Mexico City, Mexico
I write this at an interesting time.
I like to use this blog to reflect on cultural experiences – small things here and there that I don’t understand about the world, but really enjoy trying to. Living in a foriegn place is a great opportunity to self-analyze a bit.
This is my first US presidential election outside of the US – I’ve been gone for a little over a year now – and though I would have liked best to sit this one out (like most elections), my surroundings haven’t really afforded me that for the simple reason that there is a Donald Trump and I live in Mexico.
At the time of this writing – 2:45pm on Election day – it looks pretty unlikely that Trump will win if the polls are to be believed. Now, I haven’t been on the internet yet today, so I don’t think I’ll know anything until tonight where I will party with a bunch of Mexicans until I softly weep over the silliness our country seems to have evolved into.
Trump’s early comments about Mexican immigrants (the one where he famously alluded to their being rapists and criminals) set the tone early on for his character in the eyes of this country: a simple bigot. Since then, of course, every Mexican wants to talk about Trump. They all want to hate him, and they want to make sure that I do too.
More so, though, they want to understand how a country like the US – one that most of them admire – could support the candidacy of such a person.
I’ll admit, I don’t really know the answer to the question, but with the question raised, I’m afraid that starting tomorrow, we’re all going to have to figure it out, and that is going to take some soul-searching. More importantly, it is going to take some listening.
So since I’m prematurely (and with a sense of relief) resigned to what I believe is the inevitable defeat of Trump, I think that it is fitting to take this moment to thank him.
The Basket of Deplorables
The defining moment, for me, of the Trump race hasn’t really been been him, it’s been her. In a moment of absent mindedness – or simple cruelty – Hilary Clinton slapped us all back to reality (if only for a moment) when she put words to what we all may have been thinking but couldn’t admit to ourselves.
“You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?”
– Hillary Clinton
Wow, when you put it so bluntly, doesn’t it feel a little, you know, narrow minded?
After today, Trump will go take some weeks off on a yacht to lick his wounds and then, I don’t know, buy some more real estate and work his way toward the next billion, but the Trump supporters will still be there, and we’ll have to face all of the nasty and dismissive things that we’ve thought and said about them. Unwarranted things. Untrue things. We’ve covered our ears and sat in the corner rocking back and forth telling each other that they’re just deplorable white trash that don’t deserve to have their voices heard.
She may have later apologized, but we all know that not only did she feel an err of truth to these words, but that a lot of us did. And that is scary.
We have to thank Trump first because before him, these people were invisible to us. It isn’t easy for us to believe – as we go to work with our lefty friends, co-workers, and classmates congratulating each other in an endless echo-chamber of our own moral superiority – that we’ve been unempathetic. It is hard to admit that in our own blustering steps forward, zealously pushing our worldview, we’ve over-stepped bounds, offended moral sensibilities, and ostracized 45%* of the US population without even noticing.
We’d like to believe that we’re the educated class – with our degrees and our “emotional intelligence,” but when I scroll through my facebook wall I don’t see honest discussions of what “sensible” immigration policy means, or conversations addressing the concerns that Trump supporters have. Instead, I see endless ad-hominems: mostly an ever-growing scientism to prove that they’re all “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” trash that is ‘thankfully… not America.’
But while bigotry may not be America, Trump supporters America are. Sitting here on election day, looking at the election forecast, (I went ahead and pulled it up to write this) Trump is expected to see 45% of the popular vote. I’m not convinced that 45% of the US population is racist, misogynistic, or simple white trash… and that is a problem.
Its a problem because racism is great. If someone is a racist, we can dismiss them as a bad person and keep patting ourselves on the back for being such great people. If, however, a simple ad-hominem attack on the Trump supporter falls short, we face something much scarier: we’re going to actually have to consider that these are real people with real fears and real concerns. We may even have to admit that they’re right about some things – some things that we’ve closed ourselves off to.
We’ve seen some interesting things these past few years, not the least of which has been the “no-platforming” tactic. Simply put, the logic behind no-platforming is this: rather than debate your opponents, you simply don’t allow them to speak.
Unsurprisingly, the tactic has varying degrees of success in different atmospheres. It has proven to be effective on college campuses where the faculty and student body tend to be of the same worldview. In these instances, the alternate view is seen as “offensive,” or even “threatening,” and invitations to speak are forcibly revoked. This suppression of speach is scary, but there is something much scarier.
In the social media spheres, we’ve seen more interesting no-platforming tendency. There are the subtle examples, of course, such as algorithms that favor content that we’re likely to agree with, but also more disappointing ones: this past year, we saw a facebook plug-in that will tell you which of your friends like a different candidate so you can un-friend them.
Reflect on that for a minute.
Tomorrow – after this is all over, think back to all of the people you know (maybe even yourself) that purposely removed an opposing voice from their sphere of influence. Five years ago, we thought the biggest problem facing freedom of thought was media bias, but given the opportunity, we self-identify challenging worldviews and purposefully remove them from our lives to perpetuate our own feelings of moral superiority. We could listen and debate, but we don’t want to!
Here are things that are not going away tomorrow: Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, Feminism, Mens’ Rights Activism, Refugees, Immigrants, the NSA, China, Russia, climate change, the erosion of US manufacturing jobs, the increased automation of working class jobs, student debt, credit card debt, a poor education system, the influence of money on politics, the rise in single parenthood, crushing healthcare costs… and those are just the problems that face the US.
Hilary can’t solve these problems, and the Republicans didn’t even put up a serious candidate this time around, but to a certain extent, that is irrelevant. It is naive for a people to believe that a single human can be the solution to social issues – they aren’t society, we are.
Not only have we proven that we’re unable to solve these problems, but we’ve shown that we’re not even capable of discussing them without either ignoring the conversations altogether or shouting people down for being “racists,” or a host of other (mostly untrue) ad-hominem attacks to silence them.
So thanks Donald,
I was talking recently with a friend about drugs. There is a commonly repeated piece of advice when taking mushrooms or other hallucinogenics: don’t look in the mirror, you might really see yourself. Yourself for who you really are. All of the beauty, yes, but all of the ugliness too. You’ll see the worst parts of yourself – not only physically, but your most deep-seeded insecurities, every shitty thing you’ve ever thought, said, or done.
Trump has been that mirror for America.
We’ve called him thin-skinned, but he showed us our own vulnerability. He showed us how a little tweet here, a little smirk there, could bring not just the congress, but the whole country into childish nastiness and chaos. He also showed us a group of people that the political right has abandoned and the political left isn’t interested in.
It isn’t that he played the media like a fiddle – it’s that he played us all, showing us the worst versions of ourselves that we could be. Because even those of us that haven’t repeated bombastic things on social media – even those of us that haven’t gone to the Bernie or the Clinton rallies and re-posted every annoying lefty article on facebook – know that we’ve trivialized and denigrated the Trump supporters. We’ve laughed at their expense and used it to serve our own self esteem.
That is truly ugly.