Forty-eight hours have passed since we all learned the shocking outcome of the presidential race. How can those of us who voted for Hillary Clinton (or who were at least so against Donald Trump that they refused to vote) stomach the election of a racist, misogynist, spoiled Wall Street brat to the highest office? More importantly, how could half of the electorate consciously vote such a divisive figure into office? Has the world (well, at least half of the American voting public) gone mad? Perhaps even more surprising than the event itself was the phenomenal outpouring of grief, rage, sadness and despair on my FB timeline, comparable to what I would imagine the reaction would have been (had Facebook been around) in November 1963 or September 2001.
As the initial shock wore off, another reality appeared: the pure hatred and vitriol on my timeline, aimed at all of those “racist misogynist xenophobes” who voted for Trump. In fact, the general tone was even more divisive than many of the comments made by the Donald himself. Is this really true? Do we truly believe that there are 60,068,599 racist misogynists (as of this writing – source: cnn.com) living in our country? Or that 42% of women voted purely against their own self-interest? I refuse to believe so. Could it be true that many of these are common, decent people who simply voted for change, or voted for Trump only because they couldn’t/wouldn’t vote for Clinton? How many of you voted for Clinton because you couldn’t/wouldn’t vote for Trump? I know I did. The fact that the race was so close (in fact, again as of this writing, Clinton has 400,000 more votes than Trump, tighter than the 2000 election) means that we have a truly divided nation.
Many (me included) had an additional reaction: let’s separate the “sane” coasts from the backward, reactionary “fly-over” states who overwhelmingly voted red on Tuesday. I even entertained the crazy notion of a large North American inverted “U”: west coast states + Canada + eastern seaboard (sorry Canadian friends to assume that any of you would even consider such an invasion from the south). So I took a brief look at the numbers. On Tuesday, 20 states + the District of Columbia voted for Clinton, and 30 voted for Trump (Michigan is still up for grabs, but I’m counting it as a “blue” win given’s Clinton lead by 12,000 votes as of this writing). The blue states represent 52% of GDP, and red states 48%. So, if we really divided the country into blue and red, our ability to project power around the world (or to advance democracy, liberal values and environmental protection/climate control) would be halved.
At the same time, red states represent 54% of the total population, and blue states 46% (all population (2015 estimate) and GDP figures (2015 actual) are from Wikipedia.com: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_and_territories_by_population ,
Dividing these numbers, the average GDP per capita for red states is 23% lower than that of the blue states ($64,843 vs. $50,028). So clearly, we have an economic divide, and not just social. In addition, those of you glued to CNN like I was early Wednesday morning could see John King click on red county after red county in the suburban/rural parts of swing states, and blue counties around metropolitan centers such as Philadelphia, Pittsburg and Madison.
Looking further, I went back to my timeline, and tried to see how many alternative views I had (people who are happy about the outcome); I found fewer than five (out of several hundred friends). Here comes the other “external” factor in this election – the power of the Facebook selection algorithm. When the expression of common views was limited to/focused on radio talk shows or extremist (on either side of the spectrum) web sites, people on each side of this divide found comfort in strangers with common views. Facebook’s selection algorithm makes sure that each of us is seeing what FB thinks we want to see, further strengthened by the fact that what we are reading or watching was either created or shared by people we know (as opposed to radio talk-show callers or comments by strangers on websites). This reinforces our belief that anyone who matters thinks the way we do, as opposed to those crazies who think otherwise. Is this truly the behavior each of us wants to exhibit? We accuse Trump followers of demonizing “others” – aren’t we doing the same?
I watched neither Trump’s acceptance, nor Hillary’s concession speeches. I did, however, watch President Obama’s speech, and he once again displayed all of the character of the strength of his presidency, and of the resilience of our democracy. Because think what you will of the outcome of this election, it was pure democracy in action. In many, many other countries around the world, the combination of the administrative powers of the incumbent party and the outright support of mass media in favor of that party’s candidate, would have led to the election of Hillary Clinton. That it didn’t, without hanging chads or extremely controversial Supreme Court decisions, shows the power of the system. This election exposed not the failure of our form of government, but the failure of our ability to understand the divide between the two sides of the Sierra mountains and Appalachian hills, between metropolitan areas and the large suburban sprawls and rural areas, between haves and have-nots. While it’s true that Donald Trump exposed some of the worst in who we are and what we believe in, he also spoke for many others who feel lost in this world of increasing globalism and a national discourse defined and led by “cosmopolitan elites”. For an excellent treatise on this last point, I urge you to read George Packer’s article appearing in a pre-election edition of the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/31/hillary-clinton-and-the-populist-revolt . So, while I abhor much of what Donald Trump said, and cannot come to terms with the beliefs and value systems of the most controversial and extremist segments of his supporters, I will not fall into the trap of demonizing – or worse yet, of ignoring – the entire 19% of my fellow citizens who voted for him.
I’ll close with two thoughts: 1) while I believe that Donald Trump’s election is not as damaging to the domestic path of our nation, I am incredibly worried about the impact it will have on our foreign policy, which has far, much darker implications for the world we live in – and this will be the subject of my next post; 2) If nothing else, we saw the implosion of the Tea Party: who would you rather have appoint the next two Supreme Court justices – Donald Trump, Paul Ryan, Mark Rubio or Ted Cruz?
Title is from the R.E.M song of the same name (Album: Document, 1987)