Elias: Politics Are Emotional

Americans’ heightened emotions are necessary to restore political stability.

by Chantal Elias | 11/9/18 2:05am

The line between politics and self-identity has long been blurred in America, and this past midterm election has highlighted this. Politics are felt in every corner of the country, whether it is at the municipal, state or federal level. As such, the American political system has become intertwined with many citizens’ personal identities. Whether people wish to tune into politics or not, decisions made in the White House are inevitably going to affect their lives. As a consequence, there is a higher level of emotional energy directed into campaigning, political conversations and voting. This personal stake correlates with a higher level of ownership that I believe is good news for the future of American politics. 

On Nov. 6, The New York Times published an article explaining the anxiety shared by both Republicans and Democrats on midterm Election Day. The consensus across over a dozen interviews was that American citizens “reported a kind of emotional pinballing about the verdict to come” with “faith and dread taking turns like kids on a diving board.” Almost half of the interviewees shared that they felt “anxious” about the upcoming elections. Is it a good thing that our stomachs flutter with anxiety when we turn on the TV to check the midterm polls? Is it wise that anxiety, a physical response to a fight-or-flight scenario, is associated with the country’s political fate? I would argue yes.  

Americans are bridging a massive gap that existed between citizens and their decision-making bodies for a large part of American history. When the president is favorably regarded by the majority of the American public, it is easy to take a back seat and let politics do its thing. But when presidents are widely looked upon unfavorably, it is easy for citizens to feel insignificant compared to the large, complex governmental apparatus that runs our country. 

Time and time again, citizens have been left wondering, “What impact can I possibly make?” The personal ownership and emotional investment displayed during this midterm election season represents a shift from the complacent mindset that overwhelmed American politics in the Obama era. Many, in fact, regard one of Donald Trump’s greatest achievements to be the surge in American political involvement. Under Obama’s leadership there was dissatisfaction, but nowhere near the level there is today. This large evolution in people’s attitudes, from disengagement to mobilization, is even noticeable over the three years, to this day, that Donald Trump has been in office. It is evident in the Standing Rock protests, which grew from 12 protesters to 800 in just two months, and in the shift from a once-Republican, now Democrat-held House of Representatives. The truth is that there should never be a gaping hole between those who hold office and those who they govern. In a true democracy, the power is in the hands of the citizens. 

This is not to say that I am pleased with the current status of American politics. I was not pleased to see Parkland massacre survivor Aalayah Eastmond feeling “really anxious” in the lead up to the elections. However, I see the emotional response during this midterm election season as a necessary step to steer the country in the right direction. At Dartmouth alone, there is anger at the religious discrimination evidenced in Pittsburgh and there is immense frustration over the lack of gun restrictions evidenced in last Friday’s shooting near campus. These emotional grievances were certainly not lost with Dartmouth students at the polls on Tuesday. The immense adversity and suffering in the country have mobilized America to act — a sad, but truthful reality. Though many hate to admit it, frustration evokes response. The last few months have shown that anxiety, sadness and anger are going to be a necessary precedent for essential policies such as stricter gun laws and fairer immigration guidelines. 

Americans now go to the polls because they care about the fate of their country, not solely because it is their civic duty. The days of low voter turnout are long gone as we see America become a politically charged nation, with the young and old alike brandishing “I Voted” stickers. This past Tuesday midterm voter turnout was the highest it has been since 1966.  It is no longer an option for Americans to close their ears to today’s political news. 

As America exits the midterm election season, it is paramount that citizens continue to invest their emotions and identities into the political system. People cannot be ashamed of their tears or anxiety, and we must all acknowledge that without action, our tears will continue to fall.