Frustrations and Fears
After the 2016 US Presidential Election
[Originally published on Facebook in November 2016]
I’ve lived in the US since 2007. As a non-citizen I’ve not had the opportunity to vote. However, I have been keenly following many political episodes, including the election of America’s first “50% White+ 50% Black” President, and, more recently, its first, apparently, “Orange” one.
There are many aspects of engagement with US politics, which I’ve found frustrating and scary. Election 2016 has emphasized these frustrations and fears, and that’s what this note is about.
The Purplish States of America
The vast majority of my friends and acquaintances in the San Francisco Bay Area (where I live) identify as Democratic Party aligned Liberals (Blues). They’ve constantly and publicly identified with this alignment (e.g. #imwithher). Their social media communications highlight the positives of the Blue Team, and the negatives of the Red Team. They deal in certainties. Truths they hold to be self evident.
Republican Party aligned Conservatives seem exactly the same; with the exception of rooting for the Red team instead.
I’ve struggled to exclusively identify with a particular party. This is because, once I list all the issues, I agree with the Blue team on some, with the Red team on others, and neither on still others. On most issues, I’m more aligned with the Blues, but there are others which I’m more aligned with the Reds. In this sense, I’m neither Blue, nor Red, but Purple; even if its a Bluer shade of Purple.
Most of us are various shades of Purple. But why is it hard for us to say so openly? Why do we need to pretend we are the purest shade of Blue or Red? Democrats, please can you list Republican policies you agree more with? And Republicans vice versa?
Jesus for President
When I have a strong one-sided opinion, I try very hard to force myself to argue the case for the other side. This is hard, and often I fail. But this is a good practice, because our natural biases get in the way of good judgement.
These last couple of months, I heard about everything that was wrong about the Red Candidate, from the Blue team, and everything that was wrong about the Blue Candidate, from the Read team. I wish this was the other way around.
I would have trusted the judgement of Ms. Clinton’s supporters (especially those around me) a lot more, had they articulated Ms. Clinton’s short-comings more clearly and openly. All political candidates must have some short-comings. When his/her supporters don’t say what these are, I can only conclude that they are either ignorant, or they have something to hide.
The democratic process depends on people being informed and acting on that information. I, for one, had significant concerns about Ms. Clinton’s suitability, both as a Presidential candidate, and as a President (I don’t want to go into these, because that’s not what this note is about). But among fellow Bluer shades of Purple, I was in the minority, when it came to being open about these concerns.
Bigots casting stones at other Bigots
It is very hard for individual humans to hate other individual humans, once they get to know each other. The process of getting to know another person is the process of realizing that we are the same. On the other hand, it is very easy to hate labels: Mexicans, Muslims, Bigots, Misogynists, Homophobes, NRA-members etc etc, because it’s easier not to identify with them; and it’s easier to see the people cloaked in these labels as sub-human or inhuman.
I’ve been alarmed at the amount of political discourse which happens through labels. How many of us personally know a bigot? And if we think we do, have we ever sat down with the said bigot and tried to understand its views? Even if we conclude that the said bigot is seriously mentally disturbed and in need of therapy (or a lethal injection), can we extrapolate that large numbers of our fellow humans are exactly and uncontroversially the same?
A bigot is “a person who is intolerant toward those holding different opinions”. There is often very little difference between a bigot and someone who casts stones at others calling them bigots. People, please look in the mirror.
Most people who voted for Mr. Trump are decent Americans. They are not bigots. For many of them the world has advanced and left them behind. They yearn for some past greatness, which an Orange faced, misogynist promises them. They did what they did because the rest of the world was too busy calling them bigots, rather that seeing their plight and helping them out.
Conquer we must
I’ve grown to love the USA. It’s been my home for most of the last 9 years. I feel for the US a lot of the matriotism I feel for Sri Lanka (my country of birth and citizenship). Ideas like “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” must be protected and promoted. But I genuinely fear for them.
I fear Blue Bigots as much as I fear that of Red ones. I fear personality cults of perfect leaders and perfect misleaders. I fear branding our fellow humans as inhuman. I fear all these things, but I’m most afraid that nothing will be done about them. We can’t let nothing be done. Conquer we must, when our cause it is just.