Trump: moving forward
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” said Nietszche (and Kayne). Jon Haidt studied whether this adage holds true, and unsurprisingly ‘it depends’: we can grow from setbacks if we successfully make sense of them, specifically by answering: “Why did this happen?” and “What good might I derive from it?” This strikes me as a useful way to reason through Trump’s victory, pulling apart the reactionary horror, blanket generalities, demographic explanations, the failure of both polls and pundits, social commentaries, hypotheses, action plans…
At the end of the day we are all wrestling with: (1) what does it mean that the country chose to elect Trump, and (2) what might a Trump presidency mean for the country. After much reading (many links below) and reflecting, a somewhat odd emotional detachment as I try to process (a combo of shock and living unemployed in Thailand), and too many back-and-forths to keep up with, this is where I stand - for now, I hope you keep pushing my understanding further.
What does it mean that this country chose to elect Trump?
First, an important nit: we should be having the conversation “why ~45% of the country supported Trump” regardless of the outcome. As usual, Scott Anderson is right in pointing out that the 2% margin of victory either way should not define our shame or pride in country, or many other campaign narratives. While the win shocked us to these reflections, we already knew Trump had a lot of support and we should be talking about these issues even if HRC were our president-elect. That the narrative jumps from “so proud of the country for electing the first woman” to “so ashamed we elected a misogynist” due to a 2% swing is an example of how flawed our reasoning is, and it’s certainly not the only one.
We are not suddenly a more racist/misogynistic/xenophobic population, but we underestimate the fragility and recency of the progress we’ve made more than we realized
Yes, some of Trump’s supporters are racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic, and they see too much of those views in Trump.
That is not the majority of Trump supporters. In fact, it may be less than previous Republican candidates. Those I talked to went out of their way to say they disliked much of what he said.
However, knew of those views and supported him anyway, which represents either ignorance of the danger or indifference towards the injustice.
For all our problems today, it’s sometimes easy to forget we are just half a century past extreme and overt racism, sexism, and antisemitism being accepted, even at universities and other liberal bastions. These sentiments are still embedded in our society in mass; they are just below the surface now. We need to work to keep pushing them down until they are gone, not give them room to come up for air.
As a white man it’s hard for me to appreciate how this moment must feel to, in particular, latinos and arabs right now. It’s too tempting for us to brush off the extreme proposals and comparisons (e.g., to Hitler) as ‘that will never really happen here.’ To folks in targeted groups, that is viscerally wrong and offensive.
We’ve already started to see the effects of emboldened radicals. Do his supporters take some responsibility for this? Did they anticipate this and accept it as a trade-off, or is this a surprise?
We underestimated frustration with the status quo and undervalued it, which made them even more willing to toss it all out.
As great as the DNC was seemed, one thing was conspicuously absent: any real discussion of the problems, stagnation and hopelessness facing much of the country. The sentiments that were leading to the populist uprising were just flat out ignored by the HRC campaign throughout, as her message ironically focused people on division (through calling out specific minority group interests) and not a shared, unified and inclusive America.
This is a continuation. Obama’s cabinet in 2011 had just 1 person from a public university (aka experienced a diverse student body). How can the executive leadership effectively work for everyone with so little understanding of the majority of Americans? I don’t believe it’s possible.
Many Trump supporters didn’t even like him that much, in my conversations and other professionals’. They were willing to take the bad because the alternatives (status quo) was so far from their values and acceptability.
The dangers of Trump are/seem less to many of his supporters than to us.
Those with the most have the most to lose. Markets tanking, halting globalization, damaged foreign relations, cyber-crime - these seem catastrophic if you’re a cosmopolitan professional traveling/working internationally. Less so if you’re a community-focused middle-class family where jobs and other local institutions are coming undone.
While I think this is legitimate - we overstate the risks that that will disproportionately impact our group - the big risk is that it’s easier to tear down a system than build one up. Anarchy is worse than a broken system, which isn’t usually evident to populist movements.
It’s well past time we grasp that we (humans) do not make important decisions logically; we do it based on instinct, emotion and confirmation bias.
This is now established scientific fact. Read The Righteous Mind (or other modern psych). We have an instinctual preference, then use our reasoning to justify it. This is remarkably dependable, with terrifying consequences; if you’re reading this thinking either (a) I don’t buy this, or (b) this happens for others but not me, please read more on this topic.
Trump knew that facts don’t matter in an election, and that creating a narrative that drives emotion does. Hillary was awful at this - I’m pretty informed and often got lost in her logic and details. (In fact, not only do facts not matter but the words themselves barely do. )
This is equally true both ways, liberal and conservative. It may play out differently but this is not a story of “ignorant voters defrauded by Trump vs. the rational voters who supported Hillary.”
We all are biased. Those of us supporting Clinton ignore many of her flaws too because they didn’t fit the narrative we liked.
IQ is correlated with how well people argue, but only in ‘my-side’ arguments; “people invest their IQ in buttressing their own case rather than in exploring the entire issue more fully and evenhandedly.”
Less educated voters may be more prone to outright manipulation, like Trump’s lies or the applause for Palin after nonsensical sentences.
More educated voters, on the other hand, are more likely to be overconfident, finding a ‘makes sense’ justification for a preference that masquerades as unbiased reasoning. Hence the 'smug' label.
We live in an echo chamber where it’s nearly impossible to push past these emotional reactions via discussion
How many people do you know that (openly) voted for Trump? How many civil conversations have you had about the issues?
This goes both ways too - in Mississippi, everyone was shocked we supported Hillary. They didn’t know anybody who did, and couldn’t understand how we could support a politician so crooked.
In our homes and online we are so surrounded by like-minded people - and so reticent to debate our currently-held views - that we refuse to let real reasoning develop, either individually or as a society
Our approach to ‘the other side’ is broken
The level of disagreement plus the shock at the outcome is all the proof we need of how ineffective our understanding and engagement is.
Whether Trump’s supporters endorse views we disagree with because they are ill-intentioned vs. misinformed vs. just represent a different valid perspective, we can’t even know - because we don’t talk anymore.
Until we fix that and can know, we’re far better off assuming the latter and starting a constructive dialogue to get to the bottom of the disagreement, rather than continuing to assume evil and gearing up for a fight.
Which brings us to...
What could a Trump victory mean? What can we derive from it?
Our government will endure; this is a setback, but we really don’t know much yet
As Obama said, the sun will rise on Jan 21 and we will vote again in 2 years. Yes, the last 4 terms have consolidated more executive power, but we still have branches and a federated government.
We also don’t really know what Trump wants to do. We just know what he said to win the campaign, which he will feel no attachment to later on (for better or worse).
Rather than fear the nebulous ‘madman’ in all forms, let’s focus first on apparently real dangers: protecting civil rights, privacy, and climate. And recognize that his outlandish stances even on these may be negotiating tactics, anchoring on the extremes to get away with his goals at the negotiating table.
Written later: okay, some (much) of the news in the last couple weeks scares me into not believing this...but still, he’s surveying the country to see what to focus on, so there’s a lot to figure out. Which brings us to...
There may be some opportunities to uncover?
Trump’s victory was if anything an assault on the entrenched. He did it through something closer to direct democracy than we’ve ever seen, transferring power to voters and away from money'd interests
It’s hard to remember, but this campaign season kicked off with Larry Lessig’s democratic primary run on a platform of campaign finance reform, a reaction against Citizens United that many on the far left (including me) embraced excitedly. Different approach, but similar goals: reducing elite control.
Trump is not a traditional conservative, so is not a natural opponent of every left position. Especially as he and his team learn politics, is there an opportunity to channel his impulse to make things happen quickly into action on the things we (partially) agree on?
We (self-described progressives) desperately need to examine ourselves critically and change, not fight:
Newsroom had it right: “if liberals are so smart how come you lose so god damn always.” Our smugness screwed us, and we need to shore up our blindspots. We think we are the informed. But we're so out of touch with those who disagree with us that we're shocked when we actually investigate.
Individual freedoms, cities and globalization were riding high - all things liberals are acutely aware of with such attention on the individual and humanity. But conservatives have a much better sense of the importance of in-between institutions (family, communities, local gov, employers) that bind society together to let it function, and those are crumbling. Let’s stop our blindness to that.
We think we are the open and tolerant. But our response to 47% of the country disagreeing is to secede? That is laughably hypocritical, and would be funny except the irony is lost on most. Tolerance of minority groups that you are fine with is not tolerance; it just is being. True tolerance is accepting real difference; are we going to be pluralist or not? Are we going to live up to ‘e pluribus unum’ or hide out in an intolerant, homogenous bubble ourselves?
We think we have truth on our side. And we might (but we might not, let's at least learn the other side). But fighting with logic does not work anyway. You attack someone’s position and their first thoughts are defensive, entrenching them further. It generates sympathy (support) from others, too. If progressives are the party of enlightenment and science, can we embrace the science and start engaging with narrative and vision rather than cold logic that convinces nobody?
Instead, we should be cheering those who join and try to help Trump. He’s got thousands of open staff positions (because he didn’t realize Obama’s staff didn’t just stay), so this is a huge chance to limit damage and create opportunity.
We need to break down the echo chamber and ENGAGE
What does work to change people’s minds, if not logical arguments? Discussion with friends or people you trust, over time, can let people learn without being defensive, hear new perspectives without bias, realize the flaws in their own views, and adapt.
The problem is, there’s nobody around us to engage with anymore. We have sorted ourselves so completely into ideologically homogenous groups in all parts of life that we don’t even have anywhere to turn for diversity of thought or constructive discussion.
This is the most fundamental problem with the USA today, and must be solved before anything else can be. Otherwise anything we accomplish will be informed by and solved for one part of America, not the whole country. This goes both ways. Hopefully i’ll have more to contribute on this in ‘projects’ later this year...
I’ve oscillated between terrified and hopeful, and right now I’m the latter. Watching the arch of content on Facebook posts and major media swing from outrage and disgust to circumspection, resolution and constructionism has been heartening. There is much to be wary of, for sure. I just hope we remember that we are fighting for values and can be thoughtful about how we do that, which probably doesn’t mean 'fighting' against Trump or his supporters.