Election 2016—Father-Daughter Dialogue 3

Alibaba: My last post was a theoretical exercise. In responding to your question I was not having an actual conversation with a Trump supporter. That – as I said in my answer – would of course include curiosity and listening and learning and new perspective.

But, to answer your question. Yeah, that phrase slipped past me and isn’t good. It didn’t capture a few things that I meant it to. 1. A broad, general sense, of “take a lot of action to make the world a better place, focusing on people who are systemically marginalized.” 2. That “vulnerable” doesn’t mean “people who can’t help themselves,” it means those who are structurally disenfranchised, subjugated, silenced, and that I am also talking about myself, as a woman, when I say “vulnerable people.” I feel like my rights are at risk and want to make sure they are protected. 3. That I think when the issue at hand does not relate to an identity I personally possess, it is important to look for and defer to people who do hold those identities. Cop out it may be, I do not think I have words better than these to describe this: “That is to say if you are able-bodied, if you have money, if you have resources, if you are seen as white, hetero, cis, if you have had the opportunity to develop your politics through theory rather than through forced violations against your body and your people, then take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.” -by Jenny Zhang in “Against Extinction”

And why do I think this is important? Because there are voices that have historically been ignored and there is a responsibility to do what we can to correct history and make them as loud as possible now. Because it would be arrogant and ignorant to think I know more about the lived experiences of someone else than they do, or what they want or need.

Now a few for you. What do you think the most important takeaways from the election are? In other words, what should we pay the most attention to going forward? 

Ron: Thoughtful reply, thank you. I’m sorry you think I don’t give you enough credit for being more savvy some/a lot of the time. When you communicate that frustration, I almost always think about my relationship with my dad. I get your frustration because I never felt like your grandfather gave me enough credit for being a capable, contributing, independent adult until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. Too often, it felt like he was stuck viewing me as my dumbass sixteen year old self. I’m not sharing that for sympathy, or as an excuse not to be more caring, just to say I think some of your frustration is baked into the generation gap. Maybe everything will always be perfectly copacetic with your child(ren) and the pattern will be broken.

One take-away. I’ve written about the problems of the Simple Living movement before. It’s illogical for well-to-do people like me to tell the less well-to do about the limits of material wealth. My multi-layered, multi-facted privilege disqualifies me from commenting on anyone’s economic decision-making and lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wax philosophic about larger, related questions. Which is to say, I interpret the election result as a culmination of a larger trend in the US where more and more people are slighting their health and spiritual well-being in the pursuit of material gain. Put more simply, it’s the triump of a self-regarding consumerism. Way more people than Dems expected put their trust in the candidate they perceived to be a superior businessman. The aformentioned Frontline documentary shows he’s a terrible businessman, but perception becomes reality. In essence, Trumpers said, “He’s such a great businessman, I’ll give him a pass on the hateful anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-everything bullshit.” At the risk of simplifying things, I think Trumpers were saying, “Compared to HC, Trump will improve my job prospects, I’ll make more money, and be able to afford more stuff at my favorite big box store, so who cares about the environment, Muslim-Americans, traditional foreign alliances, or grabbing pussies.” In the battle between self-regarding personal economics and other-regarding American ideals, self-regarding personal economics has won.

The election may have turned on traditional Dems who succumbed to apathy and didn’t vote. Maybe they thought victory was in the bag, and turned off the game midway through the fourth quarter (you have to allow me one sports metaphor per reply) or the Democratic candidate didn’t rally them around the Common Good. HC was like a tennis player sitting well behind the baseline (okay, now I’m borrowing on the future), hitting desperate lobs, defending herself, criticizing her opponent, not rallying enough traditional Dems around the Common Good.

Pay attention to going forward? Short answer, Trump’s ego is such that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Look for him to play fast and lose with Constitutional principles related to the Executive and Supreme Court case law. I anticipate him breaking enough laws that he’ll lose the support of the Republican-controlled Congress. Even money he gets impeached before completing his term. One can hope.

More personally, getting out of the pool the other day, I asked a friend, older and faster than me, “Got any (Masters) meets coming up?” Normally, he’s competiting all the time, but he said, “No, I’m just too down. I’m going to give my meet money to the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood who I know will make the most of it.” Admirable sure, but not my approach. I return to the Stoic notion of “trichotomy of control” in which you focus as much of your time/energy on those things we have some or a lot of control over. Swimming competitions gave my friend joy, so it saddens me he’s letting the Celebrity President rob him of that. I will continue to do the things that bring me joy, watch the sun rise, drink my green tea latte, eat healthily, swim across Ward Lake, run in Priest Point Park, cycle with friends, watch my daughter graduate college, dialogue with you, see independent films at the hippy theatre, and try to be a more attentive and caring educator, husband, father, citizen. I confess, over the last three decades, since I was your age, my strong desire to change the world has ebbed. I’m glad you want to and I do have confidence that your friends and you can, especially if fueled by Zhang’s “humbleness”. I want to change myself, be more kind, listen more patiently. The next election won’t turn on that, but my small sliver of the world—my marriage, my family, my community, will be better for it.

Election 2016-Father-Daughter Dialogue 2

Nice going bubs, you struck a chord with peeps. A couple of conservative friends wonder about my parenting, while one close liberal friend from North Carolina wrote, “You raised a wonderful daughter. You should be proud. I especially love that she uses the word ‘Motherfucker’.” I side with two-thirds of what my liberal friend wrote.* 

Instead of the questions I ended our first dialogue with, I wonder if you could respond to this. 

Ron: You said you watched parts of the recent OJ Simpson documentary. I had a similar reaction to Trump’s victory as I did Simpson’s acquittal. It was surprising, but I found the spontaneous celebration among African Americans in Los Angeles and around the country even more perplexing. How could they cheer a cold blooded murderer? Almost instantly, I realized I didn’t understand their thinking and the onus was on me to try to. More specifically, I was clueless about their deeply troubled relationship with the LA Police Department. Overtime I learned they weren’t celebrating Simpson, instead, they were celebrating the LAPD’s defeat. Finally, someone stuck it to their oppressor. Similarly, after the post-election shock abetted a bit, I realized I didn’t understand Trump voters thinking very much at all. How could the contest be so close that the electoral college eventually tipped his way? I went from “that’s completely incomprehensible” to “Man, I’m seriously out of touch.” But I think the onus is on me to try to understand it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when I think about your adolescence and young adult life, it seems to me that you’ve been almost completely surrounded by peers very similar to yourself. In high school, most of your friends had similarly liberal parents, were in almost all of the same college prep classes, participated in the same extracurricular activities. Then you guys attended selective liberal arts colleges and continued to be surrounded by smart, mostly well-to-do, liberal peers. I suppose you’ve made some diverse friends at work and in the city, but all of us live segregated lives, not just racially, but politically, economically, socially. How many people do you personally know whose politics are markedly different than your own? How many friends? How many close friends who you interact with on a weekly basis? I feel fortunate to have some close friends who are my political opposites. Sometimes it’s exasperating, but I’ve learned to shift from thinking “How can you be so stupid?” to “Why do you think that way?” Then, the more I learn about how they grew up and their life journey more generally, I start to understand their politics sometimes even to the point where I think their politics are rational given their particular life experiences. Sometimes I even conclude that if my life had somehow paralleled theirs, I’d probably vote the same way as them.

Through specific friendships with a few particular conservatives, I’ve concluded that human decency eclipses partisan politics. I’ve had to acknowledge that many of my political opposites are exceptional parents, friends, people. They’re down to earth, kind, funny, committed to their families, hardworking, a huge net positive in their communities. Dan, who wrote a lengthy heartfelt reply to you is a great example of that. So my questions. Know any Trump voters? Any desire to?

AlisonI wonder if my first response prompted this question or if it came to you outside of that first post. I hope that my anger and frustration would not suggest, somehow, a reflexive lack of empathy for those on the other side of my political views. My entire frustration boils down to a lack of rigorous empathy for people living outside of one’s own experience and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to deny that to anyone else. I’m not always successful in doing so, but it is a process I try to stay continuously and actively engaged in.

The long and the short of it is that no, not many of the people I am close to are Trump supporters. Yes, I would like to know more people who voted for him. Most realistically, I do and plan to continue to take time to read and listen and learn about people who are my political and cultural opposites. I understand that communities I am not a part of, who vote differently than me, are suffering, economically and culturally. 

But, I can understand and empathize with an experience or point of view and still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally. Empathy is not the same thing as forgiveness. The former does not predispose the latter. I want to understand more about what led those who voted for Trump to do so, with my mind open and prepped for the changes that should occur when new information is received. But I also cannot accept that anyone deserves less in life than anyone else and I do believe that voting for Trump imperiled that human truth. He is openly racist, openly misogynistic, openly hateful. I understand that most people do not intend to cause harm with their actions, but the reality of our present situation means that people who have been the subjects of his disparagement are going to fall into harm. Legislatively, culturally, and personally. I don’t disparage the humanity of anyone who voted for him but I do disagree with the decision to vote for him, vehemently and morally.

For a moment, I’d like to step away from your specific question, and address the larger context that it lives in. The question of “How can we better empathize and understand Trump voters?” is an important question, but one that I see taking over the post-election narrative, and I want to push back against that. We need more understanding, full stop. From the left of the right, and from the right of the left. Over half of the country voted for the candidate that did not win. That is a somewhat damning state of affairs for the Republican party and the right should be asking themselves to better understand the lives and struggles of the minorities that overwhelmingly voted against their agenda. In addition, to switch back to the left side of the isle, the fact that the main question being asked is about understanding Trump supporters, and not, “What do we need to do now to help protect the vulnerable?” further serves to erase the marginalized from the national narrative. I am not saying that individual instances of asking this question do this – of course this question needs to asked, and between two white, privileged people like you and I it is especially appropriate – but that as a trend, it does.

Ron: Seems like you jump pretty quickly from “understand and empathize with an experience or point of view” and “still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally.” Maybe it’s too much to ask the most disappointed Clintonistas to take the time to truly inquire into their political opponents’ worldviews. I get that you want to step away from the question in order to “help protect the vulnerable”. And I get that for the sake of my graduate student from Jordan, I need to do whatever I can to make sure DACA is implemented, but I can’t help but wonder whether, at some point, “protecting the vulnerable” becomes paternalistic. I write that, knowing full well in this Day and Age of Hyper-Partisanship, it may cost me the liberal base of the Democratic Party if I decide to run in 2020. More seriously, let me try to pose this gut feeling as a question designed to extend the discussion.

Granted, children living in poverty and victims of sexual abuse, and we could go on and on, need adult advocates like you and me to fight for enlightened public policies that protect them. But what about the Detroit autoworker who lost her job as a result of economic globalization or her autoworker son who makes one-third of what she did ten years ago? Is there a difference between “empowering the vulnerable” and “protecting them”? Where should the agency for more enlightened policy come from? Within historically marginalized communities themselves or sympathetic allies like yourself? Why?

A Long Way to Go

Despite the demagogues rhetoric, the U.S. is becoming more inclusive. In part because of changing demograpics. Nearly eight years ago, we elected our first African American President. Then we re-elected him.

Odds are we’re going to elect our first female President this November. When though, will we elect our second female President? Our second African American? Our first Latino or Latina? Second Latino or Latina?

A conservative friend writes me and says this election shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. Only excellence. I guess I’m supposed to believe it’s a crazy coincidence that forty four times in a row a man has been most excellent just as one could flip a coin forty four times and have it come up heads everytime. Sure, that’s plausible.

Only when we join the following list will candidates’ gender start to fade in importance.

Countries that have had more than one female leader (includes acting, interim leaders etc)^

Switzerland (6) Six presidents*
Sri Lanka (3) One president, two prime ministers
Haiti (3) One president, two prime ministers
Finland (3) One president, two prime ministers
South Korea (3) Two prime ministers, one president
Lithuania (3) One president, two prime ministers
Argentina (2) Two presidents
Bangledesh (2) Two prime ministers
Central African Republic (2) One president, one prime minister
Guyana (2) One president, one prime minister*
Iceland (2) One president, one prime minister
India (2) One president, one prime minister
Ireland (2) Two presidents
Israel (2) One president, one prime minister
Liberia (2) Two presidents
Philippines (2) Two presidents
New Zealand (2) Two prime ministers
São Tomé and Príncipe (2) Two prime ministers
Sengal (2) Two prime ministers

*Switzerland has seen six female presidential terms, though two of those were held by the same woman. Guyana’s tally is also debatable, since their female prime minister and female president were the same person.

^ Source

I’m an Idiot

Effective leaders mix humility, kindness, and composure, in what may be thought of quite simply, as “human decency”.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. The one candidate displaying the most decency is in last place. And it appears as if most Democratic primary voters do not share my opinion either. The Democratic candidate exhibiting the most humility, kindness, and composure is losing that race too.

I can’t help but conclude, I’m an idiot.

I also believe life in the United States has improved over the last seven years—fewer people are destitute around the world, GLBT citizens are enjoying new civil rights, more people are working and have health insurance, our environmental ethic is stronger, we’re opting for diplomacy over conventional warfare, the stock market has more than doubled in value, and everything has worked out beautifully on Downton Abbey.

Most Republican primary voters do not share my view. Apparently, the frontrunner’s success is the result of deep-seated, widespread anger at the state of things. In their view, we don’t win anymore. Who cares about people in other places, traditional marriage and religious liberty are under constant attack, socialized medicine means worsening quality of care, and who cares about the stock market when there’s not any savings to invest. If only “W” could have had a third and fourth term.

My whacked out thinking is probably the result of my white, male, well-to-do privilege trifecta. In the interest of going along to get along, maybe I should get more angry, think more negatively, and support the most brash candidate possible, human decency be damned.

 

 

 

Understanding Trumpism

Think about the 2016 U.S. presidential election in the context of renowned Sinologist Orville Schell’s analysis of modern China in this recent essay. Some excerpts:

This confidence in the strength of the China model—and the supposed weakness of its Western competitors—has reshaped the way Beijing relates to the world. Its new confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an increasingly unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in its maritime disputes in the South and East China seas.

Couldn’t one say about the U.S., “Its longstanding confidence in its wealth and power has been matched by an unyielding and aggressive posture abroad that has been on most vivid display in it disputes in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.”

Obama has been far more restrained than his predecessors when it comes to conventional warfare, but we can’t bury our heads in the sand when it comes to his unprecedented, unyielding, aggressive use of drones.

Schell adds:

One clear message of this turbulent week is how interconnected everything actually has become in our 21st-century world. Financial markets, trade flows, pandemics and climate change all ineluctably tie us together.

This irrefutable insight is lost on Trump’s followers mired in 20th century notions of politics as a zero-sum game that we’re predestined to win as the world’s sole economic, political, and military superpower. Trumpism rests upon notions of American Exceptionalism mixed with nostalgia for the past when the relative economic, political, and military strength of the U.S. was undeniably greater than it is today; as well as competition between nations at the expense of cooperation; and scapegoating the newest citizens for pernicious public policy challenges that preceded their arrival.

Schell again:

Of late, China has been acting in an ever more unilateral way, perhaps at last enjoying the prerogatives of its long-sought wealth and power. Mao imagined a China rooted in the idea of “self-reliance,” zili gengsheng. The most encouraging news out of this week would be for Mr. Xi and his comrades to recognize that China can no longer be such an island—that China cannot succeed in isolation, much less by antagonizing most of its neighbors and the U.S.

As large, dynamic and successful as China has become, it still exists in a global context—and remains vulnerable to myriad forces beyond the party’s control. It must take the chip off its shoulder, recognize that it is already a great power and begin to put its people, its Pacific neighbors and the U.S. at ease. Any truly great nation must learn that the art of compromise lies at the heart of diplomacy, that it is almost always better to negotiate before resorting to war and that compromise is neither a sign of weakness nor surrender.

If the alarms over the past few months presage such a revelation in Beijing, it would not only enhance China’s stability but its soft power and historic quest for global respect. Given Mr. Xi’s track record, one dare not be too optimistic.

Is any U.S. intellectual in position to lecture China’s leadership about soft power and global respect? “Make America great again,” trumpets Trumpism, meaning less compromising, less diplomacy, more unilateralism.

Trumpism thrives on the insecurities of a people who feel their world dominance slipping. Ahistorical to the core, it has no patience for the complexities of public policy, environmental degradation, or globalization. It assumes people aren’t smart enough for the complexities of 21st century life. It advocates sloganeerism, brashness, and business principles as panaceas for problems real and imagined. It asks no questions, listens only for openings to speak, and never admits fault.

Eventually, enough people will see it for what it is, and reject it.

I Need Your Help

At a dinner at my university recently, I was seated next to a nice guy from our Development office. That means he asks wealthy people for money for a living. Wooing wealthy donors entails nonstop travel and an uncanny ability to feign interest in rich strangers’ lives. I would rather work in China retrieving cell phones from shit-filled porta-potties.

This Saturday I’m cycling from Portland to the Pacific Ocean on a ride designed to raise money for the American Lung Association. To participate, I had to raise at least $100. Instead of asking you my loyal readers to consider chipping in at so many cents a mile, I paid the $100 myself.

That’s not to say I don’t ever need other people’s help. The truth of the matter is I need something else from you—a female Democratic candidate capable of winning the 2016 Presidential election. Not named Clinton. We desperately need to shatter the political glass ceiling once and for all, but count me among the “Can’t we be more creative than Bush v Clinton?” contingent.

Clinton’s smart and progressive, but her public persona really rubs me the wrong way. No, that probably shouldn’t matter, but it does. Of course it’s impossible to be a Presidential candidate if you’re not hyper-ambitious. With Clinton though I don’t get a sense that her intense desire to be president is motivated by even a semi-selfless sense of public service, instead it seems like pure, unadulterated personal ambition.

Can’t wait for eldest daughter, who is going to work for her campaign, to write on Facebook or here, “You would never say a male candidate’s public persona rubs you the wrong way.” Save it sister. Ever seen Al Gore in a debate? Detached stiffness personified.

Before you attempt to help by suggesting Elizabeth Warren, know that she has been consistent in saying she isn’t running. If she did, I’d support her in a heartbeat. So someone Elizabeth Warren-like.

I’m counting on you. Thank you in advance.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.

This is who I thought eldest daughter would work.