Many of my friends are really upset about the 2016 election. Rather than speaking off the cuff, I’d rather point them here to read some tactfully-prepared comments which I hope will help. Disclaimer: I didn’t vote in this election and wouldn’t have voted for any of the known candidates. There was so much anger, fear, and bitterness motivating support for these candidates, and it contrasted so drastically with my personal experience of 2016, that I felt it best to stay out of it all.
However I do read and think about culture and politics a lot (perhaps too much), so maybe my perspective isn’t worthless.
Based on what you’ve seen, you might decide that old bitter racists got mad at brown people and voted in a Nazi. If this is what you believe then yeah, there is reason to be scared for the future. But I don’t think it is accurate. Here are some of the actual reasons why half the country voted for Trump, all pretty much baseless and off the top of my head.
Reason 1: History and Demographics
The Industrial Revolution is long over, and now the next one is in full swing. Centuries ago, when machinery was invented to perform tasks that had required raw human strength, the displaced laborers caused a stir, burning down factories and I expect getting all up in the politics of the day. In part, this is the same effect on a much larger scale. These days the machines don’t only do the heavy lifting, they do the fine details too. And many industries that used to require physical manipulation simply don’t anymore, because pure information is easier to work with. This means there is a whole generation, the last industrial generation, with nothing left to do. It’s sad. While the young people were going to college and preparing for the new high-tech information service economy, these old people have had basically no prospects, and nobody in politics has been sympathetic to them in a long time. Whether or not he can do anything about this, Trump was speaking directly to them the whole time, and he flipped lots and lots of the industrial-generation folks who had voted for Democrats their whole lives. You can take issue with these people believing that protectionism is a viable solution to their problems, but nobody else was proposing anything new to them.
Reason 2: Racist (etc) White People
OK, yeah, some white people are bigots. Most of those people jumped right on board. You can find their writings online (…or maybe spray-painted on a wall in your neighborhood) if you know where to look, but keep in mind that trolls like to masquerade as those people too. More importantly, your garden-variety racist with a low opinion of Muslims has never had a Muslim friend. Their bigotry is usually born from fear, which is born from ignorance. The proper response is outreach and pity, not ostracism and smugness.
Reason 3: Smugness
On the flip side, many of you have never had an old working-class rust-belt friend. You don’t understand them, and neither do the media folks who have been trashing their culture for decades. For example, the media has played up the racism angle to an unfair degree. Factory workers, coal miners, and evangelicals are people too, many of them smart and interesting people, and while they might not know everything, neither do you. If you have the stomach for it, read this prophetic piece and try to imagine how these folks have seen the coastal elites behave for decades. A surprising number of young college-educated people voted for Trump too, and I’ll bet more than a few did so because they simply picked the side with less smug behavior.
Reason 4: Corruption
I mean come on, by 2016 the Bush-Clinton family was as incestuous and rotten as the last generations of the Holy Roman Empire. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump weren’t particularly fond of him, they just couldn’t stand another anointed Yale scion being paraded around in front of them by Turner Media and the National Broadcasting Corporation. Many of them would have voted for Bernie Sanders if he was on the ticket.
OK, that explains a lot, but we still have an impolite egomaniac with no political experience as president, we’re doomed!
Maybe, yeah, but probably not. America has been through a lot, and most people (yes even the Trump voters) are still basically good people.
What can you do to help? First, make friends outside your comfort zone. This situation is partly the result of years of people shutting out everyone and everything that makes them uncomfortable. We cannot function in the long term as a society where everyone does this. Understand that other people can arrive at other decisions that you don’t like or even hate, and you can still respect them as people. Also once you know them better, you will understand where they’re coming from, and you’ll even have a chance to sell them your ideas.
Second, don’t get disheartened. If you believe in something keep fighting for it. But again always respect your opponents as people, and remember how badly the “smug bullying” tactic just backfired. Play the long game. Be polite, but annoying, and keep it up for a long time. If you are on to a good idea and you can rally long-term support it will win out in the end.
Third, if you are still worried about the nightmare Nazi scenario, exercise your right to bear arms. Never incite violence, but remember that the very best insurance against fascism is a well-armed populace. Regardless of who might actually attempt a fascist coup, the gun-owning basically good Americans will be right there with you fighting shoulder to shoulder if necessary (which we all hope and pray it will never be).
Finally, read more books from the past. Civilization has been around a long time, and in most ways things are better than they have ever been. That won’t change. Your fears about a Republican Supreme Court making over-the-counter contraception illegal might be justified, but keep in mind that we aren’t talking about throwing people in jail for adultery. Maybe some immigrant families will be broken up, which is very sad, but the public is only going to tolerate this policy if they prioritize dangerous criminals like any old law-and-order administration. So if you’re here in America illegally, uh, you probably want to drive exactly the posted speed limit for the next few years.
Future progress for minorities and women and gays needs to be made overwhelmingly in the social sphere, where government will not be involved no matter who is president. Don’t take this political event as a sign that things can only get worse from here. And one day, probably in your lifetime, that last glass ceiling will indeed be cracked.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
– Martin Luther King Jr.