After the November 8 election, a friend sent me the November 11, 2016 OP Ed piece by David Brooks from the New York Times. A number of my liberal friend speak kindly of the writer. He is their token conservative, I presume. In deference to them I reprint his remarks and follow with a comment of my own.
If your social circles are like mine, you spent Tuesday night swapping miserable texts. Not all, but many of my friends and family members were outraged, stunned, disgusted and devastated. This is victory for white supremacy, people wrote, for misogyny, nativism and authoritarianism. Fascism is descending.
I was on PBS trying to make sense of what was happening while trying to text various people off the ledge. At one point I was opining about the results while a disbelieving text flashed across my phone: “Change It! Change It! CHAAAANGE IT!”
Those emotional reactions were a fitting first-night response to the greatest political shock of our lifetimes. Still, this is probably not the best mentality for the coming era.
In the first place, emotions like disgust don’t do justice to the complexity of Donald Trump’s supporters. The disgusted posture risks turning politics into a Manichaean civil war between the alleged children of light and the alleged children of darkness — between us enlightened, college-educated tolerant people and the supposed primitive horde driven by dark fears and prejudices. That crude and ignorant condescension is what feeds the Trump phenomenon in the first place.
Second, we simply don’t yet know how much racism or misogyny motivated Trump voters. It is true that those voters are willing to tolerate a lot more bigotry in their candidate than I’d be willing to tolerate. But if you were stuck in a jobless town, watching your friends OD on opiates, scrambling every month to pay the electric bill, and then along came a guy who seemed able to fix your problems and hear your voice, maybe you would stomach some ugliness, too.
Third, outrage and disgust impede learning. This century is still being formed and none of us understand it yet. The century really began on 9/11, and so far it has been marked by strong reactions against globalism and cosmopolitanism — by terrorism, tribalism and authoritarianism.
Populism of the Trump/Le Pen/Brexit variety has always been a warning sign, a warning sign that there is some deeper dysfunction in our economic, social and cultural systems. If you want to take that warning sign and dismiss it as simple bigotry, you’re never going to pause to understand what’s going on and you will never know how to constructively respond. (end)
Brooks assumes the majority of voters wish to constructively respond to the results of the election. I’m not so sanguine, though one bright light shines for me. A greater number of the population voted for Clinton’s vision of a kinder and more inclusive society than those who didn’t.
Nonetheless, danger lies ahead. Brooks fears intolerance will tear the nation apart. I fear disillusionment will destroy it. After being made witness to one of the ugliest elections in our history, those who hoped for a forward-looking society and saw their hopes dashed, will be tempted to drop out of the political system. Turning inward, they will focus on personal interests and leave the nation adrift. Brooks’ vision of healing, though well-intentioned, overlooks a simple truth: sometimes, we are all children of the dark.