A few of us agreed to meet after work, in appreciation of Patricia on her last day with us before starting a new job. We settled on a low-key kind of restaurant with outdoor seating by the Hudson, a five or so minute walk away from our office. Two of us had bikes, so cycled over there together, and the rest of us – me and four other colleagues – followed on foot.
At the end of our street, one colleague, Anna, asked us to go ahead without her. She had to post a letter, which meant a quick detour in the opposite direction. I said ok, see you over there, and started off again. Then Patricia, who hadn’t been paying attention, stopped us all. Seeing what had just happened, she said, “Hey, let’s all wait for Anna.” Sure enough, we did, in spite of Anna repeating (if only mildly) that we shouldn’t. Patricia, without meaning to, had left me feeling kind of mean. Like I was too quick to leave Anna behind, and, therefore, rather ungallant.
Thing is, though, my motivations were sound. Anna is in her 60s and, because of recent knee surgery, she walks very slowly. When she said don’t wait for me, I made the quick mental calculation that she really meant it – that, in fact, her words meant something rather more like “I don’t want you to wait.” I wasn’t by any means certain, but my instincts flagged the possibility that Anna’s slowness made her feel self-conscious and/or embarrassed – and, further, that stopping to confirm this impression, either way, would only have drawn unwanted attention. But now look: suddenly, I’m the inconsiderate younger man, too rude to wait.
Did I misread the situation? Did Patricia? Was Anna very self-conscious, only a little, or not at all? These questions, for the wont of answers, have been rattling around in my head recently. More exactly: since Donald Trump became the President-Elect of America. They remind me – in a safer, more abstract way – that people are so very complicated. Even when the stakes are low and the circumstances narrow: good luck making sense of human thoughts and actions. Or their votes.
If one out of every hundred voters switched from Trump to Clinton, millions of Americans would be a great deal happier today – and, hard to fathom, millions of others would be angrier. But they didn’t.
So now what? I know: you’ve been asking this same damn question every damn day since the election. Here, for what it’s worth, I’ll throw some of my thoughts into the hat. Two preeminent considerations, I’ve noticed, tie them all together. First, winning feels better than losing. Second, people are so very complicated.
After so stinging a defeat, visceral responses are difficult to resist – even if, in waves, humiliation and anger initially followed softer feelings like disbelief and sadness. Our options, so far, have included lashing out at Hillary, bemoaning the fate of Bernie, railing against the Electoral College, caricaturing Trump voters, marching in Los Angeles, and typing #notmypresident. Where, though, do such responses fit into the much larger scheme of winning next time?
Me, I’m really not so sure. A little less conversation, a little more action might be all the rage right now – but please let’s set our sights, at least, on a winning destination. Yes, we should guard against too much reflection; but too little is perhaps more likely and more damaging.
For a start, perhaps it’s time to stop calling ourselves “progressives.” Many liberals have an unfortunate habit of being airily condescending and smug, and “progressives” is not a designation designed to counter this impression. Opposite to it, of course, is regressive – and surely nobody wants to be called that, if only by implication. (Perhaps it wouldn’t matter, if you didn’t need their votes….)
On the flip side of this same coin, in whose interest, exactly, do we characterize all Trump voters as racist, stupid, or both? There are a basket of deplorables out there, no doubt, but let’s not complacently suppose its 62 million strong. Nor, in so doing, swap the hard toil of changing minds for the easy relief of not even trying.
In any event, waiting for the electorate to become less stupid and less racist is hardly an inspiring strategy for disappointed Democrats, let alone wavering Republicans and independents. Related, just because the GOP really ought to look itself in the mirror right about now doesn’t mean it will. Perhaps in some other universe the hot shame of elevating Trump forges a kinder, wiser, and more reasonable operation – but not in this one.
What’s left, simply, is: stop losing, start winning. Let’s think of politics as a team sport, then play it better. Get those levers of power back, and use them well.
Finding new and different ways to dislike every Trump voter, as though they’re all the same, doesn’t make winning next time more likely. Nor does rehashing Clinton v. Sanders every five minutes. Nor, frankly, does policing every pronoun. Instead, let’s follow Obama’s lead and “focus.” Donate to Planned Parenthood – but not, like a bratty kid, “in honor” of Mike Pence. Keep talking about climate change – but frame it in terms of new jobs, not melting ice caps. Hold Trump to account, but don’t waste precious energy condemning his every Tweet.
If 62 million Americans vote for the other guy, it’s ok to listen and learn a few lessons. If our values are strong enough, they’ll endure. And – if we deploy our dissent effectively – once they’re back in power, they can sing.
Today’s post soundtracked by: