How Liberals Got Trump Elected
In 1989, I moved to Tokyo and started working as a teacher. Unsurprisingly, I looked at the culture through ethnocentric eyes. The Japanese were too accomodating and worried too much about what others thought. The way in which I thought they suppressed their own needs for the greater good rubbed my sense that the individual needed to advocate for herself the wrong way. I thought this despite having been a fan of Star Trek for many years and embraced the idea that the needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one. The concept in principle was easy to accept. In practice, it was a lot harder to manage.
Over the years of speaking with (literally) thousands of Japanese people, I heard them say no small number of times that it was important to seek everyone’s opinion before making changes or taking action. In the early days, I thought this seemed an enormous impediment to social and economic progress and felt it was responsible for the sluggishness with which Japanese culture changed. You couldn’t allow a couple of backwards thinking people to hold everyone else back. I didn’t understand that that wasn’t exactly what they meant because I couldn’t hold the perspective that the natives did about their culture and they, as insiders, couldn’t explain it clearly to me. What I couldn’t comprehend then was that this was actually a means by which social order and harmony were kept intact, and that American now more than ever needs to learn a lesson from this.
When I was told that we need to understand everyone’s opinion, what was actually meant was that we had to consider the impact of any change emotionally on particular groups and attempt to make changes which would ruffle feathers the least while still bringing about the desired change. If one group wasn’t “ready” and the other was prepared, then perhaps the changes could be made in such a way as to satisfy both parties or, at least, without alienating the side which was too hidebound to move ahead. For example, when the salesmen who sold the English correspondence courses that my company sold were resistant to including a female salesperson in their group, the company introduced the concept by employing a woman when they started selling Chinese lesssons. She worked separately, but occupied the same position. This opened the door to the concept without forcing an unwanted element into a group that wasn’t ready for a female of equal status to them. It was a way of helping old-fashioned males acclimate to this change without threatening them. Eventually, this woman also started selling English course. By the time that happened, the men had gotten used to the idea and they didn’t care when she joined their ranks.
I spent 23 years in Japan and returned to the U.S. in 2012. That means I was outside of my native cultural system long enough to see it from the outside. A system is largely invisible to you from the inside so this was a tremendous gift as well as a burden when I returned. I saw things far more clearly, but what I saw was alarming and disappointing. Americans in power felt that it was okay to cram the changes they wanted down the throats of those who were currently disempowered. When liberals were in charge, they forced those changes on conservatives and vice versa. There was no compromise or surveying of the situation. There was just smug pushing of agendas until something broke. Usually, the thing that shattered was a particular group’s grip on power.
At no time in my life has the shift been more brutal and destructive than it has been since Donald Trump’s election. It is my opinion that liberals elected Donald Trump by pushing people of conservative values too far too fast and being self-satisfied in their “progress.” It’s also my opinion that social liberals could have had the progess they wanted in many cases without angering social conservatives, but they were too high on their horses to even consider any alternative other than labeling people small-minded, bigoted, and racist to give the other side any sort of real consideration. They didn’t take the time to really hear everyone’s opinons, in the words of so many of my former students.
One of the examples of a form of progress that angered people that was dismissed by liberals was the issue of trans bathroom use. Social conservatives didn’t want trans people, especially trans women, using bathrooms of their chosen sexual identity because of fears that it’d open the door to imposters using bathrooms to molest children or peep on women. Whether or not you believe that fear is legitimate based on your opinion is irrelevant. It was the concern some people held and even if it was paranoid and histrionic in your perspective, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to invalidate the perspective of others and hammer them into a new world order. This is especially so when there was a solution that wouldn’t ruffle their feathers and wouldn’t cost much more than the one that was forced upon people. What is more, it would have avoided the fallout in which people with a more androgynous appearance were being accosted by suspicious and angry people who didn’t want them in the “wrong” bathroom. The “win” that was achieved came at the expense of everyone, including those it was designed to help as it brought on more anger and violence.
The solution that I’m speaking of was that it be required that all establishments have at least one unisex bathroom that anyone could use without question. In places in which there is only one bathroom, this is already the case so it wouldn’t be that novel. In establishments with only two bathrooms, it could be recommended that one be unisex and the other a “family” bathroom for people to take their children into or that both be unisex. Problem solved and questions about gender identity aren’t an issue as there is a safe space for kids and families or we can all just pee in the same place.
That would have been the harmonious answer to the question, though it wouldn’t have been perfect. However, there are never any perfect solutions so we need to step away from quibbling about the drawbacks of a solution that would have kept better social harmony at the expense of men piddling on the toilet seats women might be using or women walking in on men standing at urinals. Some antibacterial wet wipes in the stalls (or in your purse) and a few well-placed barriers and such problems are much more easily solved than getting people to accept women who were born with an XY chromosome configuration using a ladies room. Bathrooms are easier to change than minds, after all.
The reason that we didn’t do this is that we decided that forcing our liberal values (yes, I’m a liberal) on people was more important than solving the issue in the least socially destructive manner. We had to force “those people” into a more modern and egalitarian way of thinking and we had the power to do it. It was a way to flip the bird at people who we perceived as backward thinking, transphobic, homophobic, likely racist, and perhaps we could even throw in misogynistic while we’re elevating ourselves above conservatives by slapping judgemental labels on them. How can we possibly know how advanced we are without antagonizing people into showing how backward they are by pushing uncomfortable changes on them? That seems to often matter more than solving problems in America.
At present, liberals aren’t in power so it’s our turn to get spanked and have someone else’s values crammed down our throats. When we get the power back (and we will), it might be in our own interests not to keep riding this same see-saw and to consider solving problems rather than advancing agendas as the Japanese seem to do so much better than the Americans. How can we address the needs of minorities and the disempowered without angering people who aren’t ready to accept those changes rather than attempting to drag them into our mental spaces against their will? This is not an act of appeasement, but preservation. You can’t force people to think as you do and any attempt to try just pushes them further in the opposite direction. It results in strong political power shifts, phobic responses, and violence. Let’s listen to everyone’s opinions and try to find a solution that we can all benefit from.