Many of my correspondents are slipping into a state of morbid shock due to the recent unpleasantness at the polling places. Bad enough that the race should be between a plate of waffles and an empty jackboot: on top of that, Kerry lost. He should have had a 75 point margin, stolen votes or no stolen votes. Meanwhile, Democrats in Washington are now discussing whether to move farther to the right than Bush, or whether to just go hide behind the potted palmetto in the lobby of the Hotel Monaco in DC. It is understandable why people who care about politics, or about the future of the human race, are upset. But the people I’m talking to aren’t just upset. They’re despondent, broken, suicidal, and down in the mouth. It’s called grieving.
John Kerry walks into a bar with a horse. Bartender looks up and says, “Why the long faces?” All those Kerry jokes, lost forever in the musty attic of outdated topical humor. And well they might be: Kerry went from ‘Anybody But Bush’ who would win the election despite himself, to yet another hapless, punch-drunk optimist gutted by a bitter and implacable enemy. Grief is an appropriate response to the situation, especially if one believes, as so many progressives do, that the corpse now laid out on the slab before us is Columbia herself. Here’s what you should know: grieving takes a fairly predictable course. In order to facilitate writing self-help books, psychologists have broken the grieving process into five stages.
The first stage is denial, shock, and isolation. Can I get a show of hands, people? I would add packing a trunk and moving to Canada as part of the first phase, but it’s not mentioned in the books. A symptom of denial is thinking we can somehow reverse the results of the election if we can prove massive voter fraud occurred. Bad news, gang: too late. Shock and isolation, need I say more? Blue voters in red states are experiencing a species of shock and isolation normally associated with being made into bratwurst and then launched into orbit around the planet Neptune.
The second stage of grief is anger. This is the part where we find somebody to blame (usually the deceased, or the guy who ran the deceased over with a school bus) and go storming around demanding justice be done. We are not only angry, we’re helpless, which makes us more angry, and then we feel guilty because we’re making a spectacle of ourselves, so we get even angrier because we feel guilty for being angry, and so on. The flip side of all this anger is fear. Mad, scared, mad, scared. Are we having fun yet?
After the denial and the anger comes bargaining. We find ourselves trying to negotiate a somewhat less lethal outcome to the situation. The words ‘if only’ figure heavily at this stage: if only we insisted on a paper trail, if only the entire Democratic National Committee was run over by a school bus, if only Howard Dean hadn’t made that strange noise. People find themselves making deals with their imaginary Dad in the sky: “if you’ll just reverse the outcome of this election, I’ll devote my life to animal welfare projects in Ghana”.
This is of course futile, and the next stage is depression. It is crushing to realize that things are just going to have to suck after all. Worries about the future and regrets about the past overwhelm us. Hope drains away. Eternity lies before us like a vast, pestilence-rotted fen, the horizon black with winter clouds, the mire sucking at our shoes. If we even have shoes. Or feet, for that matter. Why do we keep on breathing? Many of my readers have reached this stage with flying colors, but aren’t sure what to do next.
The last stage of grief is acceptance. Experts (on the subject of grieving, not 18th Century linsey-woolsey undergarments) say that acceptance comes with understanding that tragic loss is a part of ‘what is’, and it is only when we allow for the fact of the inevitable that we are able to become whole again and move forward. So what we have to do is square up our pants, hitch our shoulders, and do just what John Kerry hoped we would in his concession speech: “begin the healing.”
If I were working for the New York Times or Newsweek, I’d end the piece right there, because it’s such a lovely pink ribbon that ties the subject up. Next week, I could discuss the Democrat’s new direction in times of change. Unfortunately I seem to be stuck at the anger phase. I’ll leave the bargaining, depression, and acceptance to the Democrats: it’s all they ever do anyway.
BEN TRIPP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His book, ‘Square In The Nuts’, has been held up at the printers by thugs but will be released as soon as hostage negotiations conclude.
See also www.cafeshops.com/tarantulabros.