Friday, November 18, 2016

Another post mortem for the pile

My Facebook feed is full of US election post mortem essays.  Everyone wants to weigh in on exactly why it went down the way it did, what it means, and what we can do about it.  Obviously given my political leanings and friend group it is mostly horror at Trump's victory and despondency at the damage he will do.  There is also a lot of misery at the state of the world that such a person could win.

I have many thoughts about the things I have read.

Many articles talk about how Trump won because of misogyny and racism.  This is both true and not true.  Clinton's loss was by a tiny margin, and it is entirely possible that if she were male but otherwise the same that she would have won.  If 1% of Americans swapped their votes from Trump to Clinton the result is a big win for Democrats.  That isn't much of a difference in voting for a huge difference in result.  (Go first past the post!  :P)

But you would be wrong to just chalk it up to "Americans are bigots" and be done with it.  Clinton was absolutely establishment and represented the status quo.  She has massive ties to big banks and shady shit like million dollar gifts from oppressive theocracies.  An awful lot of people were angry at the status quo and voted Trump in protest because he was the one they thought would shake things up.  And he will, at that.  Of course the result he is aiming for is to empower the rich and crush the poor, and he will do as much racist and sexist crap as he can get away with while pursuing those goals.

It is entirely true that Trump won in part because of the anger of people frustrated by their stagnating economic situation.  He won't help them at all, but that anger did help him.  So what do we do about that?

Lots of lefties think that the coastal elites ought to try to understand the rural Americans who so strongly support Trump.  They figure that we should have nice chats with them to understand their problems and get across that billionaires who inherited their wealth who promise to crush immigrants and get rid of health care make things worse, not better.  They think we should explain carefully and without derision how wrong racism and sexism are, how important women's and trans rights are, and how immigrants actually make America stronger and richer.

But let's be real for a second.  Will it be politically expedient to try to get the bigots into the leftist fold for the next election?  Probably.  Do we have some kind of moral obligation to treat awful behaviour with kind words and understanding?  Fuck no.

This article talks a lot about how lefties can understand white working class America, and makes it clear that focusing on things like transgender bathroom issues rather than economics is a problem in terms of elections.  But the article ignores the fact that the Republicans talk a *ton* about abortion and bathrooms, and that it is all well and good for white, cis, straight people to ignore social issues - everything already works pretty well for them, thanks, but it is pretty shit to just insist that the Democrats ignore those issues and leave marginalized minorities to rot in the name of expanding the economy.

Might it *work* to ignore social problems (which is fucking racist and sexist and bigoted, by the way) and try to win elections by talking only about the economy?  Maybe, but it would be a terrible thing to do.  It would tell those working class white people that yes, their problems are the real problems, and we needn't worry about all those trans women of colour.

There are also people talking about how the real problem is the Christian values of rural white America.  I am pretty sympathetic to this view, because Christianity as a whole tends to teach that faith is a virtue.  Believing in things that make no sense because an old man who is part of your in group tells you so is a cornerstone of Christian belief.  So when Trump walks in saying all kinds of ridiculous things that speak to the fears and biases of that group they are primed to believe him.

Personally I think faith is a terrible vice and responsible for much of the ills of our world.  This is one of my biggest gripes with religion - the teaching that it is good and right to believe in whatever you are told by authority.

However, we can't just call it done there either because plenty of people who aren't white working class Christian types voted for Trump.  We also can't just ignore huge chunks of society either, and we need to find a way to try to get through to them.  I suspect it is mostly an issue of time because churches and religiosity in the West are crumbling and their influence in on the wane.  Changing these attitudes will happen but it is a slow process.

One thing I think people on all part of the political spectrum ought to do is consider how they view the electorate based on election results.  Trump won with 25.5% of the vote.  If he had gotten 24.5% of the vote, Clinton crushes him.  That is huge in terms of who is president, but it hardly changes the electorate at all.  If you are despondent at the state of American voters that Trump won, but would be totally fine if he lost, you should think carefully about why it is that you would be okay with 24.5% of the people voting for him.

Separating the electorate from the results is important.  Yes, who gets to be President matters a lot, and we should talk about that.  But we shouldn't pin all of our attitudes towards Americans on the result of an election that Clinton won, by popular vote, and which she would have won by electoral college with only a tiny shift.  One really stupid quote from Trump, one more great speech by Clinton, and maybe the entire thing changes, and the electorate is still the same either way.

Don't give in to despair.  Trump is evil, and awful, but you must remember that we have had worse.

Go back a few decades.  Trump's attitudes towards women, people of colour, and queer folks of all stripes wouldn't have been outlandish, they would have been expected.  His faults, great as they are, are only so glaring because the world has come so far.

Trump is one step back, but we can see that the world continues to step forward.  We will continue to step forward, and setbacks will continue to come.  Slow, bumpy progress is inevitable.  The pushback against progressive thought is occurring because *we are winning*.

Remember that Toronto had Rob Ford.  Much of the same rhetoric, much of the same evil.  It seemed like all was lost, but we got past it.  Now we move on.

So go out there and do something Trump would hate.  Be generous to the downtrodden, welcome an immigrant, be as queer as queer can be.  He will eventually be gone, and we will push on.


  1. Bannon has the power to do much, much more damage than Rob Ford ever did. To say we have had worse is a little misleading, because we don't actually know how much damage the nazis are going to do this time around. They may do less damage than Hitler, but Hitler didn't have nukes or nearly as much of the world wanting to get in on the evil.

  2. I love the winning move as much as the next person - play for the scenario where there is another free and fair presidential election in America in 4 years, where we still know where to find those people who too loudly did things that Trump would hate, etc. But like you rightly point out, if 24.5% is a Clinton landslide and 25.5% is a Trump win, then we should probably be concerned about the existing forces that would very much like internment camps for Muslims (first, Jews will be later) and how maybe they just got the 1% they needed to start the wheels turning.

    I didn't regard America as much of a functioning democracy before this, but once Trump puts a couple of people on the supreme court that country basically has no checks and balances of any kind left.