Oped: The great American panic attack

Matt Helfrich

Politics naturally involves debate, disagreement, and differences of opinion. It's the backbone of our democracy. Each of us has a right to express our opinion on topics as far ranging as immigration reform to the best point guard in the NBA. Up to a year ago, most people could argue about politics without insulting each other. Few disagreements were personal or caused deep resentment.

Matt Helfrich

This has changed drastically over the past year, and now differences over politics has become personal. Lifelong friendships have ended abruptly because of differing opinions on Trump. We, as a nation, appear to be suffering from an acute anxiety disorder over the current presidency. Regardless of where people fall on the political spectrum, too many Americans believe their political opposition will destroy America, either through a dictator bypassing the Constitution or the political elite's corruption and soft stance on immigration and terrorism.

What is causing this panic? Why are so many people angry and afraid about the future of our country? Examining the primary concerns of Americans who support Trump and those opposed to him provides insight into this heightened level of anxiety.

People who voted for Trump did so because they felt our current political system was corrupt, controlled by the elite and not inclusive of every day Americans. Trump was an "outsider" who would fix the corruption. They also want our government to protect them from terrorists and believe that immigrants and large government programs, including ObamaCare, are responsible for their high taxes. Trump's primary election promises were to secure our borders, deport illegal immigrants and build a wall.

On the other hand, those opposed to Trump believe he will turn the presidency into a dictatorship, using his power to limit freedoms and bypass the Constitution in order to rule without opposition. This group is concerned that Trump's bullish behavior, inexperience, and thin skin will result in foreign policy blunders that could lead to a WWIII. Many of Trump's opponents also fear that his fiscal policies will benefit the rich at the expense of the poor and the middle class.

After listing these concerns, the only common denominator I can find among these opposing groups is Donald Trump himself. It seems that America's greatest hopes and worst fears are tied exclusively to Donald Trump. Regardless of his intent, Trump has created a cult of personality in which his supporters believe he can do no wrong and his opponents are worried he will transform our democracy into Nazi Germany.

Supporters and detractors seem to focus less time advocating for policy and more time either attacking or defending Trump. No wonder there is so much anxiety among our fellow citizens. Too many Americans have forgotten they have the power to determine policy in a democracy. Trump is certainly a vain man with an oversize ego, but most Americans are feeding this ego by minimizing their importance to our political system and surrendering their power to the Presidency.

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is a feeling of losing control. This can only be treated if more Americans step away from the social media memes and regain some control by getting involved in policy at the local, State, and Federal levels. I imagine these opposing groups — with so much anger towards each other today — could even find some common ground if they worked together to advocate legislation that benefits all of us, such as a bill supporting the war on cancer. We have the power to treat this anxiety and decrease the tension that is dividing our country. A daily dose of anti-anxiety medicine for The Donald couldn't hurt either.

— Matt Helfrich is a York Dispatch guest contributor and a resident of Harleysville, Pennsylvania.