I’m not dealing well with this election. I haven’t been able to grade papers, or lesson plan, or work on writing my fall exams; all I’ve been able to do is read and ruminate, with some breaks for computer programming (one of the few tasks that has the power to distract me long enough for a mental health break).
Before I dive into this blog post, I want to make it clear from the start: I do not like Donald Trump. I think he is a bad person who is likely to make many bad decisions and surround himself by bad people to help him make those decisions. I think he told lies to get elected and he is going to renege on some of them and, equally bad, follow through on some of the worst of them. I think he will be manipulated by those around him, and be used to manipulate the people, and that is unfortunate. I do think it’s likely he has committed sexual assault and gotten away with it, which drives me nuts. I think he’s going to make it hard to fight him, because he is a narcissist who hates criticism. I’m also openly liberal and progressive, which means I’m going to disagree with the majority of his policies – as I would have Cruz’s or Rubio’s or Kasich’s. But none of that is the point of this post right now.
The point of this post is where we (progressives) screwed up. And are maybe still screwing up. And how we can respond in a way that is actually helpful and healing. How we can find the messages sent by voters that are not about racism or sexism, and address those messages.
There is a lot of noise on the internet about how this election was about racism, or at least how it seems to have given explicit racists the right to be explicitly racist. I agree with much of that noise. The KKK is excited, and that sucks. We must fight against racial violence and open racist actions more than ever. Bannon in the White House is pretty scary, and I think we should be upset about it.
But I think we are also being a bit unfair on the front of “vote for him = racist”. A large volume of people voted for Trump. I think many of them have racial bias. But I also think many Democrats have racial bias. I pretty much think everybody has racial bias. Clinton said so in one of the best lines of the debate. Isn’t that the whole concept of white privilege? For the people who voted for Trump, racial bias and blatant sexism were not a deal breaker, and that totally sucks. But I’m not sure why we are so surprised by that, and I’m not sure continuing to be angered and upset and judgmental at the entire group of Trump voters is going to help anything.
I am a straight white man, raised by a doctor in Mississippi and educated at two of the highest-reputation colleges in the country. I am super-duper privileged. I have seen racism both explicit and implicit. And I am positively FILLED with racial bias myself. I’ve known that for a long time, mostly since I started working in education, and I’ve done everything in my power to fight against it. But it’s freaking HARD. Racial bias runs deep, and is basically impossible to excoriate. If anything the White Privilege / Black Lives Matter view of the world should have made that clear to us. It wasn’t that long ago that “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q made us all laugh and nod knowingly; did we forget it? The purpose of that song was to help us educate ourselves. That process is still happening.
What I think I forgot is that my privilege runs many ways. I am not only privileged in my whiteness and my maleness, but also my education, my economics, and my experiences. I am economically comfortable, which gives me time to spend thinking about my own place in the world. I am educated, which gives me the ability to examine a broad range of information on a subject and judge its merits. And I have lived and worked in highly diverse, high-poverty areas; I have seen what life is like for the poor of the cities and the country, giving me empathy for both sides. I am privileged to have been able to notice my own privilege! It’s not an easy thing to notice, to come to terms with, or to understand.
And I’ve been guilty of ignoring the plight of the rural white poor and working class. Of laughing at them. Of rolling my eyes. Of making the assumption that because they are white too, they should see the world as I do or get out. That was wrong of me. I applied my liberalism everywhere except to the non-liberals. I decided that they were subhuman. I was, basically, an asshole. They have every right to hate me in my liberal Ivory tower, because I’ve been looking down on them. I was more like these guys than I should have been.
I don’t believe Trump will make a good President. But I think there is a reasonable argument to be made that liberals made his election as possible as conservatives did. And the voters have sent us a message: Accept us. Listen to our needs. And stop treating us with contempt.
For me, here are my hopes for this cycle:
- I hope Immigration Reform turns out to be a good thing. There are some sound economic arguments to be made for limiting immigration, both legal and illegal. I think there is a lot of racially charged tensions surrounding it, particularly the wall and the deportation increases, and I do think we need to fight any racist components, but I don’t believe that every aspect of immigration reduction can be thrown into that same well. We need to meet halfway. The H1B program is a great example of something that I don’t know much about, but seems like it needs work.
- I hope Trump listens to experts on foreign policy. Foreign policy is complicated, and needs finesse. This is where my biggest fears are.
- I hope that the tax plan gets moderated. The currently published plan is insanely bad and will balloon the debt. Trump is a populist. He might respond to the people. Let’s get the people angry about tax cuts to billionaires that increase the debt.
- I hope we can fight off overly regressive socially conservative moves. I honestly don’t think Trump himself cares all that much one way or another about abortion, gay marriage, etc. But Pence does, and so does Ryan.