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    HomePoliticsNeal Milner: Worried Sick About Politics This Year? Ignore It

    Neal Milner: Worried Sick About Politics This Year? Ignore It

    You’re not going to help anything by obsessing, so as a crazy-making year approaches, treat yourself to a break.

    In 2024, politics will be hazardous to your health. Now is the time to protect yourself by putting the political world in perspective and backing away.

    “You mean I should pay less attention? Doesn’t that make me a bad citizen?” No, it makes you a better one. 

    Politics has become the most important standard to determine our ethical and social views, as if politics is the main guide for our material, cultural and spiritual lives.

    And that’s an intrusion that topsy-turveys our humanity.

    “I’m afraid we have to leave the church after all these decades,” a person who considered himself an evangelical said to his minister, “because you’re not interpreting the Bible in light of the Constitution.”

    Not grace, not lessons from the Gospels about the limits of worldly political life, not Jesus’s teaching about loving your enemies — but rather a political document as the guiding light.

    There’s an important lesson here, not just for evangelicals but for everyone. I’ll get back to this later.

    People are distraught with this twisted reversal of priorities.  As a recent Pew Research Center study put it, “They have a sense that politics is everywhere – and often in a bad way. They find themselves overwhelmed by how much information they confront in their day-to-day life.”  

    There are ways you can stem this tsunami. Some advice comes from health professionals. Others come from people who have lived through in other countries what the U.S. is going through now.

    Finally, some of the best lessons come from the schism and turmoil among evangelicals who on the surface seem so united because they are Trump’s biggest supporters but are divided in ways that offer relevant lessons to all of us about the polarization.

    A pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol as part of a deadly insurrection three years ago. (Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2021)

    What The Experts Say

    Let’s begin by looking at what health practitioners say about the 2024 election hazards.

    Peter Atia describes the coming year as a “vortex.” “Everybody is going to be sucked into the vortex of world news and world affairs and politics. No one is immune to the negative psychological forces of that awful vortex.” 

    Why pay attention to this guy? Because Dr. Atia is the author of the best-selling book: “Outlive: The Science And Art Of Longevity.”

    He’s not exaggerating, and he’s not alone. There’s a lot of other evidence showing that political vortex is hazardous to your health. Stress for instance.

    Polls show that significant numbers of Americans report that they are stressed out by 2024 politics. Those who pay the most attention to the political goings-on are the most angry and depressed.

    Excess levels of the stress raise the level of the hormone cortisol, which has bad effects on among other things blood pressure and the immune system. 

    For many, political news has become an addiction. Psychologists call this addiction “technostress,” which people get from obsessively checking the news even though this so-called new information is really not new at all and makes them even more anxious. You can’t stop yourself because of the momentary high even though it makes you feel worse.

    That’s a classic toxic relationship, rather like a person on a hamster wheel, spending more and more time trying to change her partner with worse and worse results.

    Here are other suggestions for relief and reset. Nothing magic about them. They sound like what a therapist would tell you about dealing with stress.

    What kind of reset? Atia’s advice is “take a vacation from media, social media, and politics and spend more time outdoors.” Amen to that.

    The conflict specialist Amanda Ripley suggests that you limit the amount of anguish you take on. Don’t fool yourself, she says, into thinking that constantly monitoring tragedy is helping anyone including yourself.

    You may think that the liberal barbarians are at the gate, as many evangelicals do, or that Trump is an authoritarian who will destroy democracy if he wins again, as many people, including me, do.  

    But face it. Day to day, there is little you can do about this. No shame. On the other hand, there are little things you can do like family stuff, community stuff, helping yourself by helping others. You know the list yourself. This is simply a reminder.    

    Before you read or listen to yet another worrisome story that threatens to set your hair on fire, ask yourself, how will this help me or others?

    Manoa Valley Sunrise clouds on Koolau Mountains.
    Stressed about politics? Take a hike! (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

    Lessons From Venezuela

    Much of Ripley’s advice comes from an interview she did with the former Venezuelan journalist Victor Hugo Febres, who courageously fought to stem the polarization and anger in Venezuela as that country experienced a similar but worse bout of polarization politics and norm-violating political leadership.

    “Understand the limits of your reach,” Febres said. “We weren’t in a position to save [Venezuela]. A journalist doesn’t have that power. What we can do is protect our sanity and our relationships so that when opportunities do arise, we can seize them.”

    Really, though, one of the best ways to understand the 2024 toxicity is to look at what evangelicals are going through. They have been and continue to be the strongest Trump supporters, so it’s easy to think they are unified. They aren’t.

    On one side, the one that’s become dominant, are those who believe that the barbarians are storming the gate, threatening the end of Christianity and civilizational collapse.  

    The other side, which has become marginalized and even driven out of churches, are those subscribing to the traditional Evangelical position about what Jesus and the Gospels teach about the limits of worldly politics

    According to this now marginalized view, the dominant position that the world can only be saved through politics and specifically through Donald Trump is a perversion.

    “Jesus frames the decision in explicitly binary terms,” Tim Alberta says. “We can serve and worship God or we can serve and worship the gods of this world. Too many American evangelicals have tried to do both. And the consequences for the Church have been devastating.”

    Putting it simply, one side says only political action can save Christians, while the other side says that is exactly what will corrupt and destroy them.

    What are the general lessons we can learn from this battle among conservative Christians?

    One is that it’s another example of how much stress today’s politics induces.  Pastors caught in this conflict, as one observer put it, are crushed and broken. The stress has made their job impossible.  Imagine what’s it’s like for a minister to listen to that guy I quoted earlier who said that the Constitution had replaced the Bible as his road map?

    But the more important lesson is that the evangelical turmoil shows what happens when the basic beliefs, those taken for granted as transcendent notions, no longer exist. There is nothing shared that would mediate these differences. It’s all about the differences. So, hate and dehumanization develops.

    Even in situations far worse than ours, people can do things to maintain their sanity and humanity.

    And that at a bigger scale is exactly where America is right now. You can worry about the threat Trump poses to democracy if he is re-elected or the threat to democracy if he loses and tries to rally the millions of people who voted for him. I sure do. Whatever the case, the same kind of nastiness and anger the evangelicals have is still going to be there in the U.S. as a whole.

    The evangelical split is a reminder that whatever happens politically in 2024, the country still will lack shared beliefs and sentiments that bring people together. These need to be developed from the ground up in communities doing things that cut across political beliefs in order to get the job done.

    You can start this now by taking a break from the 2024 troubles.

    Even in situations far worse than ours, people can do things to maintain their sanity and humanity. That is what Febres and his fellow journalists fought to do in Venezuela.

    Even in the Nazi concentration camps where the Jewish prisoners knew they were likely to die, they made music. That’s where Saul Dreier learned, with spoons, to play the drums.

    Today, Dreier, who is 98, is the drummer (now with a real drum kit) in a popular Holocaust survivor band.

    Drum on.

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