1. What happened
It’s mid-November 2016, and sixty million people voted for Donald Trump for the U.S. Presidency, and he won the election. Sixty. Million. People.Overall, more people voted for Secretary Clinton, but not in the right precincts, and that’s how our system works.
The five stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Now that we’re past denial, let’s stay with anger for one more minute.
2. Why it happened
Here’s the one thing you need to try to understand as you’re consuming TV, radio, print, and online media, seeking to understand what the fuck happened: no one understands anything. I really believe that. A month ago, very smart people would have told you that winning the presidency was — if nothing else — complicated. It takes a world-class team of political professionals, they’d tell you. It takes a nationwide staff. It takes thoughtful policy positions, a successful convention, super PAC money, debate prep, compelling endorsements, big-data voter analytics, and a serious ground operation in the swing states. Oh, it also takes a list of qualifications which outweighs your negatives. More than anything, though, it takes basic competence.
Now, a month later, it turns out that none of that matters. All of the people whose job it was to cultivate the appearance of complexity for winning national office were completely wrong. Their hyper-complicated machinery was all an empty cardboard box the whole time, decorated with colorful nonsense crayon scrawl. Trump pwned these media machinists so badly, you can hear them all saying now: “Umm … he’s a genius!”, “He’s a media savant!” No, he’s not. You’re just a confused fool, and he’s just a famous guy who was willing to tear down the whole facade in order to win. Just because it was impossible for the pundits to fully understand the ten-dimensional, non-linear model they overlayed onto our election system doesn’t mean it was an accurate reflection of how things actually worked.
And as for you, all of that time you spent getting informed? Reading the newspaper, weighing the issues, following your favorite columnists on social media, TiVo’ing the debates? Just as much as the pundits: all a waste of time. Because the simple truth is one we all learned in grade-school popularity contests: all that it takes to win are more voters who like you for ANY reason compared to the number of voters who like your opponent. Doesn’t matter why they feel that way — consider that millions of people like Trump because he is a role model of how they would behave if they could. “If I was a billionaire, I’d hook up with models, I’d live in a gold plated penthouse in Manhattan, I’d buy frickin’ beauty pageants so that I could wander around backstage checking out the free titties, and if anyone gave me any shit about it, I’d unleash an army of lawyers and sue their ass.” Go on, say it out loud with a slight angry-drunk tone in your voice. Think they TiVo’d the debates?
And what of campaigning? Also not as hard as we were led to believe. All you need to do is (a) be famous already, (b) speak to the people who like you already, and then (c) get them to dislike your opponent by any means necessary. Call your opponent names. Accuse them of crimes. Label them traitors. Question their health. Encourage violence and mob-like chanting. It does not matter that you look stupid and your behavior is dangerous; it will work, and you will win.
Because — and this is the most important part — you will win if your only consideration is the winning itself. Anything that gets broken in the process of winning clearly wasn’t strong enough in the first place. More about this later.
3. Why It Hurts
If you know anything about me, you know that I grew up in a family surrounded by tide-pools of hate. My parent’s never-ending divorce, my extended family’s caustic infighting, the weekly condemnations from my parish’s priests, the boring rituals of the neighborhood bullies, all that shit.
I swam far, far away to escape it. But that clammy, dirty tide-pool stink is irrepressible. It dyed into my skin and — if you really know me — you know it’s the part of myself I struggle with the most. Hate slips easily from my skin into my heart, and I’ve learned to react by not breathing until either it wanders off or I fall over dead. I refuse to accommodate it; I will not live that way.
So I say this with the confidence of an unfortunate expert: I know hate when I see it, and its power was apparent in Trump’s victorious electorate.
“No,” you say, “this wasn’t about hate, this was about an election. About politics!” Bullshit. You don’t get to murder someone while making a salad and call it cooking; you also don’t get to vote for hate and just call it politics.
I’m half-a-century old and it still crushes me that hate works.
4. What You’re Doing Now
I think I know what you’re doing. At least, I know what a lot of my thoughtful, engaging, empathetic Facebook friends are doing. And if I could give you and them some quiet advice, it would be this: whatever you were doing before the election to mitigate your stress and worry, do the opposite now to alleviate your post-election stress and worry.
For example: before the election, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I clicked through every link on my Twitter feed discussing polls, poll trends, poll-deskewing methodologies, campaign strategies, everything. Although I was actually just being entertained, I felt informed. I felt like I understood what was going to happen and why. Factually, however, I was completely wrong. So now I’m taking a break from even thinking about it. It’s not easy; I’m a good thinker and I find thinking enjoyable. And I like feeling informed — it seems meaningful to be so. But I’m no longer sure it is — I think it’s just something I do. Something I’m addicted to. Because all of my thinking and staying informed didn’t serve me, and arguably made the impact much worse, like knowing for an hour that a tornado is coming at your home versus an earthquake that just shows up unannounced. So I’m taking a break from it. Really, from myself.
And what about you? Maybe you’re good at engaging with people, so you’re motivated now to “reach out” to Trump voters, seek understanding and perhaps discover common ground. That feels right. But I’m not sure it is; maybe it’s just something you do? Because you cannot and you will not find common ground if there isn’t any. And even if there was, I doubt you would want to say or become what you would need to say or become for them to respond positively to you.
Or maybe you’re good at empathizing, so putting yourself in someone else’s shoes comes easy to you. That sounds useful. But in this situation, I’m not sure it is. Putting yourself into the shoes of a Trump voter might not inform you in the least, not if there is no understanding there to gather. After all, there is very little nuance in the minds of people who’ve been conditioned to resent nuance.
As I said a little before, and as the video below summarizes better than I ever could, the election was never about thinking, engaging, or empathizing. It isn’t about anything except the winning. Your team LOST, their team WON, there is nothing else. It was never about policy, or country, or looking forward, or qualifications, or temperament, or anything detectable by empirical measurement. It’s only about winning. Trump supporters are proud of their victory, they’re laughing at your suggestion of an end-of-game handshake ritual, and they’ll go on remaining proud of their winning team regardless of what happens tomorrow or a year from now. They won; it is what is best in life.
So take some time off. Gather your strength, you’re going to need it.
5. What’s Next
Sorry, but … It’s going to get worse. Hard rain? Gonna fall. But even if everything goes utterly to hell, even if the person that the Trump winners put in charge screws up everything in exactly the manner he promised he would, those winners are never going to accept any portion of the blame. Instead — and you can set your watch to this — they’re going to blame YOU for losing. It’s YOUR fault for running a weak candidate. Had YOU done better, none of this would have happened. Let me say it exactly as it’s running around their minds: it’s your fault your nose is bleeding — if you hadn’t let your face become so punchable, I wouldn’t have had to punch it.
And finally, after it gets worse, either exactly in the way it was promised or in some never-saw-that-coming sort of way, it will eventually get better. Sun Tzu wrote a lot of great stuff in his little book, and very few of them are about things eventually getting better. But there is one I like, and it goes something like this: if you stand by the riverbank long enough, you’ll see the body of your enemy floating past you.
There’s a lot of hopeful wisdom crammed into that river, so let me call out my favorite glimmers darting below the surface:
- Sometimes all you can do is stand around and wait. But, stay frosty. You’re standing next to a riverbank, after all, and someone very likely wants to throw you into it. It takes strength and determination to outlast anything.
- People die, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Celebrate that even the most powerful, evil people on the world are still mortal, because otherwise some things would never get any better. Death is inevitable, so change is inevitable.
And if you really want to know what sort of world we’re going to be living in in twenty years, look to the kids in high-school now. Listen to them. If you’re lucky enough, talk to them. If you’re really lucky, guide them. Explain your values and why you hold them. Explain fairness, and kindness, and integrity, and trust, and optimism. Even better, demonstrate them. Because that’s teaching. And although that’s all there is, ultimately it’s more than enough.
That’s it. That’s all I got. See you at the river.
This article originally appeared on Medium
Photo credit: Getty Images