Suffering the Democrat blues

The rise of Post-Election Selection Trauma in the USA shows just how personal the political has become.

Helen Searls

Topics USA

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The reaction to the re-election of President George W Bush clearly illustrates what politics has become in contemporary America.

Waking up to the results at the start of November, much of the nation seemed instantly to spiral into a deep and desperate depression. Some John Kerry supporters phoned in sick for work, others complained of a loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. Everywhere anti-Bush campaigners could be found huddled together in dejected and despondent groups, talking openly about their despair and disbelief.

Within days, therapists and psychiatrists confirmed that in many areas of the country – in both red and blue states – there had been a surge in patients suffering from stress and depression.

Newspapers, radio stations and TV channels inundated us with reports of Kerry supporters rushing to the couch exhibiting signs of ‘hopelessness’ and ‘helplessness’. As Susan Brooks, a clinical social worker in Wisconsin, explained: ‘Patients who I’ve had for a long time have come in absolutely devastated over the fact that the election went the way it did. They were just terribly distraught and continue to be terribly distraught.’ (1)

Many long-time therapists say they have never seen anything like it, and it wasn’t long before the disorder got a name. Kerry supporters are apparently suffering from Post-Election Selection Trauma – or PEST, an acronym coined by the Florida-based American Health Association, a charitable group that is now offering free counselling to PEST sufferers until the end of 2004.

Generalised despair has been coupled with other maladies. Early symptoms of paranoia can be detected. For many blue Democrat voters, the ‘red states’ have become places to fear. I know a number of people who changed their Thanksgiving travel plans after the election because the thought of spending the holiday in a red state repulsed them.

It is also possible to detect signs of withdrawal and disengagement. Only half-jokingly there has been talk among desperate individuals of rehabilitating the idea of Secession of states from the Union.

A more widespread reaction has come from liberal celebrities and local Democrat activists, who have threatened to move to Canada rather than suffer through a second Bush term. It is reported that on the day after Bush’s victory, the website for Canada’s immigration services fielded more than 115,000 hits from Americans, an almost six-fold rise in traffic (2).

Predictably, few acted on their threats. Canadian officials claim there has been no noticeable surge in visa applications (but then with an average January temperature in Ottawa of -11C, who is going to move there?). Yet still the instinct to take cover and lick wounds is palpable.

The re-election of Bush has stirred up deep emotions across America – but these emotions cannot be understood as a political reaction to the election itself.

Some commentators, therapists and clinicians argue that since so many voted, and the election was so close, more people have been touched by politics than ever before. So Susan Brooks says that in her 30 years of social work, ‘this has been the most dramatic incursion of politics into [my] practice’ (4).

In truth, the reverse is the case. It is not that people have become more politicised, but rather that politics has become less important and personal emotions have all but engulfed it. Politics used to bear some relationship to public life, social action and collective arguments. Today it has become about private feelings, instincts and personal emotions, which is why bad results can give rise to reactions of despair and depression.

These are the reactions of the bereaved and grief-stricken. They may be strong, and in some senses even passionate, but they will not stir anyone to action or engagement. Rather, they indicate that politics today is a personal, private and impenetrable affair.

What we are left with is a kind of passive defeatism. An indication of what this might mean in the next four years can be found at one of the most popular post-election websites. Never mind about Bush appointing anti-choice judges or pushing his anti-gay constitutional amendment – for a truly grotesque glimpse into what we can look forward to in the next four years go to There you will find more than 5,000 photos (and more are added every day) of US voters apologising to the world for the election result.

This site probably began as a bit of a joke, but it has now become the new way to express ‘political’ frustration in our new post-election world.

Read on:

spiked-debate: After the American election

spiked-issue: US election 2004

(1) Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), 13 November 2004

(2) Detroit Free Press, 25 November 2004

(3) Fort Worth Star Telegram (Texas), 6 November 2004

(4) The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), 13 November 2004

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Topics USA


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