What will it take for a large enough portion of the 50 million people who voted for Trump to change their mind and recognize him as the unmitigated disaster that he is? Finding the answer to this question may just save civilization from self-destruction. In the current fact-free environment in which we find ourselves, this may, at first, appear to be an impossible task, but before we give up hope, let’s consider the following.
Many people who voted for Trump started out in the same place as millions of other Americans who ended up voting for Hillary. The “Anybody but Hillary” meme didn’t start with Republicans; it started with people just like me. Lacking a reference candidate, a substantial number of Democrats and Independents imagined the future where Hillary and Bill returned to the Whitehouse and their initial response was to quietly throw-up a little in their mouth. And, this was not because they discounted her experience, policy positions, or ability to serve as our chief magistrate. We knew of few people more suited by temperament and training to administer the laws of the land fairly and effectively. No, it had nothing to do with her qualifications; it was the shit storm of opposition, obstruction, and obfuscation that would inevitably attach to her administration. We had just lived through eight years of political irresponsibility unmatched since the mid-1860’s, a venomous attack on someone who ran on the proposition that there were no red state Americans, no blue state Americans only United States Americans. The thought of four or more years of an exponentially more vicious political environment was enough to make millions of Americans, me among them, consider even an old Jewish Social Democratic candidate more attractive and viable than Hillary. The fact that many on the left were willing to expand the definition of an acceptable candidate well beyond the traditional usage should give us at least partial perspective on enough of the Trump voters to be willing to begin discussions with Trump supporters in a way that does not immediately piss them off to the point where all talk is futile.
That same group of disaffected Trump voters, unaided by their seemingly natural allies on the left, had led the charge against the crony capitalism that so infuriated voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania to the point that they chose an irrefutable misogynist over someone who had devoted a considerable portion of her political capital to the empowerment of women and the welfare of children. Occupy America may have been culturally unpalatable to many who were most negatively affected by the rapaciousness of the New Gilded Age, but the left should have owned that issue. Standing up for working men and women is the raison d’être of the left. The failure of the Clinton campaign to own this issue was both unforgivable and inevitable, but voters who made their decision based on this issue are our natural allies. This is truly an area of common ground that we have with the most useful subset of Trump voters, and we should not squander this opportunity.
While there may be any number of examples of how Clinton voters have more in common with Trump voters than is immediately apparent, this final example is sufficient to give hope to people who are rightfully frightened about the future. Perhaps no issue of national security has been so consistently paramount for the last seventy years than our concern with Russia’s efforts to undermine our experiment in self-government by any means necessary. While Republican may be willing to sacrifice their credibility on this issue temporarily for short-term political gains, their members of Congress are even more susceptible to primary challenges on this issue than their Democratic counterparts. The myth that Republicans should fear Democrats more than they fear Russia and all the other countries of the world that see American’s commitment to self-government as an existential threat to their totalitarian regimes, is impossible to maintain for the long term. Therefore, it is in our best interest to share our own concerns about Russia’s behavior in a way that invites cooperation. Where the left looked at the email hacks and saw the hand of an ex-KGB agent threatening our country, many on the right saw the very same evidence as proof that Hilary had made the country more vulnerable to Russian hacking by her elitist decision to host her own email server in her basement. We are both motivated by concerns about our country’s current vulnerability to Russian cyber delinquency.
These examples illustrate that many of the same issues that caused the majority of voters in the last election to choose Hillary caused other to choose Trump. This is not to excuse Trump voters for placing the American Experiment in the greatest jeopardy it has faced since the Civil War, and it will not protect our country from the damage that will follow Trump’s inauguration as surely as night follows day, but it should give us a strand of hope to cling to in these dangerous times and a clue to how to make our shared concerns a tool for eventual unity rather than a source of division. Sometime in the very near future, if we are very lucky and survive the Trump era, we will find it necessary to look past what we now perceive as the shortsighted decision Trump voters made this November. The possibility of this happy ending depends on the nature of the mistake we are now living through, and this can only be assessed over time. Sometimes a driver can walk away from a horrible car crash; other times the same driver in a nearly identical crash ends up in the morgue. Metaphorically speaking our American car has crashed. In our system of self-government, we are the drivers. Our fate is no longer entirely in our own hands. The genie is out of the bottle; forces of fascism have been released. Our only hope is if our fellow Americans on both the left and the right begin to focus on the very real dangers that already unite us and look past the imagined problems that are being manipulated by enemies of self-government to divide us against ourselves.
As much as we may want to unfriend every single person who voted for Trump, as much as we may want to scream at them and tell them, “THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT”, experience teaches the futility of such an approach, for a couple of reasons. First, it is ineffective. People are so rarely convinced of anything against their will as to make it counterproductive to spend time trying such a scheme. Second, if one believes the scientists, preservation of one’s self-esteem is a basic biological human need different from hunger and thirst only in its ability to dominate one’s consciousness in event of scarcity. Or, put more simply, “You can’t make friends by trying to make people feel bad about themselves.” Beyond the question of effectiveness, it is just not moral to blame the victim. While many Trump supporters might not be victims in any sense of the word, I expect we will find that many are victims of the failures of both our economic and our political system. This is not intended to condemn either system, merely to point out that any system has inherent design deficiencies, and both capitalism and democratic republicanism have theirs, and we ignore them at our own peril. We should be aware that for some of Trumps supporters, the loss of job security, income security, the esteem of other and self-esteem can be so significant that they are prepared to take measures which are far more drastic than they would condone in times of less stress.
So, what will change their mind? In a word, accountability. In the coming months, it is axiomatic that Trump will fail in most of his famous campaign promises. Republican members of Congress are accountable to their own voters; a significant number of them were elected despite their connection to Trump and will be in no mood to fall meekly in line behind him as he marches off the political cliff. Politicians of all stripes can count votes. Regardless of any irrational claims of a mandate or landslide victory by their megalomaniacal leader, they cannot look at the recent election and feel comfortable about the long-term viability of the most recent election strategy. These legislators may be the Democrats most useful allies in the coming months, but don’t expect any volunteers. Nothing in recent memory supports the forecast of an outbreak of responsible leadership among enough Republican legislators. It is far more rational to expect that most will only respond to clear signals that they are losing the support of their constituents. If those voters are under constant attack from the left, we should not expect miracles. On the other hand, if those same people can be reminded that we not only understand their fears and problems, but we are affected by the very same fears and problems in just the same way they are, then a foundation for discussion and cooperation exists.
Before we can get everyone paddling in the same direction, we need to come to an agreement on the fact that we are all in the same boat. This message, that we will all sink or swim together will not spring up spontaneously from within whichever media bubble one may inhabit. The Bubble does not exist to serve and support the concept of E Pluribus Unum, just the opposite. The bubble exists as a tool for market segmentation. It has come to be so influential because of its usefulness as a means of motivating consumers to self-select into more cost effective marketing silos. Whether it came into being by design or sprung up more organically in the relatively new ecosphere of cyberspace is immaterial in the context of this discussion. We just need to understand that it exists as a countervailing influence on any effort to reach common ground. And, as a consequence of its existence, we, the people, must each accept the challenge of penetrating the psycho-cyber semipermeable membrane that makes it more and more difficult for the many to become one.
We must also accept the uselessness of any impulse to huff and puff and blow these walls down. No, we will need to be invited in. The people whose cooperation we so desperately need must be able to trust that we are at least working to solve the same problems they are. That is no small challenge because forces with agendas outside the common good are working to convince them that the symptoms are the problem. It is these architects of false narratives that must be the target of our wrath, and while it is important to refrain from blaming the victims of their duplicity, no such absolution applies to the perpetrators. Our fellow Americans are told every day that the problem is Hillary’s email server when in reality the problem is cyber-espionage of all sorts. We are told that the problem is that politicians are actively subverting huge segments of our economy and destroying communities that sprang up to support coal mines, textile mills, shoe factories, and steel mills when, in truth, these towns and industries are under the very same pressures that threaten us all. These towns and industries are the canaries in the coal mine. They are warning us all of the unintended consequences of exponentially expanding technical advancement which is making manual labor cost ineffective no matter how low the wage rate becomes. They are sounding the alarm for all of us that reliance on carbon-intensive fuel has always come with non-recovered costs for which the bill is now becoming due. Therefore, we must hammer home just how unfairly these communities are being treated. It is not enough to give lip service to the problems facing these segments of America. We must stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens and demand that our lawmakers develop effective policies to deal with these problems.
There are two old adages that apply in our current dilemma. The first is, “People shout when they believe they are not being heard.” Whether you heard the results of the last election as the rantings of a racist mob or the scream for the help of fellow citizens in real pain, we can all agree that is was certainly enough to get our attention. The problems facing millions of Americans can no longer be swept under the rug, but it will always be easier for the people who actually caused the problems to try and blame someone else if possible, rather than face the blame themselves. The second goes like this, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If we expect people to listen to our solutions, they must first be convinced that our proposals are aimed at their problems and that those problems are at the top of our list of priorities.
Consider this example of misplaced priorities. In Wisconsin, Dane Country has a high school population of just under 2,000 students. Experts project that in a population of that size, it is likely that between 2 and 4 students will be transgender. In 2011, among that same age group of teens and young adults, 15 – 24 individuals were hospitalized for an opioid overdose and received Naloxone to keep them from dying, and the problem is getting worse. Among the general population deaths from overdose have increased by more than 100%. Similar statistics apply all over the country, with many rural America experiencing the scourge of heroin addiction for the first time in their history, and they are facing it without an existing structure of support. Like an isolated community in the throes of a contagion, the lack natural inoculation. We must provide that resistance. The thought that legislators across the country are spending time arguing over which bathrooms should be available to a few people who are not satisfied with their biological gender, while a deadly problem threatens the lives of a far greater number of children and young adults goes unresolved, strike many as a case of misplaced priorities at best and possibly even a moral failure . Ask yourself, if you were a parent with a transgender child suffering from an opioid addiction, which problem would you address first, the bathroom issue or the death by overdose threat.
Reasonable people may insist that it is not fair to ignore one of these two problems, and ask, “Why can’t we expect our elected officials to be able to walk AND chew gum?” People are answering that question by insisting that if, as is evident, we can’t do both, it is far more important to be able to walk now and discuss gum chewing later. While people on the left may reject this proposition as a false dichotomy, the consequences of ignoring the views of their fellow citizens are unavoidable. Faced with what they see as tragically misplace priorities, many rural Americans are ready to believe the worst about their coastal cousins. In the past decade, with support from the very voters we need the most, America has elected its first black president, endorsed women and gays in the military, and homosexuals marriages, while their brother and sisters in rural communities continue to bear the burdens of problems discussed earlier.
Like it or not, politics is a zero-sum game. Political capital invested in the solution of one problem does not instantly and miraculously replenish itself. Constituencies of all sorts must vie for this most valuable commodity. The problems facing rural America are not only real, they are, or at least were the most fundamental issues of the left in this country. Perhaps it is time to see our fellow Americans as deserving of our help rather than our disdain.