Tomorrow is Election Day in the United States, the culmination of an unprecedentedly nerve-combusting season of political warfare. It’s been a campaign for which derangement – a mental disturbance; a disruption of the regular order – would seem to have been invented. It would even seem to merit the coining of derangement syndrome: an extreme response, often untethered from empirical reality, to a particular candidate or elected official.
There’s plenty of evidence.
The Year of Voting Dangerously: The Derangement of American Politics, by Maureen Dowd (2016)
On one side, there’s Hillary-Hatred Derangement Syndrome (Wall Street Journal), also known as Clinton Derangement Syndrome (New Republic). Reporter Sarah Kendzior defined the syndrome in an article published in August in DeCorrespondent, a Dutch publication:
People hate Hillary Clinton because people hate Hillary Clinton. This instinctive, matter-of-fact hatred is known in America as Clinton Derangement Syndrome. When possessed, the victim sees Hillary Clinton as a woman of unimaginable power. Her most amazing trick is the ability to eliminate men from American history.
On the other side is Trump Derangement Syndrome, which the conservative writer and editor John Podhoretz said “is crippling the Left”:
People are losing it over Donald Trump. The people I’m talking about are mostly liberals and Democrats who are watching with horror as the election they happily thought Hillary Clinton had put away in August has become a squeaker in September. Their attitude is that any word uttered about the election that doesn’t serve as an open denunciation of Trump is an implicit endorsement of Trump.
Even Republicans – the #NeverTrump GOPers – can suffer from TDS, according to the alt-right site Breitbart, which in May defended the Republican nominee as “a man who has raised an admirable family.”
The syndrome is so virulent it’s spread beyond our borders. Witness Putin Derangement Syndrome, which The Atlantic’s David A. Graham called “the product of Republican hatred for Obama and their distant view of a faraway strongman who represents his opposite, for good or ill. The party of ‘My Country, Right or Wrong’ has been overtaken by cheerleaders for a brutal leader in Moscow.”
Just call the whole thing Election Derangement Syndrome, wrote Joel Achenbach in the Washington Post:
Everyone I know has Election Derangement Syndrome. They’re nine or 10 stages beyond being merely nervous, atwitter, jittery. They’re compulsively checking the polls, wandering dazed through the halls. They moan and keen and snivel. At night they have dreams of falling off a cliff, and in those dreams they try desperately to wake up before impact because we all know what happens if you don’t
But derangement syndrome is in fact older than our current waking nightmare. The conservative columnist (and former psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer is believed to have first used it in a political context back in December 2003, when he coined Bush Derangement Syndrome to describe “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency – nay – the very existence of George W. Bush.”
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin Derangement Syndrome described the wrath of Democrats directed toward Sen. John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin. (It was still being invoked five years later by the right-wing website Twitchy: “There’s just something about Sarah Palin that drives liberals absolutely insane — maybe her honesty, decency and straightforwardness?”) Inevitably, sadly, we are still surrounded by carriers of Obama Derangement Syndrome, defined by the Left Space Wiki as
paranoia regarding anything to do with President Barack Obama. Reflecting the extreme social anxiety produced by upending the racial hierarchy which was all that was left of the minimally privileged social status of working class White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) after the capitalist ruling class deprived them of post-WWII job security, ODS victims fixate on the Otherness of Obama and in the process make themselves the subject of ridicule. The “Thanks Obama” come-back parodies such misdirected hatred and social marginalization.
In 2016, even a derangement syndrome can become deranged. Trump Derangement Syndrome can apply not only to the candidate’s detractors but to his most blindly loyal supporters, as Tina Nguyen wrote last month in Vanity Fair: “With millions of Trump supporters rallying around the candidate’s newly declared war on defectors like House Speaker Paul Ryan, some Republicans are presenting symptoms that suggest Trump mania may be incurable.”
In a more innocent era, derangement syndrome was a term used by orthopedists and physical therapists to describe “the situation in which the normal resting position of the articular surfaces of two adjacent vertebrae is disturbed as a result of a change in the position of the fluid nucleus between these surfaces.”