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15 Nov 2016

In the aftermath – I wrote the first draft of this entry last week, after it became clear that Donald Trump had won the election. I don’t often write on political topics here, mostly because I hate politics and avoid it like the plague. Still, it felt like I should write something, so I did. Then I decided to let it sit for a day—not because I thought that I would change my mind, but because it would give me the chance to organize my thoughts and figure out what it was that I really wanted to say. When I came back the next day, I decided to scrap that first draft and write a second draft. Again, I let it sit. Then the weekend came and I took a break from things. I intended to come back to this last night, but I had a splitting headache and didn’t feel like doing much of anything. As a result, this entry has had four days to cool, and the election is now nearly a week in the past. What you are reading now is more or less my second draft, but revised polished to reflect where I stand on things now.

“Despite what we might hear from our echo chambers, the world is not black and white.”

I debated not posting this at all, to be honest. Writing for me is a sort of exorcism—a way to cast out my demons so that they reside on the computer screen and not in my head. So the act of writing itself is more important than anyone actually reading what I’ve written. Sometimes I just need to write, but I don’t need others to read it. This is especially true in cases where I feel that what I have to say is not particularly unique, where I don’t have any special insight to offer. This entry definitely fits that definition, as I am not a political pundit and have no real insight to offer that hasn’t already been offered elsewhere. And yet here we are. I’m not sure why, but somehow it feels important that I post this. Maybe not for you, but for me.

I guess I should start with how I feel about the election. Lest there be any doubt about where I stand on this, let me say that I absolutely despise Trump. I am extremely disappointed that he won. However, I’m not a big fan of Clinton, either. Well, actually, that’s probably a bit of an understatement, like saying that I’m not a big fan of having my face smashed repeatedly into a brick wall. To be honest, had the Republicans put up a decent candidate instead of a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic clown, I probably would have been happy to vote Republican this time. Instead, we got two extremely distasteful choices, and for as much as I dislike Clinton I would have preferred her to Trump. Clinton may be the epitome of everything that is wrong with politics, but Trump is the epitome of everything that is wrong with humanity.

So I think that’s clear enough, yes? I believe that Trump will very likely be a disaster for the nation. He has none of the requisite political experience, and so far he seems to be surrounding himself with people that have and will continue support him, as opposed to people who might make up for his lack of experience and, you know, have any idea about how to run a country. His ideas are ludicrous at best and terrifying at worst, and while I know that no political candidate ever keeps all of his or her campaign promises, hoping that he doesn’t do all the horrible things he promised to do is setting the bar pretty low.

That being said, I do not believe that this is the end of America. I do believe that things will change, most likely for the worst, but we will survive. That might not be too comforting right now, but I believe it to be true. And I’d rather not focus in this entry on all the things that might go wrong under the Trump administration. We’ll have plenty of time to bemoan such things if and when they happen. Instead, I want to talk about what we do now—and by “we” I mean those of us who did not want to see Trump elected.

For those of us who were stunned by the election results, it may be difficult to look past that shock right now, but I think we need to. For starters, why were we stunned? That is, how could all of the polls gotten it so wrong? I do not have the answer to that. I got a C in statistics in university, so I’m not even going to speculate on what went wrong there. But I do know a few things. I know that statistics are not truth. Arriving at a given statistic means subjecting data to a set of assumptions, and the results will vary—sometimes greatly—depending on the assumptions. This is why different analysts looked at the same data and offered different predictions. Even with the most sophisticated and “accurate” (whatever that might mean) algorithms, though, erroneous data will lead to erroneous results. In this case, the data—the polls—were wrong. There are plenty of people out there trying to figure out exactly why they were wrong, so I won’t speculate on that. I’ll just say that we’re going to need to change the way we look at things.

Last Wednesday evening, hours after it became clear that Trump had won, I got a call from a fellow American expat who, like me, identifies as a liberal. His first words were “Oh my God.” I had already written the first draft of this entry at that point, so I didn’t really need to work through anything, but he was still trying to come to grips with what had happened. As he did so, he said something very interesting. He said that Trump had pulled off the con of the century: convincing the working class that he—a man who has spent his life screwing over the little guy—was somehow the champion of the little guy. I agree that Trump has spent his life stepping on people he feels are beneath him to get where he is, but I think it is counterproductive to think of Trumps supporters as an easily definable monolith, and I said as much. Yes, there are definitely working class voters who were duped by Trump’s claims, but that is only one reason of many why Trump was elected. Any attempt to understand those who voted for Trump as a monolithic entity is doomed to failure.

So why this tendency to think this way? I think it is because we all live in echo chambers that reinforce our own views and keep other views out. It is tempting to blame this on the internet, but, while the internet certainly facilitates this phenomenon, it is not the sole factor. Cable news and talk radio are culpable as well. So is this a product of modern communication technologies? Not really. Before such modern communication technologies were common, we were much more cut off from the rest of the world than we are now. What most of us knew was the community that we lived in, itself an echo chamber of sorts. Ultimately, I think it is in our nature to be clannish, to want to divide the world into easily understandable categories, including “us” and “them.” Technologies like the internet are not the cause of this nature, they are just tools to achieve it in a world that grows ever more complex. For all the good the internet does in exposing us to a greater scope of humanity than has ever been possible before, it can also serve as a tool to make us more parochial than ever.

My point is that we don’t understand the other side mainly because we can’t be bothered to take the time to do so. It’s so much easier to just assume that those who disagree with us are evil, or at least seriously flawed. And it becomes even easier when this group of people flock to the banner of a man who is a truly deplorable human being—after all, if Trump is deplorable, then those who support him must be deplorable as well, right? Well, let’s flip that around: If you voted for Clinton, are you willing to take on all of her characteristics, for better or for worse? I’d rather not identify with either candidate, to be honest.

Now, I’m not saying that there are not some truly despicable individuals among Trump’s supporters—he was, after all, endorsed by the KKK. I have no problem with denouncing Trump for his racism and misogyny, along with all those who share those views. But these people do not represent everyone who voted for Trump. There are many reasons why people voted for Trump, and I suspect that more of those reasons have to do with people wanting better lives for themselves than wanting to make life worse for others. And, to flip things around again, I’m sure there were plenty of people who voted for Trump for the same reason that a lot of people voted for Clinton—because they felt he was the better choice.

But seeing such a large group of people—especially if those people do not share your views—as individuals with valid reasons for their actions is not something we like or are encouraged to do. We demonize rather than empathize. And I may be calling out Democrats and the left (including myself) on this because it’s our turn to come to grips with it, but the problem is universal. We’re looking for quick and easy answers to this, ways to understand what happened that will make us feel better, but we’re not going to find them. If we want to understand what happened—and what needs to happen from here on out—we’re going to have to work at it.

It’s tempting to simply say that the Democrats underestimated Trump. It is also wrong. No one underestimated Trump. He is what he is; he hides no cards up his sleeve. I am reminded here of that classic Bushism, “misunderestimate.” It’s a brilliant coinage, and it fits perfectly here, because what the Democrats did was misunderstand the state of the nation and underestimate just how detested Hillary is. And these two things are not unrelated—they both lay bare an establishment living inside its own little bubble, unable or unwilling to face the reality of what was going on.

So what do we do now? I’m not going to suggest that we accept defeat, sit by, and do nothing. No, there are still things that are worth fighting for and things that are worth fighting against. Like I said above, while many of the people who voted for Trump are probably decent people, there are quite a few who are not decent, to put it mildly. And there is no doubt that Trump has stirred up a vile cauldron of hate, violence, and bigotry. These things need to be resisted and fought against. But they cannot be met with more hate, violence, and bigotry. When I hear about Trump supporters being attacked, rioting in Portland (Portland?!), and other incidents, I am deeply disappointed and saddened. What exactly are we trying to prove here? Resistance is necessary, but it needs to be responsible, and it needs to have the moral high ground—if it does not, it will achieve nothing.

I don’t have the answers to the questions a lot of people are asking right now. I do have convictions, though, and perhaps the strongest of them is this: Despite what we might hear from our echo chambers, the world is not black and white. And, for as grim as things may seem to some people now, it’s not gray, either. It is, in fact, a rainbow containing every color imaginable. A black-and-white worldview may be easiest to process, but it can’t even begin to do justice to the multitude of hues and tones out there. I don’t know if it will be possible to get through this unscathed, but our best chance lies in making an effort to understand, not lashing out in fear and anger.

I’d like to end this entry there, but there’s one more thing I need to say. I’m hearing a voice of protest in my imagination: “Well, sure, that’s easy for you to say—you live halfway around the world! You don’t have to live in an America under Donald Trump!” And normally I would say that you, imaginary reader, have a point. Life can be funny sometimes, though. I’ve lived in Korea now for over twenty years, but I will be spending the entirety of next year—the first year of the Trump administration—in the US. I planned on talking about this in a separate entry, and I probably still will at some point, but the long and short of it is that I have my first sabbatical next year, and HJ and I decided that we would spend it in the States. This decision was made long before anyone thought there might even be a chance that Donald Trump would be the next president, but even had we known I don’t think I would have decided any differently. So if you are reading this in the States now, know that I will be there with you, at least for next year. Whatever happens, my seat will be much closer to the action than usual.

So, that’s what I wanted to say. Again, I don’t know what’s going to happen, I just know what sort of attitude I’m going to try to cultivate. That’s really the only thing I have complete control over at this point. For the rest, we’re all just going to have to wait and see.

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