Sunday, November 24, 2019

You Never Will Know the Demons You Create, So Just Be Kind

DISCLAIMER:  This blog is, and never will be, a political blog.  However, I spent eight years working in politics, seeing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this country.  The experience taught me so much about myself and my universe that at times, I cannot help but speak about it.  Just don’t interpret my story as a political manifesto.  It’s really just my life and my voice.

I have to get something off my chest.  Or my back.  Or draining on my soul.

I went onto Twitter on Friday to write a post, and found that #ByeByeElyse is now trending.  Apparently, Rep. Elise Stefanik, a Republican from New York and ranked as the 19th most bipartisan Member of Congress, did something so awful that she should be burned on the stake or something.  I could not imagine what could be causing such a vitriolic response.  Except maybe those impeachment hearings….

To be honest, I’ve been ignoring the impeachment hearings.  I’m burnt out.  With eight years of eating, sleeping, breathing, and living in the political world, our current political climate is beyond stressful.  It’s toxic.

I started as a Congressional staffer for a Republican member of the House.  Politics had been an interest of mine since college, and while I was an armchair junkie, I never thought I’d have the resume or the talent for the work.  When the candidate I helped get elected asked me to join his staff, I was excited for the opportunity to help the people in the district, the people I had befriended over the months leading to the election.  You’d think it was glamorous and exciting, like The West Wing or House of Cards?  Not even close.

When you are a Congressional staffer, you have to answer the phone and calm down the angry callers.  When it is a Republican Member of Congress, the angry callers tend to be Democratic party voters who have seen your boss on TV or read a press release or worked for his/her opponent in the last election….or is supporting your boss’ opponent in the upcoming election.  Of course, the fact that they are calling a professional office with people who are just doing a job (beyond answering the phones, I was responsible for helping constituents struggling with their immigration and visa paperwork) is completely lost in the blinding rage, and the poor staffer is called a bunch of four letter words, told they should just kill themselves because they don’t deserve to be alive, or my favorite, told they couldn’t possibly be that stupid of a woman for supporting their boss.  Seriously, I didn’t realize what the c-word was….until I was called it over 1,000 times within six months.

The good news is that my boss wasn’t re-elected, so I didn’t have to face any more of that abuse.  But as I slowly healed from the mental and emotional damage from that experience, I continued to work in politics, being exposed to the occasional blog post or angry tweet that would just trigger me into a panic attack.  But instead of manifesting as severe fear, it manifested as anger.  Inside, I was a raging Tasmanian Devil, but I could not stoop to the angry mob’s level. 

You see, political work is a very public job.  Everything you do is seen as representative as your employer, whether it be an elected official, a candidate, or an organization.  Not only did I want to take the high road, personally, but anything I did could be recorded, screenshot, or otherwise documented.  And spread across social media.  So I kept silent, numbing my pain with marathon training and pinot grigio.

Then Donald Trump ran for President.  Up until this point, I had been dealing with hyper-partisan liberals, charged with emotions, but as the election (and Trump’s Twitter account) moved forward, the drumbeat of scared energy got louder and louder.  Then Trump won the election, and everything went off the rails.  The anger, the vitriol, the hatred, and the emotions were ratcheted so high that dissent, which exists in our country by design, was no longer tolerated.  Either you agreed with the people who thought Trump needs to go….or you were devil spawn.  No grey area.  No “nice” Republicans.  I mean, we’ve gotten so bad that Ellen DeGeneres was trolled for laughing with President George W. Bush at a football game.  Ellen DeGeneres, who is this sweet, kind, funny human, was trolled for being a sweet, kind, respectful human.

Not only was healing my wounds no longer possible, silencing my voice was causing other problems in my life.  I had become a shell of who I was before all of this started, both emotionally and physically.  I needed to make changes.  I needed to reprioritize my life.  And I needed to speak up instead of staying silent. 

Being obnoxious because you are fighting the good fight is not acceptable.  It’s not acceptable if you’re a Republican, and it’s not acceptable if you’re a Democrat.  Calling an office and using obscenities is not acceptable.  Cyberbullying someone who disagrees with you politically is not acceptable.  And most importantly, feeling that your horrible behavior is justified because of your beliefs is not acceptable.  As Ellen DeGeneres said, be kind. 

Seeing the anger towards Rep. Stefanik on Twitter was triggering, but instead of silencing myself, I took fingers to keyboard and purged some demons.  It’s time to tell our truths, listen to each other, find common ground, and appreciate our diversity.  Starting with myself.

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