When the stakes are high, I tend to look away.
In 2010, my dorm mates watched the Olympics gold medal hockey game between Canada and USA while I hid in my room studying. I couldn’t bear to be in a room full of Americans if Team Canada were to lose. Instead, I missed watching Sid Crosby score a game-winning goal in overtime.
Last year, the Raptors went to the NBA Finals. I couldn’t watch the end of game 6 because I just felt that if they lost, they were going to lose game 7 as well. Instead, I missed a terrific finish as the Raptors won their first NBA championship.
So when it came to the 2020 US presidential election, I fell back on my usual strategy and looked away. I claimed that we likely wouldn’t know the result on Tuesday night anyways, but I really just didn’t want to ride the ride if Trump was going to be at the end again.
In 2016, I was playing video games on election night. It was our weekly game night, and given how certain the polls were, I didn’t think I would miss anything. One of my friends updated us in-between games, and I just kept my eyes focused on the game, hoping to ignore it for the night. It was such a shock that I didn’t really know how to process it.
The lead-up to this election certainly felt worse because I was bracing for a surprise. After 2016, I couldn’t trust the polls, so to give us a night of peace, Julie and I agreed to go into a news blackout. All day, we avoided all election news. I turned off push notifications for all social media and messaging apps, and then also put my devices on “Do Not Disturb.” We enjoyed butternut squash and lentils for dinner, put on the romcom Holidate for our evening entertainment, then went to bed with no idea about what was going on.
Well, I knew it wasn’t a worst-case scenario because there was no rioting or declaration of martial law outside, but otherwise, it truly felt like we were in a bubble. Something really important was happening in the world, and we didn’t know about it. We extended our peace for just a few hours longer.
In fact, I only got two bits of news all day. First, I saw the news through a neighbor’s window while walking up to my door. I saw red and blue, then quickly averted my eyes, so no spoiler there. Second, I realized at 10PM that I hadn’t set my waiver picks in my fantasy football league, so I had to see who was available.
Of course, we checked in the morning. We couldn’t avoid the news at work, so we flipped through the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight over breakfast. Nothing had been decided yet. The election wouldn’t be over quickly, but we didn’t know how much longer.
During the day, questions arose about how much longer. Some compared it to 2000, which apparently stretched into December. As an elementary school student at the time, I only really understood that some guy named “Chad” was really important but no one wanted to hang with him. 2016 had some discussion about faithlesss electors, but it was never real.
So my blackout mindset continued, and I had two remarkably productive days at work on Tuesday and Wednesday. I generally try not to check social media often at work, but those two days were special. When I turned on my website-blocking app and mentally focused myself knowing that news would only stress me out, I had a really good reason to want to just do my work. Instead, I was lightning fast at playing in my turn-based board games.
Over the next few days, the news trickled in, and I was checking for updates at fixed intervals: breakfast, lunch, end of work day, going to bed. The results were looking more and more positive for Biden, though I didn’t notice much of a change in my own mood along the way.
I applaud everyone who took an active role in the election this year, whether that be donating, phone banking, or far more, but I knew that wasn’t going to do anything. I dutifully filled out my ballot then determined that the results were otherwise beyond my control, so I just looked away because it was too important to treat as entertainment. My part was done, and no amount of checking would change the outcome.
We heard the news Saturday morning, and that afternoon, Julie and I went out on a few errands, and we saw people celebrating outside. That evening, we watched Joe and Kamala give their acceptance speeches. I realized how little I know about their platform: I honestly got about as far as “not Trump” and “not obviously crazy” to fill out my ballot. So, I was pleasantly surprised by how calm Kamala was and how cogent Joe was. I think Joe was a little amped and talked too fast, but it’s certainly a far cry from my other favorite Joe moment.
Then and even now, it’s hard to say where this is going to go. Until we all agree, this election isn’t over yet, and even if it goes smoothly, the pandemic continues. And even past that, the attitudes and division that gave rise to Trump are still here to be dealt with.
I went on a hard news blackout during election week, but frankly, I have been avoiding news since the 2016 election. When even “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” wasn’t fun anymore, I knew I didn’t want to ride this ride. But at least this election felt like one good step to heal.