I am a white man, but I am a minority in the USA. I am coming to terms with this fact. I am coming to terms with the fact that the USA will never be the idealistic, inclusive, land filled with citizens who appreciate the planet, science, and unqualified compassion in the way I do. I am coming to terms with the fact that the USA cannot be the place I had hoped it would be. I was wrong about the USA. I own that. Truth.
I’ve come to view US politics in a new way: This most recent contest came down to a choice between two senior executives. It is a scenario I have watched unfold before and know a bit about (but a selection process I never got the opportunity to participate in). To my mind, this was a fight (I struggled with that word, but can think of no apt alternative), a fight between rival business executives to take control of our corporation. Both corrupt. Both flawed. Both repugnant. Both with long and well-documented public histories.
But, none of that really mattered in the end. In the end, we picked the loudest, angriest, most focused CEO. We picked him because he is as angry as we are even though he has never experienced the struggle of his most avid supporters. We picked him because he gives us things to be angry at and provides the emotional release we’d been told was beneath us. We picked him because we do not want anyone, anywhere to think we are weak or indecisive.
The voice of the people who spoke loudest is the voice of fear. A cry to band together in the name of survival. By contrast, the voice of moderation, inclusion, and broad-based social programs is comparatively soft. If we give our vote to those who promise to keep bad things from happening instead of those who seek to make good things happen, the former will always occur for someone and the latter will never happen for anyone.
We are not one country, but we already knew this. What is difficult to conceive is that the triumphant voting bloc are the locally ensconced, less educated, white, agrarian citizens and they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. But their anger seemed blind and undirected to me despite decades of conservative opposition to things like vaccines, scientific evidence of global warming, maintaining standards for our drinking water, enforcement of environmental regulations, and this perverse notion that individuals are free to choose surgery to augment their bodies, yet must cede control of their reproductive genitalia to the government. That is why the USA selected an angry, confrontational, litigious, morally ambiguous, xenophobic new leader who effectively channels this anger and gives us purpose in a way his predecessors never could. He is a one-man angry mob. He is catharsis personified.
Our Democratic party tends to appeal to younger, culturally diverse, metropolitan, college-educated voters. Our Republican party tends to appeal to older, white, rural, less-educated (blue-collar) voters.
I’m not making that up. Look at the red and blue map from Tuesday night. Large, culturally diverse metropolitan areas and university towns vote Democratic. Small, rural towns with generational heritage and fewer college-educated people vote Republican.
I can conceive (or concede, if you prefer) that it really is better for everyone that Donald Trump is our next President. Sure, there are sporadic protests, but these will subside in time. On the other hand, I shudder to think what sort of protests a defeated Trump nation might have mounted.
I can continue to hope for humanity, but I cannot continue to expect the USA to come together as a world power and represent itself as something other than the alternative authoritarian power to Russia in the Middle East. I cannot expect the USA to awaken with the epiphany that it is accelerating down a dead-end path with a beer in one hand, a joint in the other and our collective sense of entitlement riding shotgun. We produce less and less, consume more and more and complain about the cost of things. These are not unique problems; every country faces them. What makes the USA unique(ish) is that we have convinced ourselves we are indispensable and eternal. It is true that the world wants us. But the world does not need us nearly so much as we’d like to think.
History is written by winners. No matter what happens next, political victory will forever be recorded as being won by the righteous. Future political initiatives will either be seen as successful (their outcomes attributed to their authors and proponents) or failed (victims of unfair opposition and obstruction against the righteous establishment). There is no other category. There is no middle ground.
I will no longer defend the USA either here or abroad. It is what it is.
I am preaching to the choir, I know. Speaking to those who value travel and education. Those who remember being “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Those who are not struggling to survive so desperately that they can still recognize there is personal opportunity in social change (perhaps with a dash of altruism).
Given the horrors we (as a species) are not only capable of, but routinely carry out every minute, of every hour, of every day, I believe that we are under-evolved vicious animals first and socially-conscious, compassionate, care-givers second. Beyond the local communities that define our peer group and directly sustain us, aid is a luxury. Therefore, it is something of a paradox that the only way to get everybody to help everybody is if nobody really needs it.
I’m not really so misanthropic; Perhaps, we just need to rise a little from our current condition (whatever it is and however we measure it) to appreciate that we now have a capacity to effect positive change in a way that we couldn’t before.
I believe it is too much to ask a being that believes its existence is threatened to look up, out, beyond the next fence, the next town, the next state, the next country. It is ridiculous to ask a struggling person to help the less fortunate. After all, we cannot help anyone else if we ourselves do not survive. It’s a kind of trickle-down socialism that works as well as the other kind and for the same reason.
I mean; the struggle to survive is the struggle to survive, right? There are no degrees. There is no mechanism within the human psyche to temper (or regret) any means we use to survive. The thing is though, we can’t all win…but, we can all survive.
Why do we feel this way? Why do we reject science and embrace faith? Why do we feel entitled to special status among the global community? Why are we obligated to control how our neighbors live? Why do we feel the world should serve us instead of the other way around? Why do we define freedom so narrowly that it now means the right to defend our way of life against those who seek to live like us?
It’s really very simple. It’s what we’ve been taught.
This brings me to my point (finally). The answer is education. I’ve never been in a conversation with anyone who regrets having a college education, but I’ve been in lots where someone regretted not getting one. Yet, we follow leaders who routinely dismiss the opinions, evidence and, in some cases, the entire life’s work of college-educated experts. It is natural to be suspicious of things we do not understand, but shouldn’t the most advanced, sentient species on the planet seek to learn stuff instead of hiding behind faith or being so suspicious as to ignore information rather than considering it and appreciating the work that went into it? How odd it seems to me that we demand qualified teachers for our children, save money so our children can go to college, expect qualified professors to teach our young adults…. And yet, we don’t trust the professors and we don’t trust other people’s college-educated children.
Who betrayed us? What intellectuals lied to us?
I know capitalism lies to consumers because its function is to make money (not goods, they lied about that too). And it gets its money from us by persuading us to buy stuff. It was corporate-sponsored ‘spokespersons’, it was the act of selling you something you didn’t know you needed. There is always someone trying to convince you to buy something and the scientists and physicians they hire lie (or at least they vigorously promote the position they’re paid to). Businesses can and do co-opt scientists and physicians in order to sell their products or defend their interests. It is right and prudent to view sponsored opinions with a jaundiced eye.
So, who do you trust?
We used to trust universities as independent bastions of learning, but that is becoming less and less accurate. At one time, research was conducted by universities and sponsored by tax-funded government agencies or philanthropic organizations that could not specify how their money was used. That’s no longer true. Funding from government agencies like the NIH, NSF, NLM, NASA, NEA, etc. have all but dried up (budget cuts) and the few, remaining philanthropic donations universities receive are often earmarked for specific uses. This makes operating a university without going bankrupt a tricky thing to do (even when it has new chairs in the student lounge, a new practice facility for the tennis team and fresh mango is now available in the cafeteria every day).
Corporations are responsible for the lion’s share of the research that’s done in US universities and they are looking for their own very particular outcomes. Not surprisingly, the sponsors expect to get what they pay for (wouldn’t you?).
We used to trust the media, but media outlets are businesses too. They vie for our dollars just like any other business and they seek out markets they can exploit. Network newscasts used to be a line item in a local station’s budget. The station sold commercial time, but the news (per se) did not. Now, cable news networks rely on commercial sponsors to pay for their news shows directly. If you agree with the positions of the journalists on a particular network, chances are you like the products that are being advertised. The two go hand-in-hand.
OK. The media is influenced by its advertisers, the government is corrupted by PACs and corporate donors and universities are compromised by corporate sponsors and donations that have strings attached. What have we missed? Where do we get a “handle” on this? Oh yeah. The one handle that everybody can pull: vote. But I’m not taking about turnout and I’m not interested in getting anyone to vote for anything in particular. I am suggesting that we give serious thought to whether we want to continue to allow corporations into our homes, into our houses of worship, into our wardrobes, into our bedrooms, into our bodies and into our minds. Let’s not let them pick our choices. Let’s not let them dictate our loyalties. And for God’s sake, let’s not let them educate our children!
I am not happy about the outcome of this most recent Presidential election nor am I angry. I am ready to accept it. But, I am still feeling the inconsolable sorrow and frustration of a son watching his mother die.