Politics may be our most wide-spread addiction. With a dealer on every corner, it is always available. Media reporting and commentary provide an endless supply of partisan views.
As soon as someone starts coming down from the last high, a tempting report from CNN, or a Fox News update, or a tweet from the president can draw them right back in. During a general election year, it is possible to remain politically intoxicated for months.
Like other addictions, dosing on politics brings users pleasurable feelings which they then want to repeat. These feelings include the sense of belonging, the gratification of being right, and the heady shot of being in power.
There are deleterious side effects as well. Huffing politics can and often does lead to anger. It leaves one vulnerable to hatred of “the other”. Should one’s side win, it can result in arrogance; lose, and it can result in soul-wounding pride.
During the presidential campaign, I heard stories of how political addictions were destroying families. A pastor friend of mine related the bitter story of a married couple whose adult son warned them that he would disown them if they voted for the wrong candidate. He wasn’t joking.
That is the kind of thing addictions always do. They distort vision, turn priorities upside down, and redefine a person’s identity. They alienate friends and relatives and obstruct the performance of necessary duties. They drain previously enjoyed pastimes of their pleasure.
It is the nature of addictions to grow more demanding over time. This is as true of political addictions as any other. Watching the evening news was once enough. Then it was necessary to download the news app. It wasn’t long before checking the news several times an hour became a habit. Binge watching election results followed.
When something prevents the political addict from imbibing – say a job gets in the way – he or she begins sneaking looks at the latest headlines or covertly reading the president’s tweets. It is the political equivalent of carrying a concealed flask in an inside pocket. Thumb and finger rest on the alt and tab keys in case the boss comes near.
One of the signs that a person is hooked is that they cannot stay away from the object of their addiction. It beckons. It tempts. They can stop but they cannot stay stopped. They start to do something else but, almost before they know it, they are back for more.
A significant percentage of the population may now be on the verge of withdrawals. The election is over. If the president’s lawsuits fail to overturn the results, which seems likely, a new administration will take the reins. News organizations will actually need to look for stories once again. Viewership will diminish. The rhetorical volume will decrease.
It will be the perfect time to break the habit. Delete the news feed. Only check headlines once a day (or even once a week during detox), rather than once an hour.
Instead of watching the news, why not make some news? Attend city council meetings. Write legislators. Start a neighborhood improvement campaign. Join an effort to help people in need. Really, which will make the world a better place: watching cable news or delivering meals to the elderly?
The thing about addictions is that they don’t go away unless they get replaced. Instead of non-stop talk radio, try listening to good music. Put on a sermon a day from a great preacher. Listen to an audio book – try starting with the action-packed Gospel of Mark.
Rather than jumping into an online political brawl, use a Bible app to memorize helpful verses. Join a book club online and enter into discussions – but take care to avoid the latest political potboiler. If you simply must have something political, read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
It might be better to go offscreen altogether. Volunteer at the community food pantry. Get involved in the local church’s outreach efforts. Sign up to deliver Meals on Wheels or to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
Put down the phone. Lay aside the mouse. This is an opportunity to reassess values, reprioritize time usage, and create new and more productive habits.
(First published by Gannet)