The tragedy of what happened last night has many facets and factors, but the one thing I come back to is something that’s unfathomable to me. A significant portion of this country, a portion that is white, rural, and uneducated, decided to hand this country over to an alleged sexual predator who lied his ass off for the better part of a year while insulting, degrading and scapegoating millions of people in this country whose only “crime” was being of a different ethnicity or religion. The fact that 48 percent of voters went in this direction is a disgrace, and the fact they rewarded a populism based in bigotry has the potential to be a breaking point in civil discourse.
And maybe it should be.
Back in May, I wrote a piece about the similarities between the dominant theme among many prestige television shows over the past 20 years and Donald Trump’s appeal to white voters. In many of the top-tier programs (e.g, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, etc.) during this period, the protagonists have usually been antiheroes characterized as white men frustrated by their circumstances. Donald Trump’s rise as a candidate has been built upon support from people who are often white, male, and without college degrees. In surveys, members of this group are more likely to say they’re more angry than other demographic groups. They also feel their financial situation is not what they thought it would be when they were younger, and think their current lot in life is a function of circumstances beyond their control. In short, it’s a group ripe to hear a power fantasy about how life can be made “great again” and things can be the way they should be, if only we’d do some things in the worst possible ways.
Many people will argue this election turned on Hillary Clinton’s flaws, the failure of the Obama coalition to turnout, or the Democratic party’s inability to connect with blue collar white voters and their frustrations. But, to me, this is the point in the movie where someone looks at the people who took 30 pieces of silver with utter disbelief and contempt. If, at the end of the day, the only rationalization a whole lot of white voters can manage for fucking over millions is the empty promises of a proven liar about nonexistent manufacturing jobs which he’ll protect from nonexistent Mexican murderers and rapists with his nonexistent wall, then that’s fucking despicable.
Moreover, I’m just tired. I’m tired of trying to reason with people who won’t be reasonable. I’m tired of trying to persuade people who see ignorance as a virtue. And, most of all, I’m tired of the people who make excuses for why this slice of America isn’t full of ignorant bigots. If we’re ever going to move forward, it’s time to fight lies with cold hard truths.
From David Remnick of The New Yorker:
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism. Trump’s shocking victory, his ascension to the Presidency, is a sickening event in the history of the United States and liberal democracy. On January 20, 2017, we will bid farewell to the first African-American President—a man of integrity, dignity, and generous spirit—and witness the inauguration of a con who did little to spurn endorsement by forces of xenophobia and white supremacy. It is impossible to react to this moment with anything less than revulsion and profound anxiety.
Recently, I was having a conversation with someone who is very dear to me which went kinda sideways. She asked my opinion on vaccinations, since a friend of hers had decided not to vaccinate their child while parroting the usual anti-vax nonsense of we can’t be “100 percent sure” about safety. Of course, it’s not 100 percent safe to drive a car from point A to B, but hundreds of millions of people do it every day—sometimes with their children. So, I decided to be honest with her and not sugar-coat things, by saying I thought it was really “dumb” to purposely withhold inoculation from a child, and went through the various ways it was dumb while using that actual word. And not only is it a situation loaded with a lot of dumb, but it’s also dangerous to public health.
No matter how many facts I had in my arsenal, or the rightness of my argument, the only word which seemed to be heard was “dumb,” and that was the hill I ended up fighting a losing battle on. She was offended I had used the d-word, and retreated into fallacy and asking why I was being so judgmental. Nothing irritates me more than trying to have a conversation with someone, and their response to facts and logic is to look at me with a grin while saying: “Well, I just don’t feel that way.” As if their feelings are a legitimate defense to reason, and should be coddled and never confronted.
And that's sorta the feeling I get from many Trump voters, especially the white rural ones that came out in droves. According to them, Trump is gonna make America great again. How? They don't know. And all that stuff about xenophobia and misogyny is just made up, right. Trumpism is the ultimate extension of “choose your own reality” thinking. As a country, over the past 30 years, we’ve become a society where different ideological sides pick and choose what they want to believe based on the source, or how it conflicts with their perceptions. The result is a world where adding 2 and 2 when it comes to climate change or budget math can equal 5 for some folks. In order to have a discussion about anything, people have to have a common framework of reality—otherwise they’ll claim their own version of facts, whether it be imaginary celebrations in Jersey after 9/11 or claiming they didn't say what they said. And you can’t really get anything done for the better if one side can’t acknowledge water is wet and the sky is blue and denies logical arguments.
Among some other observations about this election:
- The media didn’t care about substance: There are a lot of recriminations to go around when it comes to the news media’s handling of this election, but numero uno on the list is that the networks decided issues didn't matter. Hillary Clinton gave dozens of speeches on big issues, and they were barely covered or mentioned on CNN or MSNBC. The only thing they wanted to give airtime to was dumb shit Donald Trump said, people calling Donald Trump on the dumb shit he said, or emails. I heard a lot of pundits say: “Hillary should have run a more positive campaign.” How could she when they wouldn't have aired it?
- Rural/non-college white voters voted for crazy: The story of this election is how so many white people decided to basically not give a shit about any of the concerns about Donald Trump, and voted for him because of … well, that’s something to argue about. Some will point to income inequality and say it’s white voters who feel Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic party hadn’t helped their financial situations. Other will point to Hillary Clinton and say she was a flawed candidate who didn’t connect with white voters or was liked by them, and knowingly turned to a horrible alternative. In short, they hated Hillary more than they cared about their country. And finally some think it was just a situation similar to the United Kingdom’s Brexit, where white voters wanted to be anti-establishment and voted for “change” even if it was the worst possible version of it. One can argue that this is one of the biggest examples of white privilege in the country’s history, where the demographic who would be least impacted by xenophobic policies voted for them out of perceived self-interest.
From Nate Cohn at The New York Times:
The traditional view of recent American elections gave even more reason to think Mrs. Clinton was safe. National exit polls suggested that President Obama won the 2012 presidential election despite faring worse among white voters than any Democrat since Walter Mondale. Those polls showed that white voters without a degree were now just one-third of the electorate. It was interpreted to mean that there was not much room for additional Democratic losses, especially once a white Democrat replaced Mr. Obama on the ballot.
The truth was that Democrats were far more dependent on white working-class voters than many believed.
- The truth doesn’t matter … or everyone believes what they want to believe: We spent this entire campaign with Donald Trump lying and obfuscating. There was not one week in this entire year where there wasn’t a story about how Trump’s version of events conflicted with reality. And the same people who talk about family values and the need for public morals were the ones who did not give a shit about truth. And, in some ways, neither did the media or the fact checkers. At a certain point, the media took the attitude of this is just the way Donald Trump is, and blew off any new lie as just another example of old news. When we get to a point in this country where some pundits will rate a debate performance as “great” even though it bears no resemblance to anything that looks like the truth, then there’s something wrong here.
- And there is no such thing as accountability or personal responsibility: I am not optimistic about the ability to hold Trump’s feet to the fire when he inevitably fucks things up. The reason why is his supporters —as well as the establishment of the Republican party— have already shown a massive propensity to rationalize some of the sickest things imaginable to pull a lever for the son of a bitch, so what makes people think they’ll ultimately see the light if/when the economy goes to shit or our global alliances suffer? There will always be another imaginary boogeyman or another “crooked” Democrat to scapegoat which will allow another rationalization.
Derrick Bell's The Space Traders was adapted for an HBO sci-fi series in the '90s. It imagines a situation in the near future where aliens arrive and offer the United States technology that would solve all of our energy, ecological, and economic problems. They only require in exchange every American man, woman, and child with at least 2,500 mg/cm2 melanin pigment in their skin (i.e., black people).
Back when I watched it as a child, I got the satire and the message, but I thought there would be no way it would actually happen if something analogous occurred.
After last night, I’m not sure anymore.
We like to believe that we’ve come so far from Jim Crow. We like to believe we’re so different than the racists that stood in the schoolhouse door, and denied people a seat on a bus or at a diner.
Then something like this happens and we realize how fragile the idea of progress can be.
I had a black woman and a very dear friend tell me the way she saw things is that Trump gave people license to say and think how they really feel. And when white people were able to get into a voting booth, they showed what they really think about Muslims, Latinos, women, and any other minority they could scapegoat for their current frustrations and problems. White America could not have sent a bigger “fuck you” to the peoples that share this country and world with them.
I never thought I would write these words, but I am ashamed of this country after what happened last night. And I am ashamed of some of the people in this country. And, for me, the only way forward is not to do some cockamamie bullshit where we try to appease these people or “connect” with them in order to get their votes. It hasn’t worked and it’s not gonna work, because it buys into their fallacies and on some level gives credence to their level of bullshit.
William Tecumseh Sherman once said a people that will persevere in their ignorance beyond a certain point should be made to realize there are consequences. And part of those consequences should involve fighting lies with the truth. The cold hard honest truth, even if it means telling a segment of the population that they and what they believe in is fucking stupid.
The next president of the United States didn’t give a shit about offending people, so why should we? And at least we will have facts and truths on our side.