Like so many of the people I talk to, I’ve been experiencing anxiety for months, and as we approach November my fear has only intensified that Trump will do anything and everything to steal the election despite national polls favoring Biden-Harris by a comfortable 7+% and swing-state polls showing a Biden-Harris lead most everywhere. In the days since Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, my grief and sorrow for our loss of this great woman has added to my apprehensions.
On Rosh Hashanah day my family gathered as we always do after services, and my politically aware and savvy grown children expressed their strong belief that Trump will provoke chaos and violence before, during, and after the election, and that he will refuse to leave the White House on January 20.
I can’t predict what will happen despite my worries and fears. If you feel as I do, I’ve been asking what strategies there might be to better contain anxiety, be as positive as possible, and do all we can to help win the presidency, the Senate, expand Democratic margins in the House, and win races down the ballot.
The first, of course, is to financially support Democratic candidates, adopt states and Senatorial candidates and work to elect them, to vote early and safely, and to be certain that our votes are counted and that everyone we know votes for Democratic candidates.
Second, we can’t allow this dystopian malignantly narcissistic illiberal criminally negligent and nasty president to define the debate over the next 6 weeks.
Before going on, I want to give a shout-out to the Biden-Harris campaign. It seems to me that Joe and Kamala and their campaign leadership are doing most everything right. I applaud them. That said, I want to recommend that everyone listen to the September 17th episode of “Pod Save America” with Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer, and especially the segment in which they question communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio about the importance of positive messaging in the remainder of the campaign. Positive messaging can help contain our anxiety and at the same time better influence those still undecided voters who can help determine the outcome of the election. The interview begins 1 hour and 10 minutes into the podcast.
Here are Ms. Shenker-Osorio’s main points:
- There is lots of panic among Democrats – Ms. Shenker-Osorio acknowledged the anxiety but said that focusing on our fears has a potential demobilizing impact on us and on the ten percent of the population she calls “high potential voters,” those who haven’t yet made up their minds between Trump and Biden. When we focus too much on Trump’s mass of nefarious deeds, she says, we evoke a “fight or freeze response.” Activists want to “fight” but the “high potential voters” might freeze and decide that their vote doesn’t matter and they choose to stay home on Election Day.
- “Messaging from Inevitability” – Ms. Shenker-Osorio urged us to speak positively about the victory of the Biden-Harris ticket, not IF we win but WHEN we win. People like to be part of a winning team and not part of a frightened losing campaign. We need to say out loud that the reason Trump is accelerating his anti-democratic and destructive actions is because he knows he is losing.
- Characterizing Trump – Jon and Dan asked Anat how best to characterize Trump and counter his claim, for example, that he is the “law and order” candidate, though Biden polls better than Trump on this issue in key swing states. The key, she said, is to characterize Trump NOT as a strong man and authoritarian leader. Rather, we should characterize him for what he really is – weak, pathetic, bungling, dishonest, self-serving, ineffective, incompetent, corrupt, and a loser. This last characterization (i.e. loser) most especially drives Trump crazy and when we drive him nuts other forces in his Republican Party are forced to stray from their talking points. Shenker-Osorio says that talking about “law and order” is a trap for Biden-Harris supporters. Our messaging should be about who WE are, what WE believe, and what Biden-Harris will deliver on behalf of the nation, the middle class, black, white, and brown citizens, children, seniors, and our allies around the world. If we’re drawn into talking about law and order we stop talking about the tragic ravages of Covid, our economic well-being, jobs, health care, criminal justice reform, racial injustice, education, the environment, climate change, immigration, and America’s good name internationally.
- Framing the Conversation in the Last 6 weeks – Ms. Shenker-Osorio said that we should name the values that we share with most of the country, that we all want our families to be safe, for our voices to be heard, for our rights to be respected, and for our nation to come together to address our multiple challenges in this age of Covid and economic meltdown. We need to give people a sense of meaning and agency and that Biden-Harris are the means to address the nation’s immediate and long-term needs. Yes, of course, Trump and his sycophantic illiberal minions are villains, but we ought not to lead with villainy. We lead with our heroes, our front-line health care workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, postal workers, men and women in uniform, career intelligence officers and diplomats, and all those helping sustain our lives, communities, and country. We need to avoid being exclusively purveyors of doom. Shenker-Osorio concludes that we must emphasize the positive result that we seek and that we WILL come through this horrible period of American history together. Framing the campaign in this way can help alleviate our sense of powerlessness and allay a measure of our anxiety.
I believe that Anat Shenker-Osorio is right, though I confess that despite all she said I continue to feel that free-floating anxiety and yearn for a national reboot. Personally, I’m going to continue to do those positive things for myself and my family that bring me pleasure and a sense of agency, exercise, healthy eating, sleep, and control the amount of news I absorb daily.
In Hebrew we say, chamatz v’eimatz, be strong and courageous!