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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Reports from the World Health Organization have shown that Americans are among the most anxious, depressed people in the world—and that was before a reality television star settled into the White House, bringing with him a percussive beat of mean-spirited executive orders, obnoxious presidential tweets and bare-knuckled attacks on civil society as we know it.

Marketers are experts at monetizing disquiet. In liberal hubs, where the affluent work and play, Trump anxiety is providing a boost in certain sectors as businesses cater to those hoping to reclaim a sense of sanity and wellbeing. Addled urbanites are heading to therapy in droves. Mental health practitioners report that distressed clients are willing to pay large sums just to talk about their political angst, citing everything from gastrointestinal symptoms to overwhelming feelings of powerlessness.

Others seek sanctuaries from the storm. “Nesting at home is the new going out,” proclaims one trend-watching website. High-end stores are offering “orglamic” designs that make the buyer feel trendily sustainable by purchasing luxury items for the home. Elle Décor advises readers that 2017 will go down as “a bright year filled with cheery colors, mixed patterns, and happy motifs—plus a few unexpected twists.” (You can say that again!) A shade called Greenery is the 2017 Pantone Paint Color of the Year, touted as just the cure for “a complex political and social environment.” Butterfly motifs, with their “buoyant, happy” vibe are also trending.

Having tense political discussions with your spouse? Separate master bedrooms are a new trend in upscale homes. Feeling nutritionally depleted? High-tech indoor gardening equipment, such as Urban Cultivator (priced at $2,500), allows you to cultivate artisanal greens without leaving your newly remodeled kitchen. Added bonus: you get to brag to dinner party guests who ask where the salad is “sourced.” Just don’t let them bring up politics.

Contemporary liberals are known for their ability to transform existential angst and hard-to-define guilt into a variety of discrete symptoms, from phantom food allergies to strange new trepidations such as “natural environment phobia,” a fear of engaging with nature. Now that the gluten-free trend has taken a beating, marketers turn their attention to other buzzwords that can be profitably worked into the American health vocabulary. Food brands touting inflammation-fighting benefits are on the rise, as well as medicinal beverages and superfood herbal libations promising cosmic calm.

An explosion of wellness coaches, personal training apps and wearable technology allows you to focus 24/7 on body/mind optimization. Getting drunk to kill the blues is very last year, say the marketers, so now some Angelinos and New Yorkers are offered alcohol-free party popups like “The Softer Image,” which features a “high vibe bar” with “rotating herbalists and chefs” to provide healing energy and nourishment that will not produce hangovers. The goal of the gatherings, say the advertisers, is simple: bliss. In Los Angeles, Integral Fitness offers a monthly Conscious Family Dinner in which alcohol is verboten, but “transformation, healing and empowerment” are happily on the menu.

Fitness cults are a tried and true way to tame the stress devil, and the focus now is on exercise not merely as a health-maintenance activity, but a cure for isolation. Instead of hitting the nightclub on a Friday night, city-dwellers can enjoy a “heart-pumping happy hour” at Barry’s Bootcamp, complete with a DJ to “drown out the pain.” Regulars refer to the sessions as “church.”

The WOOM Center, a “multi-sensory” yoga/meditation studio and café in downtown Manhattan, fosters a sense of community and womb-like bliss—at least that’s the theory. On a recent weekend, I tried it out for myself, assuming strenuous yoga poses in an overheated room as rainbow-colored digital bubbles pulsated on the walls, all the while ducking streams of sweat produced from the yogi beside me. This was followed by a lavender spritz and complimentary beet-juice tonic. Overall result: more nausea than nirvana.

Meditation is the hottest trend in self-soothing—it doesn’t require turning yourself into a pretzel and nobody will projectile sweat on you. Back in the day, you could drop a couple of bucks in the donation box at your local Dharma center and do your thing. But now meditation “consumers” can take their pick of high-end settings, lavish accoutrements and scientifically based programming. In New York, young professionals don athleisure wear for meditation classes at the trendy Standard Hotel in the East Village.

Classes are hosted by a company called The Path, which (for $600 a year) promises you elite training with master teachers, fun social events and opulent settings for your journey inward. Mndfl, touted by Vogue as Manhattan’s “must-visit meditation center,” claims it simply “exists to make humans feel good.” I stopped by for a drop-in session and was greeted by an enthusiastic young woman who chirped about the books from various gurus available for purchase and proudly showed me a wall covered in actual living moss and lichen. I dutifully crouched on a zafu cushion in a somewhat cramped room as a guide offered pleasant banalities on “letting go” and mentally rowing myself in a visionary canoe. Unfortunately, just as I was getting there, the fart of a fellow traveler jolted me back to reality.

The hands-down favorite in my deluxe meditation tour was Inscape, a “multi-platform meditation brand” that operates both a gorgeous 5,000-square-foot Manhattan studio space with classes and has its own iOS app. Upon entering, you pass through a self-care-themed gift shop stocked with expensive soy candles and books by mavens of mindfulness like actress Cameron Diaz. As I settled into a natural-fiber beanbag chair sipping cucumber-infused water waiting for my class to begin, I had to admit, I could get very comfortable here. Sessions take place in one of two soothingly decorated rooms, with soft colored lights and macramé designs festooning the ceiling. There are no teachers, just a recorded female voice who guides your journey in soothing Australian-accented cadences. For my “Deep Sound” experience, I lay on a plush mat, supported by pillows as cosmic pulsations vibrated my body. I was sonically swaddled, and I liked it.

Trendsetters like Arianna Huffington have cashed in on all the free-floating anxiety by getting well ahead of the game. Last year, the internet doyenne exited her famous website to found Thrive Global, which delivers corporate training that promises to make America’s employees happy and well-rested. With a little more sleep and meditation, she wagers, workers can forget about job insecurity, our nightmare health care system and fading dreams of retirement. The Thrive Global store offers $200 pajamas and “biologically correct” light bulbs in service to this noble vision.

Human beings, marketers realize, have deep urges to huddle and soothe themselves. Through all the 24/7 Trump-invested cable news and vitriolic social media platforms, people are understandably trying to remember the basics of who they are and what they need.  Trying out a fancy meditation studio is surely preferable to regressing into self-destruction via prescription drugs, but self-care doesn’t have to cost bundles; just about anyone can take a walk, listen to music, do deep breathing exercises, or hug somebody.

There’s a danger in turning solipsistically inward and relying on expansions of the market to counter the shrinkage of our social space, the destruction of our institutions and the despoliation of nature. The market ideology of competition, which roots us in crisis and struggle with one another, will not get us through this. No spa or superfood can release us from the grip of a distorted social order. We need something besides adult coloring books to reclaim our lives from alien markets and politicians.

The trend toward activism, for example, can combat feelings of powerlessness, and this doesn’t have to mean something as silly as “dressing for resistance” in a feminist T-shirt, as Vogue suggests. Volunteering can help restore positive social bonding that is more satisfying than relying on high-cost pseudo-communities.

When people are under stress, the default position is us v. them, and perhaps the greatest need is for liberals to stop embubbling themselves and acting as if entire regions of the country and populations of people are evil. Getting out of our small, self-reinforcing groups to listen to those whose lives have been decimated by the current system—like white, working-class Trump voters—will be a key ingredient in any social and economic transformation. Realizing that human beings everywhere are mostly pretty decent people just trying to deal with the vicissitudes of life is an existential tonic.

Liberals need to get a bit out of their comfort zones; otherwise the hucksters of happiness will be only too glad to peddle false cures for pathologies that will never be solved by a soy candle.

 

Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU, and she serves on the editorial board of Lapham’s Quarterly. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore. 

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

Sen. David Perdue

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) pulled out of his final debate against Democrat Jon Ossoff on Thursday —because he'd rather attend a Donald Trump campaign rally.

The Nov. 1 Senate debate was planned months ago, but Perdue's campaign said he could not participate as promised because he has been too busy doing his job.

"Senator Perdue will not be participating in the WSB-TV debate but will instead join the 45th president, Donald J. Trump, for a huge Get-Out-The-Vote rally in Northwest Georgia. For 8 of the last 14 days of this campaign, Senator Perdue went back to Washington to work for much needed COVID relief," his spokesperson John Burke said in a statement, referencing a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to pass Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) "skinny" $500 billion proposal.

"To make up for the lost time, Senator Perdue has over 20 campaign stops planned for the closing days of this race, and he is excited to welcome and join President Trump in Georgia before November 3rd to campaign for both of their re-election efforts," Burke added.

WSB-TV noted on Thursday that it offered Perdue's campaign other time slots to accommodate the Trump rally, but the overture was rebuffed.

Ossoff's campaign blasted Perdue's "cowardly withdrawal," saying in a statement that the move "says it all: David Perdue feels entitled to his office, and he'll do anything to avoid accountability for his blatant corruption and his total failure during this unprecedented health crisis."

The incumbent's decision to break his promise to debate came one day after a video of Jon Ossoff criticizing Perdue's anti-Obamacare record at a Wednesday debate went viral. As of Friday morning, a 72-second clip of Ossoff has been viewed more than 12 million times.

Perdue responded to that attack by making the odd claim that he repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which would take insurance away from hundreds of thousands of his constituents — because he believed doing so would cover more people.

"I voted against the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, because it was taking insurance away from millions of Georgians. Today almost 18 percent of Georgians don't have any health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act," he falsely claimed.

This is not the first time Perdue has put Trump ahead of the interests of Georgians. According to FiveThirtyEight, he has voted with Trump about 95 percent of the time, including backing his right-wing Supreme Court nominees, his tax cuts for large corporations and the very wealthy, and his repeated attempts to take money from military families to pay for a massive Southern border wall.

Medical experts and data analyses have suggested Trump's rallies have been super-spreader events for the coronavirus. Trump has refused to adhere to social distancing rules or to require mask usage at the events and the mass gatherings have frequently been immediately followed by case spikes in the communities where he holds them.

One poll this week found that voters across the country said they are less likely to vote for Trump because of his "large, in-person campaign rallies where wearing a mask is not required of attendees."

The race between Ossoff and Perdue is considered a "toss-up" by election experts, and polls show it as virtual tied.

If no candidate gets a majority on Tuesday, the top two finishers will face off in a January runoff.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.