishing it might seem that normal life is going on while the republic teeters on the edge of kakistocracy. (Good try, Goldberg. I seem to recall “normal life” went on in, you know, the Great Depression, World War II…but of course the 42.4% chance of Trump is MUCH more important that that old-time shit.) Kimberly Grocher, a psychotherapist in New York, says she talks to patients about their Trump-induced political distress several times a week. “It’s really pervasive, and it’s really come into the treatment room,” she says. “Usually it’s combined with other anxiety triggers that they may be having, and it can cause sleeplessness, restlessness, feeling powerless. It can lead to feelings of depression.”
Sometimes the election’s psychic fallout takes less obvious forms. Silvestri, for example, has noticed a curious phenomenon among some of the millennial women in her practice: The rise of Trump has made them wonder how much they can reasonably expect from romantic relationships. Trump embodies some of the worst aspects of their ex-boyfriends, men who were “self-aggrandizing, self-important, not amenable to collaboration, cooperation, etc.,” Silvestri says. “When you break up with someone you need space, and they’re feeling like they can’t get space because their ex is sort of incarnate all over the news.” (Translation: They got pumped-and-dumped by Alphas and they get a tingle every time they see Trump on screen, because secretly they’d like him to fuck them hard. But they’re too “liberal” to be that honest so they displace they feelings. See, I can do shrink stuff too!)
Instead of feeling excited about the possibility of the first female president, some women feel ground down.
It’s not just that Trump reminds them of their exes. It’s that Trump’s success seems to validate the men’s behavior. “They had gotten themselves to a place of, This is not what I deserve, I deserve better, I can do better,” Silvestri says. But watching dutiful, responsible Clinton struggle to best Trump, “people are really backtracking and saying, ‘I made this move to be more empowered and be who I am based on my values, but now I see my ex writ large on the national stage, and everyone’s following him,’ ” Silvestri says. They start thinking that, for a woman, maybe being beautiful really is more important than being smart, assertive, and authentic. (Translation: Trump slaps their faces in the real reality of reality rather than the fantasies they were fed by their Wymyn’s Studies professors.) “What happens in microcosm on a Friday night,” she says, is now playing out on the national stage. “The men have the power, and [the women] are trying to be a better version of themselves, but it doesn’t play well.”
Instead of feeling excited about the possibility of the first female president, these women feel ground down. “Some people are terrified of Trump because he’s a fascist demagogue, and some people are just incredibly demoralized that Bernie, who we all love, is your cool, funky, uncle, and Hillary is Nurse Ratched,” Wachs says. (Wow! The shrink finally speaks some sooth!)
This demoralization could help explain why more people are not channeling their anti-Trump anxiety into action to prevent his election. “I think people are paralyzed by it,” Silvestri says. “I see it in myself, too. In Obama’s previous campaigns, I was out there campaigning in Pennsylvania from July or August on. I have not ventured to Pennsylvania yet. I’m too overwhelmed. Nor have any of my friends mentioned anything so far in terms of actually being out there, involved.”
Silvestri can’t quite put her finger on what’s kept her aloof from the campaign. “It’s hard to be passionate about her, and I feel bad saying that, but I don’t feel passionate about her,” she says. “How much of that is endemic sexism? I don’t know.” (“I’m and endemically sexist feminist and I can’t understand why I’m not feeling tingles for Nurse Ratched!”)
Perhaps it’s inevitable that therapists would trace all this anxiety back to people’s relationships with their parents. But one needn’t be a psychoanalyst to appreciate the way the election can serve as a fun house mirror of old family trauma. “There’s overall a preoccupation with parental failure,” Michael Mance, a clinical psychologist in New York, says of his patients. “One might hypothesize that Trump represents a particular kind of very difficult father—an untrustworthy, persecutory, and frightening father—and Hillary represents a kind of toxic, unloving, and secretive mother.” There’s a sense, he says, that “somebody’s going to fail us. I think that presents people with a lot of discomfort, which is hard to manage.” There’s no authority that can protect us from the calamity on the horizon. It’s like a child’s bad dream. It’s also our reality. (Wait; I just realized that Donald Trump is the only man who appeared in this entire piece. This cri de cœur is a bunch of women dreading the calamity just over the horizon–because they pushed/drove away the men who could avoid it and put all their hopes’n’dreams into the decrepit vehicle that is Hillary. Their free choice. Now they can take their fucking medicine. “Therapy” can indeed help some people, some of the time. but there is no cure for what we see here; the fear, anxiety and depression that come from realizing that you were fooling yourself in order to signal your virtue to people you thought were the important, powerful ones, and it turned out they were mere cardboard facades, slowly disintegrating in the cold autumn rain.)