I’m not crazy, you’re crazy!

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - KATH­LEEN PARKER kath­leen­parker@wash­post.com

It is only a co­in­ci­dence that Elec­tion Day fol­lows so closely on the heels of Hal­loween, but 2020’s pres­i­den­tial con­test couldn’t be more per­fectly cor­re­lated to the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar. It’s spooky out there.

When Congress in 1845 set Elec­tion Day on the first Tues­day af­ter the first Mon­day in Novem­ber, how­ever, law­mak­ers were think­ing of weather rather than witches. The idea was that crophar­vest­ing would be fin­ished by early Novem­ber and win­ter wouldn’t have yet ar­rived.

Even though many fewer peo­ple are busy har­vest­ing crops these days — and most build­ings are com­fort­ably cli­mate— we nev­er­the­less trudge off to our re­spec­tive precincts (or the mail box) to pick which of the least worst peo­ple in the world should lead the coun­try for the next four years.

I’m kid­ding, of course. There are surely peo­ple worse than Don­ald Trump, and Joe Bi­den looks like Ma­hatma Gandhi by com­par­i­son.

What’s scary about this day, this year? Why, mad­ness. A coarse blan­ket of anx­i­ety and re­pul­sion has set­tled over the land­scape as we ap­proach the haunted vot­ing booth. Even more fright­en­ing is the brief and bizarre nor­malcy dis­played by Pres­i­dent Trump dur­ing Thurs­day night’s de­bate. By some mir­a­cle or sor­cery, he seems to have es­caped the coils of covid-19 not just in good health but with im­proved men­tal fac­ul­ties. Mean­while, the rest of the coun­try has gone in­sane.

Psy­chol­o­gists and ther­a­pists warned of this when Trump won in 2016. But com­bined with other fac­tors — iso­la­tion, un­em­ploy­ment, fear of con­ta­gion, death or months more of clois­tered liv­ing — even the slim prospect of his re­elec­tion has sent peo­ple over the edge. Hard data may be in short sup­ply, but I sus­pect some readers may rec­og­nize them­selves, or oth­ers, in the anec­do­tal ev­i­dence.

I hear about them daily. My New York City niece re­cently re­ported walk­ing through Cen­tral Park and wit­ness­ing a woman she rec­og­nized scream­ing at a pass­ing car bear­ing a Trump bumper sticker: “You’re dis­gust­ing! You’re dis­gust­ing!” A well-dressed woman push­ing an ex­pen­sive baby stroller tossed a dirty di­a­per onto Madi­son Av­enue, sig­ni­fy­ing to my niece that the usual self­im­posed re­straints on hu­man be­hav­ior are be­ing dis­carded out of mis­placed anger.

An­other friend posted a Bi­den/Har­ris sign in her pro-Trump town and soon re­ported lost friend­ships and un­pleas­ant com­ments by passersby. Yet an­other friend, who agrees that peo­ple’s heads are ex­plod­ing, told me he was giv­ing friends from both sides sec­ond chances be­cause, he said, “I know we’re all go­ing nuts.”

“My mantra is: It’s not their fault; it’s not their fault; it’s not their fault.”

In re­al­ity, it may not be. Bonkersvil­le is a short trip for most of us these days, but Repub­li­cans have an ad­van­tage.

Ex­cept for a few rene­gades, Trump sup­port­ers are gen­er­ally un­wa­ver­ing in their al­le­giance to the pres­i­dent. To them, Trump makes per­fect sense. Even when he says ridicu­lous things or lies out­right, they ei­ther shrug with in­dif­fer­ence or of­fer a more palat­able trans­la­tion of what he re­ally meant.

Oth­er­wise, Trump’s fans find him to be charm­ing and funny — a true-blue pa­triot who sup­ports the mil­i­tary, fills the courts with con­ser­va­tive judges and, un­til the pan­demic, boasted the most ro­bust economy in mem­ory. And by the way, they add, covid-19 isn’t his fault. In other words, they never doubt Trump or them­selves. When cer­ti­tude is treated as a virtue, psy­cho­log­i­cal break­down — or self-crit­i­cal anal­y­sis — isn’t con­sid­ered time well spent.

Of course, the rest of the coun­try thinks these peo­ple are crazy. Be­ing the only sane per­son in the asy­lum can do that. When enough peo­ple around you see re­al­ity in what seems to you like ut­terly delu­sional terms, you WILL lose your mind. And, then, be­cause you’re nor­mal, you’ll be­gin to ques­tion your own san­ity and won­der: Is it me? No, it’s not. But maybe Trump isn’t crazy, ei­ther. Maybe he just en­joys mak­ing other peo­ple lose their minds. His modus operandi was plainly spelled out in “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” Cre­ate chaos, get peo­ple to turn on each other, col­lect the chips when they fall. To this pres­i­dent, ev­ery­thing’s a game.

Trump’s crit­ics have long feared that over­ex­po­sure to his er­rant be­hav­ior even­tu­ally would lead to ac­cep­tance — nor­mal­iz­ing the ab­nor­mal. It may be, how­ever, that rather than ac­cept­ing Trump, peo­ple are sim­ply ex­hausted from four years of a psy­cho­log­i­cal siege and weary of the drama. Elec­tion Day will tell. But, watch­ing the more sub­dued Trump dur­ing the sec­ond de­bate, I had a no­tion that he was primed to pull a vic­tory out of his ring­mas­ter’s top hat.

Even a squeaky vic­tory when polling sug­gests oth­er­wise could lead to a na­tional ner­vous break­down. And then Trump, hav­ing driven his foes crazy, would, in the fash­ion of nar­cis­sists, be­come the nor­mal guy who looks down from the dais at the writhing mass of hu­man mad­ness and, with the cool de­tach­ment of a vis­it­ing alien, ob­serve that the losers seem to have gone stark rav­ing mad.

Happy Hal­loween.

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