And now we’re all just trying to recover.
It’s been a rough few months. Unless you were living on the International Space Station, you felt it–a rising sense of hysteria as our fine nation barreled toward an uncertain future. For weeks, we saw the troubling signs: Children wondering why grownups were acting strangely. Horrifying placards in the yards of neighbors, suggesting proclivities you’d rather not know about because you always thought they were such nice people. Ads designed to make you question everything you thought you believed in. Menacing messages monopolizing your social-media feeds. Ordinary-seeming folks out for blood. And skeletons! Oh my, skeletons everywhere.
Then, finally, the big night. Laughter, tears, maybe even the rending of clothing in certain households. Kids staying up way past bedtime to see how it all turned out. And most of us wondering, blearily, whether it was just an extended nightmare. And how long the hangover would last.
Am I describing Halloween or the presidential election? Exactly. It’s been more than a week since Halloween, but we’re still feeling the effects: every year it seems to get more garish, more excessive and tougher to recover from. And every four years the presidential race–now days behind us–seems to get more ffffrrrrrrgggggghhhhh. Yes, that was my brain freezing, as the word to describe this race hasn’t been invented yet.
Remember when there were no decorative outdoor lights for Halloween? Once upon a time, Christmas had a monopoly on the whole outdoor-light thing. That was back in the dark ages, when Lloyd Bentsen’s informing Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy nearly caused national riots. And now look at us. Blinking orange lights everywhere, and a presidential race filled with nasty women and Putin’s puppets and blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s wherever.
Hello, America? I’m calling from the past, when a single jack-o’-lantern was an acceptable amount of decorating and public decorum mattered. Particularly when you were applying to be the leader of the free world, the one kids are supposed to trust, and admire, and maybe even grow up wanting to be.
Halloween and politics aren’t exactly the same. The intoxicating thing about Halloween is that, though there are lots of scary things, you know they’re fake. No such comfort in this election. Because the scary anger and vitriol were real. The skeletons–from Miss Universe to Anthony Weiner–were real. The red-faced guy suggesting in an interview that the Democratic candidate should be assassinated is real. Deplorable, ridiculous to some, but real.
Have you ever walked straight into a spiderweb that you didn’t know was there? While the spider’s ingenuity is a thing to behold, you are still left with creepy detritus on your face and a sense of “Wait, what just happened?” That’s how I feel after this election. I look back on the newsmaking moments, each one higher on the yuck meter than the one before, and wonder whether I’ll ever be able to remove the detritus from my brain. Will we all, as a nation?
After Halloween, the calendar forces many of us to move along to the next thing. And so we start hauling out the Thanksgiving stuff to prepare ourselves for the holiday where people with diametrically opposed political beliefs get together and try to get along. Well, perhaps this Thanksgiving presents an opportunity.
My fellow Americans, I propose a cleansing Thanksgiving. No, not a juice cleanse–a cleanse of our national soul. First, turn off cable news. Just turn it off, and don’t turn it back on until the Inauguration. Second, absolutely no political posts on your Facebook feed. None! Believe it or not, you will continue to exist even if your friends (or “friends”) aren’t reminded of your political views every day.
Finally, when you sit down to dinner on Thanksgiving, look at those around you and make yourself forget who you think they voted for. Bow your head and give thanks that you don’t live in _______ (fill in the name of any one of dozens of countries on this planet that don’t have a democratic process). Close your eyes and take a breath deep enough to clear the cobwebs. And, silently or aloud, tell yourself that you are grateful for the people at your table. Because we’re all human, and most of us are just doing our best.
Van Ogtrop is the author of Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom
This appears in the November 21, 2016 issue of TIME.