Well, It happened. The unthinkable. The unprecedented. How? Why? I was just as shocked as everyone else in Liberal Seattle. However, as I read tweet after tweet and article after article proclaiming that Americans are racist misogynist bigots, I couldn’t help but feel like people are missing the point. In fact, I think that knee-jerk reaction, that blindness to the possibility of other, rational reasons for the election, is part of the problem.
Americans Are Forgiving
Yes, we can stand around all day and talk about how so many Americans are finger-pointing hypocrites, and how bible belt Christians are a bunch of judgemental assholes. And I am sure we can easily find many, many examples.
Left or right, atheist or fundamentalist. Black, white, and brown. One of the defining traits of Americans our ability to forgive and forget. Maybe we’re selective in who we choose to forgive and when, but it’s real. Our collective memories are much shorter than other countries, which allowed us as a nation to move forward and become fast friends with former enemies. It’s part of our history, in our books and television and movies. It’s why we shake hands after ball games, make kids shake hands after a playground scuffle, or share a beer with that person you had a run-in with. I am not such a cynic to believe that this noble aspect of our national character has been lost.
So is it possible that Americans forgave Trump of his personal failings, rather than condone them? Irrespective of whether he ‘deserves’ forgiveness, can this be a possibility? For some at least? Think on it.
Americans Are Tired of Political ‘Insiders’
From the very beginning, Hillary was The Candidate. Sanders, despite (or perhaps because of) his liberal credentials, was treated like a delusional coot, and none of the others were given any time or respect. She was the only Serious Candidate. I felt it. Maybe I’m just reading into things, but my job for the past 20+ years was in advertising and design, so I know when I’m being sold. And guess what? So do other people, especially when they’ve seen that song and dance before and are tired of it. In other words, she was The Establishment.
Trump has never held office, and the entire RNC seemed to be against him. You can’t get much more outside than that.
Through the entire election, we were constantly reminded of Clinton’s political shenanigans–everything from media collusion (getting the debate questions early), DNC collusion (Debbie Wassermann Schultz and the party sabotaging the primaries in Clinton’s favor), the Clinton Foundation getting millions from the worst human-rights violators in the world, to Clinton’s huge paid speaking engagements from the very forces that caused the 2007 financial crisis. Hell, we can go further back than that, with Clinton moving to Harlem in order to become a senator in the first place. Really? Harlem? Not Arkansas, or Illinois where she grew up? No, she moved to the place she had the best chance of winning, not to a place where she was actually a part of the community. It worked. But don’t think people didn’t see the cold, political calculation there. Whether or not there was any wrongdoing on Clinton’s part is irrelevant, it all demonstrates how much a part of the system she is. The message was that she was beholden to money and power, and would do anything for money and power. That’s who she serves, not the people. This is the message that Clinton’s campaign failed address with the Sanders supporters, with catastrophic effects.
Meanwhile Trump was constantly hammered for his personal failings, but then again, who isn’t flawed? Who hasn’t said or done stupid, thoughtless things? Is it really so hard to see how people can sympathize with that and not be a sexist or racist? Sure, he hob-knobbed with the political elite, but he spun that brilliantly–the politicians answered to him, not vice versa. Trump gamed the system, which is a tremendously appealing message. Trump serves himself, which, selfish as it is, is a sentiment that almost every American sympathizes with, if not tries to do every day. Who doesn’t want the most tax breaks they can get? Who wouldn’t like to default on their loan to some corporate fat-cat bank? Who wouldn’t want this or that politician at their beck and call? While there is no real connection between what Trump does and what normal people do, or will ever be capable of doing, that would be to miss the point entirely.
Where do you think the Tea Party got it’s real power from? You can point to the RNC/Rove/Koch being Dr. Frankenstein all you want, but the fact is the movement tapped into a very real, very strong discontent. And just like Frankenstein’s monster, it spiraled out of the control of the people who conceived it. The right failed to realize how powerful that discontent was, which is why they wound up with Trump. Look at all their candidates. A bunch of neo-con talking heads… who were still clearly toeing the Party Line, trying to appeal to The Monster… and missing the point. Like the French putting all their faith in the Maginot Line, they were one war behind in their strategy and paid the price. However, unlike the Democrats, they were smart enough to realize they had to go with it or risk serious voter backlash. Look at how many Republicans had to back peddle on their criticisms of Trump or risk being voted out. They learned. And they now hold a majority in both the House and the Senate as well as the Presidency.
On the other hand, the democrats failed to accurately read the political climate… and are still failing to do so. Some of the voices that are crying sexism and racism now are the same exact people who condemned the Sanders supporters for continuing to protest Clinton. Lesson. Not. Learned.
Political Insiders Part 2
The sad thing is that this is nothing new. It is a lesson the DNC failed to learn in 2008. The distrust of political insiders is the reason I believe Obama (a first term senator from Hillary’s home state) won. How could he be perceived as anything but a political outsider at the time? A black man whose entire message revolved around doing things differently, about how his campaign and his presidency would not be about business as usual. His campaign financing (for his first run) was eye-opening–setting records for small donations and grass-root support. Against all odds, he beat… Hillary Clinton, the political insider, for the nomination. Has everyone forgotten how shocking it was? Does any of that sound familiar?
If this country is as sexist and racist as everyone says it is, then its distrust of the political establishment is even stronger, otherwise Obama’s election makes no sense. Well, the lesson the DNC learned was that they had to do things differently in order to made sure their establishment candidate got the nod… and the country wound up with the president it deserves, if not needs. Well done DNC. Well done.
Ever come across someone who really wants to try their thing, and can’t seem to take “not interested” for an answer? The exchange usually goes something like this:
YOU: Hey, you see that new Marvel movie yet? It’s really great!
THEM: Nah. Never read comic books growing up.
YOU: That doesn’t matter. Maybe you should watch The Dark Knight first. It’s dark and gritty and more grounded in reality.
THEM: I don’t think so. I just don’t like superheros.
YOU: How can you say that? What, do you hate having fun? You haven’t even seen any superhero movies! Just give it a shot! You’ll change your mind.
THEM: Look, I fucking hate your nerdy childish superhero bullshit. Get out of my face with that before I pull your underwear over your head and give you a swirly!*
Notice how there was never a question as to why they don’t like superhero movies? How it’s not really a dialog? Any of this sound familiar?
When people do not feel like they are being heard, or their preferences are dismissed, or their concerns are not addressed, they don’t become more inclined to agree with you, but less. This person might actually have liked that superhero movie, but because of the hard sell, they went from merely uninterested to hating superhero movies. No one likes being told how they’re supposed to feel about something.
And yet, almost from the very beginning, people were told that if they liked Trump, they were wrong. People who continued to support Sanders were called ignorant, delusional, irrational, or even traitors. Then later on, Trump supporters were (and are currently being) called racist and sexist. It doesn’t matter that these messages weren’t part of Clinton’s official campaign, but you can’t say it was discouraged. And just like people don’t like being told how they’re supposed to feel, they don’t like being double-guessed as to their reasoning or motivations, either.
In many ways, Clinton ran a textbook campaign. She said all the things and avoided all the things she was supposed to, and in so doing, spoke around and ignored the one thing that I believe most concerned voters. It was a hard sell, and people didn’t buy.
There are a lot of sexists in this country. There are a lot of racists in this country. And people surely place their votes based on these prejudices. But to simplify the current socio-political situation to this blanket pronouncement is not only another kind of prejudice, but is cynical, unhelpful, and dangerous oversimplification. If we want a future where we elect educated, informed, and moral representatives of the people, we need to rise above fear, cynicism and our own personal biases. We need an unbiased media that is not beholden to power (whatever side of the aisle it’s on), we need to exercise our power on a state and local level, and we need to continue to demand accountability at all levels, and not be distracted by the crumbs they give us for fear of getting nothing.
If we want more of our government we need to ask more of ourselves. Have a knee-jerk reaction? Stop an think about it. Why did you have it? What facts are your response based on, or is it simply something that feels emotionally true? We all need to become more involved in our communities and government. We need to educate ourselves on the issues. We need to put down our iPhones and get off Facebook and take time for introspection and personal reflection. We need to educate others, not harangue them. Listen and hear dissenting viewpoints rather than dismissing them. When those viewpoints are not based on fact, find the emotional truths behind them. Learn the correct, sometimes hard lessons, rather than falling back on platitudes that enable us to be dismissive of results we don’t like.
Obama telling crowds to chill out and stop booing a Trump supporter was too little, too late. And you can’t use the vitriol and violence inspired by Trump to justify vitriol and intolerance on the other side. You either stand for freedom of expression or you don’t. Name calling isn’t a fist in the face, but it is another form of violence. If you don’t believe me, go find a random black man and call him a nigger and see what happens. And the opposite of violent or vitriolic rhetoric is not to ignore it like you would a misbehaving child, but compassion, engagement, and treating people with basic human respect. In general, people do not get angry or frustrated for obscure or abstract ideological reasons, but for understandable human ones. Find out what they are. Don’t just dismiss those feelings with a wave of the hand and blanket pronouncements on the content of their character.
We can not become so jaded as to allow only those who game the system or seek to stack the system against us to participate in it. It is asking a lot of each and every one of us, but it is no more and no less than what the founders of our country did. If we are not willing to set aside our personal self interest for this country as they did, how can we expect our elected officials to do so?
* I was going to say that last bit was an exaggeration, but when you see the hate Hillary engenders, it clearly isn’t.
Great analysis Terry – and good advice.