Thursday, November 10, 2016

When Bad Elections Happen to Good Countries

The more I read people’s responses to this election, the more my brain goes into monologue mode--naturally, this means it’s a typing day.

Though completely lacking in graceful segue, it feels both wise and necessary to disclose up front: I’m a (now ex-) Republican who could not, under any circumstances, vote for Donald Trump. If Bernie had run on the Democrat ticket, I would have, for the first time in my life, voted for a Democrat president. I may disagree with him on many things, but he has a conscience, unlike the two who were offered.

So I voted for Gary and I’d do it again. That’s out of the way. Let’s hope the powers that be realize now if the election had been between Johnson and Sanders, we would’ve had a great choice between two good, competent individuals. Alas.

Addressing the issue at hand. The part of this discussion that my brain latched onto is the way those upset over the election seem to have a very hyper-focused opinion on how and why this happened--and that the how and why is a cultural embracing of bigotry. When anyone tries to argue differently, the metaphoric ears shut off. This is a natural, unavoidable reaction to any emotional trauma, and clearly, this election counts as one.

A solid half of our country seems to be in a mental and emotional state of what my friends and I call, “there, there”--that frame of mind where a person is so emotionally compromised, s/he is not ready for logic, and explanations sound like excuses. In fact, there is no practical point in attempting any communication beyond commiseration and sympathetic noises while the venting occurs. This is both normal and healthy. Anger feels better than grief, and so people are looking for ways to lay righteous blame. Fair enough.

There is, though, a tiny little sweet spot in the venting stage, when the person stops for air, when one can say, “Hey, I get that you're furious. I am in complete agreement with your emotional state--it is totally justified. Can I throw some information in your direction? Because it really sounds like part of your suffering is linked to your not having all of the facts.”

Notice I did not say that the person was overreacting or wrong.

If you hit it juuuuust right, the tirade pauses, head turns away slightly, deep breath, and looking at you from the corner of slightly narrowed eyes, the person will cautiously, oh so cautiously, say, “Go on.”

I’m hoping like hell that this blog post will hit that sweet spot right on its kisser.

The two issues as I see them:

Assumption #1: Trump got elected because, as suspected, this country is chock full of bigoted white people.

If one is to have any chance of restoring his/her faith in humanity, the question must be asked, “Is there a way a person could vote for Trump without buying into his hate mongering mania?”

The answer is a quiet, largely ignored, but unqualified yes.  Again, I did not and would not vote for him. But I know people who did and can speak to their decency.

Here’s how it happened:

How many tweets, articles, irate editorials, and statuses have mentioned something to the tune of how anyone saying we should all calm down is a straight, white man? And therefore a person without a right to an opinion on the matter?

Historically, straight white men (let’s shorten that to SWM) have had a lot, a LOT, A LOTTA power. Over the past century, that dynamic had finally begun to change. Progress had been made. We’re not where we need to be, but it’s better than it was. Is the election of Trump a setback? It certainly has the potential for it. But only if we let emotions cloud our thinking.

This is every bit as much an opportunity for a huge step forward for equality for everyone. Hear me out.

SWM needed to be stripped of quite a lot of their power. No argument. The power, the rights of all human beings must be equal. Also, marginalizing, vilifying, ridiculing and devaluing anyone who is not a SWM is bad and we shouldn’t do it. YA THINK?????

Somewhere in the mix, our quest to empower those who aren’t SWM led to the ironic problem of marginalizing, vilifying, ridiculing and devaluing the very group of humans whose behaviors we had identified as evil. We became the aggressors, engaging in the very behaviors we condemned. We justified it by listing out all the horrific crimes against humanity committed by SWM, especially the SWM who have been dead and gone for a long, damn time.

Don’t believe me? It’s been said that the best gauge for a culture’s personality is their comedy. What they mock, what is sacred, what makes them laugh the hardest. This is especially true when we recognize that humor, belly laughter inducing humor almost always comes at the expense of a person, place, thing, or ideology. There are rules of course. Whatever profile you fit (gender, race, orientation, etc.), you can make fun of yourself. Whatever minority you are, you can mock that facet of minority with impunity (Jewish people can make fun of Judaism, an LGBT individual can make light of LGBT cultural stereotypes), and whatever racial minority you are, you can address race with a certain degree of freedom. And so on.

But is there a group of people who are acceptable as anyone’s target? Gentle, mean, accurate, stereotype perpetuating--regardless of the comedian/enne’s identity?

Why yes. Yes there is.

Straight. White. Men.

I fell into this trap myself. As I am straight and white, I obviously cannot speak to the issues facing the LGBT, and racially non-white communities. However, as a woman, I can speak to sexism.

My wake up call example? It wasn’t until I heard a woman--a teacher!--justify her arbitrarily favoring a girl student’s needs over those of my son. To her mind, he needed to learn his place with regard to sexism. When I objected, she lectured me about how, in other countries, girls aren’t even allowed in schools, and in some more barbaric areas--

Whoa, whoa, freaking whoa. At what point did my FOUR YEAR OLD SON wrong anyone?

Her response, I kid you not, was something to the tune of, “well, he’s going to be a man one day, and he’s white anyway--he’ll have plenty of opportunities to even the score.”

What. The. Hell.

From that day on, I was, shall we say, a bit less blase about the SWM scapegoat. Humor or otherwise. There is no denying white privilege. There is no denying straight privilege. BUT.

I think most of us can agree that, all together now, marginalizing, vilifying, ridiculing and devaluing a group of humans is a bad thing. A bad practice that will elicit bad results. We know this. And how often do we tell ourselves, each other, our children--humans are humans are humans. I’m not talking about rights, or even the value of human life--there is all sorts of room for opinions on how and where those fall. I’m talking about the science of human brains, how they process information and how homo sapiens will react, given certain circumstances. Black, white, pink, orange, blue, purple and chartreuse. It doesn’t matter if the group consists of Greenpeace members or neo-Nazis. Convince a group of people that they don’t matter to the culture in which they live--when it comes time to vote, they will vote for their own self interest rather than the greater good of that culture.

Over the last few decades, we have embraced the practices of those we condemned, self- righteously punishing innocent men for the sins of their fathers. People only take abuse for so long before they revolt. The votes Trump got, certainly some of them were from horrible, right wing bigots. But for most of them, supporting him was a direct result of how we had created for SWM a mindset of seeing themselves as a minority. Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for one of the parties to figure this out/exploit it. But I’m a little on the cold, cynical side.

Which brings me to...

Assumption #2: Anyone who is not overtly displaying outrage over this (or has made the mistake of saying something like“let’s make the best with where we find ourselves”) is in sympathy with the hateful beliefs of those who voted that nutbar into office.

There is a great deal of outrage with regard to how many people, across the political spectrum, are in a mental state of, “okay, I get it, people are upset; it’s time to move on and make the best of things”.

Hello, Stages of Grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I think it’s safe to say that many, many American citizens are currently experiencing Anger--and are bent as HELL that so many other people appear as though they are not.

There are two reasons for this.

First one. As shocked as I was about the election (I had resigned myself to a Hillary regime), my raging disbelief, despair experience happened when the parties picked their runners. That moment when I had to make my peace with the fact we were going to get Trump or Hillary, and that’s all she wrote? Right then. There was my meltdown. Therefore, the emotional upheaval everyone else is experiencing? It’s not that I cannot empathize, it’s that I had already experienced it.

Denial was stunned shock that Trump wasn't an elaborate prank coupled with open mouthed appall at the Democrat nominee. Anger was far less demonstrative (more on that below). Bargaining was the (vain) hope that Hillary would go to jail, and we could vote for Bernie. Depression was realizing she's just as slippery as her husband, and oh Christ, what do we do now? I cannot pretend we reached (or will ever reach) Acceptance with Trump--but unhappy, weary resignation would not be a lie.

But yes, in addition to all of that, I’m white.

Why are so many (white) people inexplicably calm in the face of this train-wreck election? It must be that calm is the same as quiet and quiet is concession or agreement.

Or not. An enormous amount of mental anguish is occurring right now because our culture has not only a very limited image of how white people process information and react to it, American culture also views her Caucasian population as a cohesive group. I know, I know. On the surface, it seems the issues here are bigger than discussing the different flavors of whitey (insert here all of the truly terrifying implications of an unchecked Trump presidency). I could discuss those issues--but everyone else seems to have that covered. My concern is that people are suffering right now because of their lack of understanding of white people, and therefore, one of the keys to healing is addressing that. We’re about to live with at least four years of Trump. Why borrow trouble?

If the world could only understand one thing about this population: not all white cultures display emotional compromise in the same manner. Not even in the alleged melting pot of the United States. This was a little blurry for me when I was growing up, as most of my childhood was spent as a displaced Philly girl living in Georgia. Down there, racial identification is actually pretty black and white (and red, and yellow, and brown). But the bottom line is: white is white is white.

Admittedly, in the South, there is a certain degree of truth in that...if you are dealing with white people who either have such a mixed ancestry of northwestern Europe that they honestly do not know their makeup, and/or have identified so thoroughly with Southern culture that they simply do not care.  As a result, yes. In the American Southeast, there is a certain degree of white folks are just plain old white. But that doesn't change Darwinism, doesn't change the behavioral inheritances of their roots.

I’ve since lived in several other sections of the east coast, and I’m here to tell you, at least on this side of the country, as soon as you leave the South, folks usually know darn well what they are. Down to percentages. Half this, a quarter that, an eighth of the other, on my mother’s father’s side. So let’s consider the possibility that the alleged accuracy in assuming a melting pot of white is only specific to the American Southeast, if anywhere at all.

Unless, of course, we go with how our media, and therefore our culture, seems to have embraced this concept as a reality for all white Americans, not just Southeastern ones. Oh, and what other ginormously gargantuan assumption gets made about white people in the South? I think there’s one to do with race...

Okay, fine. But why, oh why, is this important?

I’m a British Isles’ descent girl with a touch of German and French thrown in for good measure; save for that one great, great grandparent (the French fellow), my particular brand of white heritage doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in “there, there”. EVER.  It’s just not in our ancestral hard drive. Even with our passions aroused, we move pretty quickly to the “plotting our next strategy” thing.

Ever heard of the British term, “stiff upper lip”? It is the concept and practice of facing any and all emotional adversity with dignified reserve. Germany? Talk about a culture well known for systematically approaching emotional situations with clinical detachment. But what about the Irish? They’re loud and passionate, right? Sure, we enjoy boisterous joy, celebration. But do you know any Irish people? Once you ditch the “partying drunk” stereotype and hit the reality, you’ll find that the angrier we get--the colder we get. Once the situation is more serious than a shouting match with a family member, we are terrifyingly quiet.

It's almost as if the colder the weather of the country of ethnic origin, the more likely it is for that person to have a genetic predisposition to going to the scary calm place when s/he is angry. I have no idea if this has any scientific merit, but that has been my very, very consistent experience.

There is a reason you see “I can’t keep calm, I’m (Italian, Sicilian, French)” t-shirts, but will rarely ever see one that says, “I can’t keep calm, I’m (English or German)”. (I’m leaving out the Irish right now since the comedy of those shirts depend on cultural stereotypes and most have a skewed picture of the Irish.) There is a reason one of my very best friends is ever so proud of her Sicilian fire, identifying with the demonstrative passion of the Corleone family, while I get all warm and fuzzy at Tom Hagan's stoicism.

Now with that in mind, think of just how many white Americans are at least partly of English, Irish, Scottish, and German descent?

Trump got most of his votes because he understood his demographic. He played on the fears of a group who felt victimized, and specifically by politically correct culture--therefore, proving he understood their pain included, hell, necessitated, being politically incorrect. I honestly don’t see Hillary as any better than Trump. She simply knows that her demographic has different fears to exploit and will respond favorably to different tactics. If you think about it, playing on her demographic’s fears and using language that acted as proof of her sincerity is exactly what Hillary did. It’s what most politicians do. That’s just smart marketing. The biggest difference between the two candidates, really, is that Trump played to the population with the higher numbers in the states that are more heavily weighted electorally.

Obviously, this post isn't addressing the real problems with being saddled with Trump. But hopefully, it can help people look at their neighbors and coworkers with pity and understanding instead of suspicion and fear. Trump may very well be just as awful as he seems, but the people who voted for him, the people whose ethics you feel you have good reason to doubt--chances are, they are the same nice people they've always been. They simply made a calculated gamble on the chance that he's better than he seems.

The bottom line. Just because a straight, white man (or woman, for that matter) voted for him, it doesn’t mean they liked doing so--they either acted out of fear, or with the genuine belief in what I outlined above. Just because a straight, white man or woman is taking this calmly, it doesn’t mean they are in agreement with, or even feeling complacent about the coming regime--it means we’re planning our strategy to help. Finally, just because someone voted for Gary Johnson, it doesn’t mean that vote was wasted. It means that person could not bring him or herself to vote for someone who they see as genuinely bad for our country. At the end of the day, we're all just folk.


It hit me this morning--since there doesn't seem to be a lot of casual bipartisan communication/socializing going on, maybe those on the left are genuinely unaware of JUST HOW ALL DONE the right wing is with the current administration, to say nothing of its virulent hatred for Hillary. Seriously. The right finds her every bit as appalling as the left sees Trump. Its members are just waaaaaaaay less demonstrative. Without a Bernie Sanders upset, if you had asked a year ago, good money would have (accurately) predicted a GOP win by a landslide. A George H.W. Bush vs. Michael Dukakis landslide. As someone who is intimately familiar with many Republicans, I'm here to tell you, folks should take true solace in how close this race was. That, if nothing else, proves my point that things are not quite as hopeless as they seem.