It seems as if everybody is either writing or talking, in celebration or anguish over the election results. Interestingly, Clinton won the majority of votes, but Trump won the most electoral delegates and so will be the next U.S. president.
My question is: what should those of us in the (admittedly small) popular majority do now? I understand the reported impulse to immigrate to Canada or New Zealand. But I don’t think it’s time to withdraw. That is to give in to some of the most terrifying threats Trump made during the election campaign. Trump has already identified climate-deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an act that may be potentially the most destructive act of his entire presidency. Because if we do not stop destroying our climate, we will ultimately destroy ourselves. Economic ruin would look like nirvana by comparison.
But how should we go forward in a constructive way?
My own thoughts are that the first thing we need to do is to understand the vote. That divides into 3 parts: why so many people voted for Trump, why the Democratic Party did not make Sanders, who was addressing the same questions of economic inequality as Trump, their presidential nominee, and why subsequently enough people did not vote for Clinton. The answers are complex, personal, sociological, political, and economic. What the answers are NOT is simple. We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t listen, if we’ve already made up our minds that those who disagree with us are White supremacists, unpatriotic, anti-feminist, bigoted, ignorant, fascist, or just stupid. Even if some of those labels turn out to be valid, the deeper question is why.
Why do so many people distrust Washington politicians? Why do so many people resent immigrants? Why do so many people want to limit free trade? Why are so many people climate-deniers?
I’m inclined to think that the most fundamental reasons are economic. When people are struggling to survive, needing to get their next meal from a food bank, cannot heat their homes, or care for their children because they cannot get a job or a job that pays them enough to care for their families, they ask why? If that were you, what would you say?
Would you not think immigrants are taking the jobs you used to do? or that international trade is sending those jobs to foreign countries? Would you suspect that corruption explains why for white male workers without a college degree, median incomes have fallen since 2007 by more than 14 percent, after adjusting for inflation and have fallen by more than 20 percent since the 1970s? Would you not look at the Washington politicians and ask why they have done nothing about the fact that 2 million American jobs were lost as a result of the trade agreement made during the Clinton administration with China? Or why the same administration permitted banks to begin to invest savers’ money in risky adventures that eventually brought them to the edge of bankruptcies in 2008 that even with massive government bail-outs lead to an extremely painful recession? Would you not wonder about a tax system that has permitted those 2% to have become so much richer in the last 40 years while gutting the American middle class?
I am appalled and terrified by what the Trump administration might do. But my biggest reason for fear is that Trump and his followers think that limiting free trade and immigration, that building walls on our borders, and continuing to destroy our environment will solve these problems. Unfortunately, understanding our global economic system is not as simple as handling a personal budget. Limiting free trade and immigration profoundly risks making all our problems much worse, and especially the job-problems of the white men today without college degrees.
The more I read about economics, and it’s more than the average person, the more complex I realize it is. Human behavior and the systems we build is perhaps the most complex thing we try to understand. I think, actually, it’s more challenging than understanding physics and the universe, more complex than figuring out climate change.
We’re never going to get it totally right. But any system in which sympathy and respect and care has been drained away is certain to fail.
That’s why I think the first thing we need to do is listen. To listen with openness and respect. That does not mean we agree. But it is possible to have sympathy for another’s point of view even when one totally disagrees.
Then perhaps we can communicate that we do indeed care about all the disadvantaged, not just those from groups for whom we have a natural sympathy. I think we have to do that before we can effectively create a society which the majority of people, whatever their situations, experience as more fair, free and open society, giving everyone an equal opportunity to express their unique individuality.