Here's my February column for the Holland Sentinel...
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the news.
The House impeachment hearings, the Senate impeachment trial, the 2020 presidential campaign, the Iowa caucuses, the State of the Union address, the daily drama of it all—it’s too much. I find myself talking back to the TV, which can’t be healthy. I do it even if no one else is in the room. I also grumble aloud while reading the newspaper, mostly animal sounds, not actual words. Frankly, I don’t recognize myself anymore.
I did a news cleanse after Christmas and spent a wonderful week in California with my children and grandchildren. I glanced briefly at the headlines in the morning because, well, I get up earlier than anyone else and couldn’t help myself, but I spent most days playing, laughing, and being silly, which seems to delight the grandchildren, if not their parents. I can’t wait until next year.
But now I’m right back to old habits, as if there had been no cleanse and no detox. I don’t dare look away.
I’m old enough to remember the Richard Nixon impeachment drama. I was on the editorial staff of my college newspaper at the time. Hardly an issue went out without an editorial, filled with outrage, calling for Nixon’s impeachment or, even better, his resignation. There were no more surprised people in the country than our tiny staff when the president announced his resignation on August 8, 1974. I forget what there was to editorialize about over the following months.
Strangely, though, I don’t remember feeling stressed by any of that Nixon impeachment drama. What I remember was feeling delighted when Gerald R. Ford became president. The excitement was short-lived, but real. Ford was from my hometown, after all, and he was my Congressman. I had even received a letter from him congratulating me on my high school graduation. (I was somewhat deflated when I found out that all other graduates received the same letter.)
I know I’m not alone in feeling whatever it is I’m feeling these days. The American Psychological Association, in a recent study, found that “the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress” for more than half of Americans (57 percent).
According to a Pew Research Center study, almost seven-in-ten Americans feel worn out by the amount of news there is these days, compared with only three-in-ten who say they like the amount of news they get.
Apparently, people on both ends of the political spectrum express news fatigue, but Republicans report more of it than Democrats. Once again, according to Pew, 77 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of Republican-leaning independents feel worn out by it all, while only 60 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Democratic-leaning independents are feeling elevated levels of fatigue.
What’s puzzling about all of this is that I’m feeling so bad at a time when the economy is so good. I should be a lot happier than I am, shouldn’t I? The stock market is up, unemployment is down, and TVs are really, really cheap. It doesn’t get much better than that.
And yet, the stress I feel is real. I wake up each morning wondering what new tweet, accusation, or outrage that I need to be concerned about. I watch the panels of experts on the cable news programs offering their opinions, competing with each other for screen time, and I’m tired of it. Even the late-night talk shows offer mostly political humor, which is hardly relaxing.
I know from previous experience that Sentinel readers will try to be helpful at this point. Suggestions will be offered by email, and personal experiences will be shared. Someone will write and say, “Here is what I have found to be helpful.” “Turn it off entirely,” they will say, “or at least limit screen time, which is what we do with our children (except on Saturday mornings when we want to sleep late).” And all of that would be good advice too, if this were the sort of issue that could be resolved by making a few behavioral changes.
But my sense is that those few behavioral changes are not enough to address this particular problem. The problem is deeper; the causes are more profound. Something is wrong with us, something I can’t quite put my finger on, and it won’t be fixed any time soon, not even with an election.
I am generally a hopeful person, which is different from being an optimistic person. I am able to face each day, no matter the circumstances in my own life or in the country, because my life is grounded in hope. I attribute my hopefulness of course to my faith. But the hope with which I have lived my life has never felt as threatened as it does right now.
Photo: Am not sure what to say about that, except that I sometimes get bored while listening to the docent during castle tours.