Monday, November 7, 2016

Elelction Time

Like many, this presidential election has left me stunned.  I have apologized to my children for the behavior of the so-called adults involved.  All our children deserve better than what we have seen over the past year, and probably better than what's to come.

I have numerous thoughts about the many troubling aspects of recent politics, but most of them would just be rehashing observations everyone is all too familiar with.  Other people have written at length about the grotesque absurdities we've witnessed, so there's no need to restate them here.  What I would like to talk about are a couple of key points I think could use more consideration going forward, regardless of the results of this election.

First, I think the biggest casualty of the process this time around has been the acceptance of facts.  Politics is generally all spin and we've come to accept that, but I am alarmed by both the way news has come to be presented, and by how quickly people are ready to dismiss what they don't want to hear.  The problem of confirmation bias in politics is off the charts.  The amount of sheer denial is staggering. 

I don't know what we do as a society when people are not mature enough to accept facts they don't like.  There is no way to have any kind of discussion when people are unwilling to agree on anything.  We are all guilty of it to a degree, but there is less common ground now than in any time I can remember.  Everything can't just be a knee-jerk partisan reaction.  I did not like President Bush, but there were moments I agreed with him.  I dislike Donald Trump, but even he has made occasional statements that have struck me as reasonable.  I support Hillary Clinton in this election, but I acknowledge aspects of her life that are troubling.  We need to be able to give credit where credit is due, and not offer support blindly.  I don't know how capable we are of that as a nation anymore.

The problem when we do that is the hypocrisy becomes unbearable.  I'm flummoxed by people who want us to be outraged by the Clinton's marriage, but then can support Trump and ignore his story.  Those of us who are disgusted by Trump's attitude toward women need to be more willing to condemn Bill Clinton for some of his behavior.  (And I know he's not the one running, but if we want to claim Hillary's experience as First Lady as part of her resume, it's unfair to exclude Bill's potential role as First Gentleman as not having any meaning.)  People who support Trump can't sweep his racist statements under the rug without looking like they condone those attitudes.  An endorsement by the KKK should be of grave concern for any decent person, and exposes any statement of "All Lives Matter" for the farce it really is.

When truth doesn't matter what do we do?  When a candidate makes a clear statement, then turns around and denies having said it when it's demonstrably not true, why is there not universal outrage?  Why are we not willing to hold our own candidates to a higher standard?

Because it's all become a sporting event.  Sports, regardless of people's passion for them, are not rational, but feel important to many.  In the grand scheme of things they mean nothing, but people who choose to love a team enjoy that, and it's fine, but there is no logic to it.  It's emotional, so it's appealing.  Politics for many has become rooting for a chosen team, not about ideas.  Support becomes unquestioned when blind loyalty is considered a virtue.  It can be for something as inconsequential as a sports team, but it shouldn't be for a political party.  If we automatically hate everything the opposing party has to offer we aren't being rational.  That's dangerous.

If we support one idea over the big picture, that's also not rational and equally dangerous.  I'm amazed by the number of religious conservatives who support Trump over a single issue like abortion when nothing else about him reflects their overall ideals.  I am strongly pro-choice, but I can't imagine if Trump and Clinton's positions on this were reversed that that would be enough for me to switch my vote.  We don't get everything we want.  In a country this diverse that's never possible.  I am more interested in a preponderance of issues than any single one, regardless of how passionately I may feel about any of them.

The second thing I've given a lot of thought to this election is how far we've managed to reduce anyone on the opposite side to "other" status.  There are blatant racists on the Trump side who are vocal about their beliefs.  I don't think enough people who claim to support Trump for other reasons realize how much that support looks like tacit approval of such attitudes.  Talking about Mexicans and Muslims and "the Blacks" in blanket terms and not as fellow human beings with individual experiences is at the very least unhelpful, and at its worst dehumanizing. 

It is easy to feel superior to racists and to people who don't seem quick enough to condemn them.  It is not easy to remember they are Americans too, and we still have shared interests and experiences, as much as we may want to distance ourselves from them for the parts we find abhorrent.  We can't dismiss them and their concerns as if they don't matter.  The sheer number of people willing to support Trump regardless of anything he says or does says something about how fearful many are.  We ignore that at our peril.

I would like a world where people lead from a place of compassion.  I would like us to be willing to make hard choices and do real work rather than wanting to settle for being smug and comfortable.  But I have a feeling that the kind of profit involved in keeping us stirred up with a click-bait media has taken over.  The kind of artificial "Us vs Them" passion that sells Superbowl ads is too lucrative to resist.

But politics is not about irrelevant things.  It's about our lives and our choices and our opportunities.  There is a reason it's easy to stir people up about important issues that affect our families and our health and our future.  The problem is we have to stop treating it like a game and talk about things seriously, not just passionately.  When everything is taken to a fever pitch we can't talk in a way that solves anything.  There is no consideration of compromise anymore.  It's all or nothing, win or lose, black or white.  That's not real life.  We have to find a way to get away from this, but I'm not sure how.

I do want to say, though, at this election time:  I am grateful that during my children's formative years their concept of what a president is has been shaped by Barack Obama.  I've never understood some people's outright hatred for the man.  You can agree with his policies or not, but he's been competent, thoughtful, kind, rational, and decent.  I haven't liked everything he's done in office, but overall I have been proud to call him our president.  I will miss the grace and intelligence his family has brought to the White House.  I am glad that the concept of an African-American or a woman running for President of the United States is something my children take for granted.  They will not bat an eye if an openly gay American, or a Muslim, or a Jew one day steps into that office.  Maybe going forward their generation will find the ability to compromise and look for solutions that consider all of us as Americans.  I have hope.

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