US election: To say the stress is getting to us is an understatement

Whatever happens, don’t get too het up. The US president is not as powerful as he or we think

As I lay me down to sleep
I pray to God my soul to keep
And if Trump’s re-elected before I wake
I pray to God that news is fake

Possibly for the next few days, Americans will count up the votes to find out who is to be the next president of the US. To say the stress is getting to us is an understatement – even at our 3,000 mile remove – some of us are very wound up about this election.

Donald J Trump has so occupied our heads for the past four years, we've been dreaming of sweet release from his iron grip on our souls. What if he wins the election? How are we going to cope with the prospect of another four years of this headwreck? We've had Trump Derangement Syndrome, and Election Stress Disorder; add Post-Election Trauma to that list of American-borne ailments.

And if our prayers are answered, and Joe Biden is victorious, how will we deal with the sense of anticlimax that will surely follow? With the bogeyman removed, who will we direct our impotent rage against? And will we be able to adjust to a new era of dull-as-ditchwater politics, with nothing much happening to stir the sense of outrage?


When Charles J Haughey's reign finally ended in 1992, we had to readjust to Irish political life without the bling. And when Thatcher was ousted, we had to settle in to the greyness of John Major, a man who ran away from the circus to join politics, and who was described by Alastair Campbell as "a piece of lettuce that passes for prime minister".

Are we ready for a non-eventful four years under "sleepy" Joe Biden, or will we manifest a sort of political Stockholm syndrome, where we start to miss having Trump around to fulminate against?

Either way, most of us are fearing that the pressure cooker that sits on our shoulders will finally explode. We may have vowed to live on a desert island if Trump gets back in, but with current travel restrictions that’s not possible, so we’ll just have to stay here and suck it up. But there’s no need to hide our heads under the covers and stay in bed for the next four years. Instead, tomorrow could truly become the first day of the rest of our lives – all we need to do is work out how to get on with the rest of our lives no matter which candidate prevails.

According to social psychologist Dr Joe Griffin, a fellow of the British Psychological Society, if Biden is elected, we will have to learn to deal with the sense of anticlimax.

“With Trump gone, what will we do for entertainment? We’ll miss the endless tweets and the showmanship. And we’ll miss him as a hate figure. But you can be sure the media will find something else to keep people anxious – Brexit will probably fill the gap.”

If the unthinkable happens, however, and Trump is re-elected, then we’ll need tools to deal with the feelings of disappointment and helplessness, as we digest the terrible reality that we’re in for four more years of Trumpian torture. Dr Griffin’s advice is to work hard on getting back your sense of perspective, and try not to see his win as a world-shattering catastrophe.

“The US president is not nearly as powerful as he or we think he is,” says Dr Griffin. “He’s not able to affect our lives in any meaningful way, and he’s not going to be able to destroy America in the way many people fear he will – the systems of democracy are too strong and have been in place for too long for one man to be able to dismantle them.”

The problem, says Dr Griffin, is we’ve let Trump get to us, and we’ve allowed him grow into a huge, intimidating presence inside our heads – a classic case of anxiety making us get things completely out of proportion.

“We’re seeing him as this all-powerful living demon, when really he has very little power in the bigger scheme of things.”

To restore a sense of perspective, Dr Griffin suggests we try to stop seeing things in black-and-white, or red and blue, which has been a feature of American politics of late. It’s not as simple as good versus evil. Just as we need to stop seeing Trump as the devil incarnate (even though he is, of course), we also need to stop seeing Biden as a benevolent angel come to heal America of all its ills.

“We might feel a sense of anticlimax if Biden gets in,” says Dr Griffin. “He’s not going to be saying outrageous things every day. He’s not going to stirring up controversy, he’s going to be calming everything down. But he’s not going to start signing up incredible trade deals or fixing all America’s problems either.”

Trump supporters who hold the orange fella up as the saviour of America are making the same mistake as those of us who demonise him, says Dr Griffin.

“I’m reminded of that movie where everyone was going down the Yellow Brick Road, and the Wizard of Oz was this huge, terrifying figure. But when they pulled back the curtain, he turned out to be just this little ordinary guy.”

We may not be able to click our heels and make the world the way we want it, but at least we can wake up in our own beds and choose not to spend the next four years living in terrible Trumpland or boring Bidenville.

But still, there’ll be a secret part of us listening out for that “ding-dong” sound that tells us the orange munchkin has been finally vanquished.