Trying To Make Sense Of This Election Requires Listening

by Avens O’Brien

On Tuesday, 59 million people voted for Donald Trump and made him our President-elect.

Did they do it because they’re racist? They hate women? Immigrants? Free trade? Taxes? The Hollywood elite? The establishment?

Maybe. Maybe to all of that, or some of it.

Or maybe they hate the other 59 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton voters overwhelmingly chalk up the election results to the fact that Trump voters are racist and sexist.

I think those Trump voters hate the Clinton voters not because they actually are racist or sexist, but because they’re constantly being told that they are.

I think those Trump voters had a lot of reasons to reject Hillary Clinton. Sexism or racism could totally be the reason for some of them. Perhaps maybe for others it was her policies, maybe it was her personality, or maybe they’re just tired of the status quo.

I have a lot of theories, and I’m one of the people who refused to vote for her (or him).

The pendulum keeps swinging. Right, left, right, left, right. Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, now Trump. For the left, the Obama years had some great victories: repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; reversing Bush’s torture policies; Colorado and Washington legalizing cannabis; the Affordable Care Act; legalizing same-sex marriage; ending the Cuban embargo.

I’m a fan of some of these changes in our country — even though some weren’t directly the result of Obama’s work (like cannabis), having a Democratic president certainly emboldens the left.

There are other ways the left has been emboldened lately. It’s been eight years of power for them, which includes eight years with less fear for their communities and more opportunity to define the narrative. Years to introduce new terminology to describe new genders (or non-genders) and sexual preferences and more, along with eight years of college students becoming increasingly hostile to any differences of opinion. It’s been eight years in which everybody who is slower to “evolve” than they are is “racist” or “sexist.”

Let’s not ignore that there is racism and sexism out there. There certainly is.

But there are these things that aren’t necessarily either, and they’re labeled as such, haphazardly, with no respect for nuance or simply uncertainty. You are no longer simply unsure, forgot, or confused about what pronoun to use for Caitlyn Jenner, you are “transphobic.” You are no longer worried about divorce and that perhaps children do better with two parents, you are “misogynistic.” You are no longer trying to dress your kid up as their favorite character from a Disney movie, you are “racist.”

There is no middle ground anymore. Extremist “social justice” activists, whatever you call them, have picked up the “with us or against us” mantra, and there is no place for the moderates. They cry wolf and then are surprised when nobody takes them seriously. The people who dare to offend someone else, even accidentally, are called out, and then those defend them, or fail to also shun them, are also called out.

The space of acceptability becomes smaller and smaller, an exclusive elite club, and crucifixions feel better than actually trying to make some kind of peaceful workable solution for people to agree to disagree. 

There was an interesting essay a while back from a feminist blogger who discussed how inaccessible some of the social justice terminology and tactics are to people outside of the space and academic backgrounds. I loved it, because it touched on something I feel the left ignores: that this “social justice” culture, that claims to be inclusive and tolerant, is in many ways neither and is tremendously elitist.

I’m not here to whine about “liberal media bias,” but even the left has to admit that our country’s news and entertainment are mostly produced by people in bigger, more “cosmopolitan” cities who think of themselves as vastly superior to those who live in rural areas or in “flyover states,” hold conservative values, or are “trailer trash” — the only group we’re all still allowed to make fun of.

I know this because I work in advertising and entertainment. I’ll own the fact that *I* happen to be one of those elitist jerks — a well-educated New England native who lives in Los Angeles and absolutely considers my life preferences and philosophy to be superior to others’ (to clarify: that doesn’t translate to wanting less rights for those whom I perceive as having “inferior” life preferences or philosophies).

I can definitely be condescending and snarky. However, I like pushback. I also have an ideologically diverse mix of friends and I have a no-block policy on my Facebook, so unlike others with my inclination towards self-satisfaction, I actually invite and celebrate disagreement and dissent, and I listen to people who argue with me — I read their news, I see their ideas, and I understand them, despite our differences.

Which is why this entire election fascinates me. Because the supposedly “empathetic” and “inclusive” people don’t understand and they make no effort to.

There’s a great essay over at Cracked.com I highly recommend people read, that discusses the huge difference between “Trump America” and “Clinton America.” It talks about this divide, and how these two groups fail to understand each other. How there are different values held by different people — different fears, different hopes, different ideals. It’s not about race or gender – it’s about different ways of living.

I’m very tired of so-called “liberal” America not recognizing the validity of these differences no matter how wrong they perceive them to be. Of course we should all fight harm and abuse and violence. But that’s not all they’re doing. I see them demanding not just tolerance, but acceptance, accommodation, and complete compliance.

In the meantime, there has been slowly growing pushback. There’s been the alt-right, and the trolls, and then there was this election.

This election, Trump America got fed up. Maybe some were fed up with a black President, or the idea of a female President. But to claim that is to ignore the other realities that exist here: the conditions of these people’s lives; the America they are living in; the legitimate concerns they have that aren’t race or gender related at all, but often exacerbated by the focus on those topics in lieu of the others.

Frankly, many of them got fed up with so many things all at once. They got fed up with being told they are stupid, racist and sexist. They got fed up with being mocked and joked about on late night television. They got fed up with trying to remember all the terminology and being vilified if they couldn’t. They got fed up with not being asked, but being told, that it’s this woman’s turn, even though she’s certainly corrupt, and is the establishment candidate.

They got tired of people assuming they didn’t matter because they’re in the “flyover states” or the “trailer parks” and better to be neither seen nor heard. Out of sight, out of mind.

Voting for Trump doesn’t mean they endorsed most or many of his policies. One of the most irritating things about our political process is it’s impossible to tell which things people voted for, personality or policies, and which policies at that.

Trump broke the rules. He defied the odds. He gave voice to their pain. He gave a middle finger to the people who always belittle them.

We all love that when that person is on “our” team.

They came out in droves for him.

I attended a party in Los Angeles for the election results, and by the end people were crying, in literal fear for their lives, as Muslims, or gay women, or people of color. I don’t live their lives, I don’t have their experiences, so I don’t entirely know what I may be missing, though I listen. I don’t mock them, as I wouldn’t mock the other side if they lost.

I just know that so many people I love are grieving right now, and they’re grieving because they think 59 million people in this country are racist and sexist and imposing their bigotry through the election.

I don’t know, maybe they’re right and that’s a bleak picture for the future of America. There was certainly a ton of sexist and racist rhetoric this election cycle, but there were other messages from him too and so many ignored them. I just know that I’ve known enough Trump supporters whose motivations are entirely different: who may tolerate sexism and racism, but they felt it was necessary to send a message about establishment power, and the people who are intolerant to them.

Hate was certainly for sale this election cycle, and it breaks my heart that this is how my country operates.

We have four years to deal with President Trump. I understand anger and fear. However, there are lessons to be learned here.

I hope the Democrats can learn them.

  • Pingback: Maybe It’s Not About Sexism or Racism: Maybe They’re Fed Up | AVENS OBRIEN()

  • Libertarian Heretic

    This dernier cri of the intelligensia about some kind of blue collar whitelash is really overblown. It seems like this canard is needed as a sort of humble brag amongst the most well adjusted members of our society. After all jerking yourself looks alot less like hubris if you take sympathy on how frustrated all the deplorables are who just don’t get it.
    Trump lost the popular vote. He won just as many votes as McCain did in 2008. Since then the country has doubtless added tens of millions of new voters. Hillary Clinton was a widely disliked and untrusted candidate. For goodness sake she was being investigated by the FBI in the last week of the election. Trump won roughly 30% of the Latino vote ?!?!?! How is this reflective of some gigantic wave of social change?
    Don’t even get me started on flyover country. We are officially knee deep in hyper reality. When you live in Dallas go to a Pentecostal church, wear cowboy boots, listen to country and have red meat at breakfast your identity is no less a matter of making choices like a consumer than the gay Buddhist vegan yoga master who lives 1 mile away. In fact the wife probably takes lessons from him on Tuesdays before jumping into her ‘rustic’ $600 leather jacket for line dancing that evening with the husband. We have really denegrated into the most callow kind of identity politics. We have become a gigantic high school divided as emos and straightedgers.

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