Election fatigue. It’s a thing people enjoy jokingly discussing as the election winds down: the ways that we’ve been made to suffer through a horrible, seemingly endless spectacle, the general feeling that we just want it to be over. We have rituals, therapeutic utterances, regimes of ironic self-care. “Here’s a video of a dog surfing on a duck that is also vaping to help you get through the election.” “Wake me up in [X unit of time] when the election is over.” Enough with the election already—enough with politics for a while. Let cat gifs just be cat gifs, not small inoculations of ordinariness against the extraordinary time of the election cycle.
So, everyone is tired. Really fucking tired. And it is in this national exhaustion with the election—which, for much of the nation, is an exhaustion with politics as such—that we can detect the degrading impact of electoral seasonality on non-electoral political movements. You will of course recall hearing, and hearing routinely, a liberal-progressive voting friend say something like, “Voting takes [X small unit of time]. Do it, then get back out there, organizing for other things.” The slogan wants to say that voting is just one item in a possible political repertoire; we shouldn’t over-emphasize it, one way or another, but we should still do it, if only because it doesn’t inhibit our ability to do other political things.
It is an obviously incorrect statement.
We know that for many people voting doesn’t take a small amount of time at all. There’s the problem of getting proper ID, registering, finding a polling place, traveling there, and so on.
We know, furthermore, that people are investing more and more time into learning things about candidates. The actual content of that information might be dubious, wrong, or just whacky, but even the dude who thinks HRC is a lizard person is taking time to think about voting.
Most importantly, what we now know through this election cycle, in our feelings of fatigue and exhaustion, is that voting does not take time as a discrete unit: X minutes at the polling place, X hours or days sitting with debates and press releases and a horde of pundits and their takes. The election takes time, and takes it as such; it appropriates social time, and refashions it according to its bizarre rhythms. These rhythms have nothing to do with the ordinary time of the social. (I’ve never heard anyone in non-electoral years invest the worst day of the second worst month with any kind of value.) It’s an alien time that superimposes itself, and then subsumes, everydayness—the quotidian time of the social, with all its quotidian deprivations and depletions that mobilize movements.
Fatigue is the experience of being compelled to be present to a world despite your sense that it is depleting your ability to move within it. To describe our collective relation to the election as one of fatigue is to concede the foundational heteronomy that conditions our relationship to the parliamentary state. We might want to sleep in until the election is over—but we can’t. We have to go about our lives. And the election insinuates itself into all aspects of waking life, it’s hard to shut out or shut off, even with gestures of intense negativity, and it promises to come back, ever 2 years, every 4 years, and many call this mass suffering democracy. To an extent, then, the generalized feeling of fatigue marks an ordinary, pop-anarchistic desire to negate State time. We’re literally tired of it.
That’s cool, but I have a simple worry, which is obvious from everything I’ve written: given the dominance of electoral politics in the U.S. social imaginary, for many people electoral politics are more or less collapsible into politics as such. As voting comes to appropriate social time, the electoral appropriates the political at the level of lived feeling. Election fatigue becomes politics fatigue, including even those broad genres of political mobilizing that have little to do with electoral politics. It becomes hard to imagine the other political things that lib-progressives imagine they’ll be doing just after they do that temporally insignificant thing of voting, given that they and everyone else are just so fucking tired. Put in the form of a thought experiment: Can you imagine a less propitious day for the eruption of a social movement than the second Tuesday of November?
Elections are devices by which states seasonally re-appropriate political being from the plebs, attempting to de-compose non-statist political movements into the drama of king-making. Just think of the sheer amount of work the state and its deputized apparatuses put in to getting people to do what is supposed to be at once (and impossibly) a right and a privilege. In this election season, this appropriation is taking place to the extent that we’ve become affectively aware of the operation. Feeling fatigued, we all want to say, “To hell with politics, take it away, technocrats!”—even as we feel like we can’t, because this election is too important or whatever. (Has there ever been an election that didn’t bill itself as the most important for a given population at the time?) Voters will vote, and then hasten to sleep. Shit’s been exhausting; it’ll be good to go back to ordinary time.
Anyone who has hashtagged NoDAPL or BLM should know that there is no ordinary time on the horizon. Anyone who has hashtagged NoDAPL or BLM should know that primary political antagonisms of our day engage temporalities utterly out of sync with the electoral temporalizations of the liberal state. It is in the horizon of these centuries-long struggles, carried out by indefatigable oppressed peoples, that we should think the meaning, and function, of election-induced politics fatigue.