There’s an old, obscure word that describes the mood of much of the country these days: Fantod.
Or more specifically: The fantods.
The fantods is a phrase that refers to a state of irritability, fidget and tension, or extreme nervous hysteria or unreasonable excitement.
My World War II-era New Century unabridged dictionary says it means “an uneasy or uncomfortable state of mind or body.”
While “fantod” can be a singular word, it normally appears in the plural from, “the fantods.” It’s somewhat similar to “the heebie-jeebies,” which refers to something giving us “the creeps.” But the phrase “the fantods” seems to imply that the person who is freaking out is doing so unreasonably. One possible origin is that it refers to sailors who saw phantoms at night while traveling dark oceans.
“You have got strong symptoms of the fantods; your skin is so tight you can’t shut your eyes without opening your mouth.” wrote author Charles Biggs, in his novel, “The Adventures of Harry Franco.”
Since Election Day, I have seen many examples of the fantods.
“How I ended up in a Psych Ward On Election Night,” was written for Huffington Post by a volunteer who had raised well over $100,000 for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, a man who left that big building with a glass ceiling on Election Night and checked himself into a place with padded walls.
It would be natural for a Clinton supporter to experience the fantods, especially considering how almost everyone was sure the only possible outcome of the election was a victory for her.
But lots of other people who normally respond to political news with humor also stood trembling after Trump’s win, like a sailor who has just seen a ghost ship.
“Sadness, anger and fear,” are the words late night TV host and former Saturday Night Live comedian Seth Meyers described his mood the day after the election. He went on to say that many, many other people are experiencing way worse cases of the fantods that he experienced.
“As a white man, my feelings are only a fraction of those of others,” he said.
Trevor Noah, who took over for Jon Stewart on the daily show, had the fantods even worse.
“I thought I wanted it over but now that it’s over I wish it was still going on because it turns out that the ending is even worse,” he said.
Noah went on to describe his symptoms as “wave after wave of nausea all week.”
“It’s 9 a.m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where we may soon want to live,” Noah continued. “It feels like the end of the world, you know…I don’t know how America can be this disorganized or this hateful.”
Comedian Dave Chappelle said, on Saturday Night Live: “If I could quit being black today, I’d be out of the game.”
The people who get paid to make us laugh about stuff like this became blubbering prophets of doom after Election Day.
Along with the comedians, many TV media people also experienced that unreasonable sense of freaking out.
“You are awake by the way,” said Rachel Maddow, who just a few months earlier, had sat in front of a camera with an electoral map and declared it was impossible for Trump to win, even if he had his best day, ever.
“You are not having a terrible, terrible dream, Also, you’re not dead and you haven’t gone to hell,” she said.
More of the fantods.
More people with skin so tight they can’t shut their eyes without opening their mouths.
My advice to those people – and to you, if you share their feelings: Relax. Enjoy the ride.
I was a Never Trumper, too. Still am. I was also Never Hillary, and will be again, if necessary. Anyone who says police shoot people for being black doesn’t deserve a stage or a vote.
But I don’t have the fantods. If anything, I enter Inauguration Week with a sense of amused curiosity.
Sure, the Trump administration could be a disaster, and his first two months of tweeting as President-Elect and his first press conference indicates that his public statements are likely to be as ridiculous as many of his campaign statements. But at least, many Americans enter the next four years pondering the possibility that things go terribly, terribly wrong. I was not yet born in 1964, when LBJ won office. But nobody expected the man who continued JFK’s legacy to lead us into the horrible quagmire of Vietnam in a way that left us no way out. Yet, that’s what happened. Nobody, in 1972, could have predicted that Nixon’s last term would end in the disaster of Watergate, coupled with a myriad of economic and international crises that would last through the seventies. Yet, it did.
So, why am I so optimistic? Or, at least, not predicting the end of the world?
First, the Trump election has people paying more attention to civics and government – something I have been yelling about for decades. For years, our young people could name every Karsdashian or “Jersey Shore” cast member or Miley Cyrus song but didn’t have any idea who their elected leaders were.
That’s changing. And I think it will continue to change.
Apparently, we had to let things slide so much that it took the election of a reality TV star as President for us to realize that reality TV is not, well, real.
Perhaps more of us will stop watching shows like “Judge Judy” and pointing at the screen and yelling, “What an idiot!” Perhaps more of us will start watching “Jeopardy” and realizing how much we, ourselves, have yet to learn.
Perhaps more of us will learn the names of our local and state leaders, as well as our members of Congress. Perhaps we will be able to name all of the members of the Supreme Court – which should be easier now, when there are only eight of them.
Another hopeful thing about this election was that money mattered less. Clinton spent nearly $1.5 billion, and Trump under $1 billion according to the Washington Post. Bloomberg, using different numbers, says Clinton and her supporters raised and spent almost $1.2 billion, nearly twice what was spent on Trump’s behalf.
One of the unique things about this election was that it got many first-timers involved in the process, from the very beginning. I spoke to several people who voted for the first time in the Iowa Caucuses. Many of these people have pledged to continue being involved from now on, and that’s a good thing.
And with these people, party mattered less; on both sides, members of the “political establishment” discovered that the sheer numbers of voters who paid no attention to them. This had the effect of putting more people in the hands of the individual voter — something our nation and its two main parties have desperately needed for decades.
And with more of us paying attention, things that normally bore us but have big implications will get our attention.
Maybe next time, it won’t take more than a decade to undo a ridiculous federal program like “No Child Left Behind.” Maybe next time, we will notice the impact of previously boring phrases like “solar panel tarriffs.”
A word of caution: Paying attention and getting involved includes listening to people who disagree with you. It means getting your information from a variety of news sources. It means realizing that your guy, or gal, is sometimes wrong. It means being able to laugh at your side when it deserves it. It means being a “happy warrior,” someone who can enjoy a political debate and remain friendly.
And for Trump supporters and advisers, it means: Passing this message of how to be a happy warrior on to him. For example, Trump should have replied to Meryl Streep, not by calling her “overrated,” but by praising her for defending the Committee to Protect Journalists, which issued a scathing report about how President Obama handled the media during his “most closed, control freak administration.”
Donald Trump, for sure, has not proven to be the best President-Elect a nation has ever had, and I expect the Committee to Protect Journalists will have some strongly-worded reviews of him. But as we prepare ourselves for his Inauguration, perhaps the question we need to be asking ourselves is: Are we the best, most well-informed, most involved citizens a President has ever had?
My belief that enough of us will answer that question affirmatively gives me a sense of optimism as we begin what seems certain to be a wild and wildly amusing ride on the Donald J. Trump White House Express.