Doubtless many of you are wondering how human events have come to this pass. Trump is the president-elect of the United States, and I’m surprised and disappointed, but not overwhelmingly so. Trump, as I have alluded to previously, lacks finesse, nuanced thought, humility, empathy, and many other important skills. These qualities are unfortunately rare, but are nevertheless vital in a government executive. I hope he will develop them in the course of endeavoring to perform the challenging job of president. Regardless, however, my plan to change the world will continue as before.
…Why was Trump elected in the first place, you ask? You have come to the right place. While I did not vote for Donald Trump or his (major) opponent, Hillary Clinton, I am practiced in the mindset of deconstruction, so I can unravel the human ideas and behaviors that led voters to create this outcome.
The first thing you need to understand is that this significant event did not, indeed could not, happen in isolation. It is the culmination of millions of small, boring events across millions of people over the course of years. Significant events are dictated by the repetition of smaller events (that often go unnoticed even by ourselves). Years of martial arts training become the ability to fight off a thug. Many nights of diligent study become the ability to get a coveted job. What we do in our boring moments dictates what we can do in the right place at the right time. How you think evolves into habits that influence the paths your life may take. This phenomenon is called “karma.” (The real karma that is; some people treat karma as a way of earning good luck or something. Luck, by definition, is chaos, and cannot be predicted or manipulated. Anyone who claims differently is just making things up to make themselves feel better. Not to say we can’t increase our control over the world, but then it ceases to be “luck”. But I digress…)
What then, caused the karma of the United States to result in the election of Trump?
People didn’t vote for Trump on a whim, based on how they were feeling that day. Regardless of Trump’s history as a celebrity, the presidential elections are not a reality show. The voters for Trump had personal and practical reasons, and if we want answers, we need to ask the right questions. We can determine how good these reasons are afterward.
What are these reasons, and where did they come from?
The reasons are numerous and diverse. Just to get it out of the way, it is very likely that some people voted for Trump because they are bigoted and think that Trump will serve the interests of their narrow demographic at the expense of others. That cannot possibly explain nearly fifty percent of the United States voting that way, however. The country could not function as it does if so many people were so hostile towards those who were different. What other reasons are there?
Fear and insecurity are a safe bet for explaining human actions. Some people see their role in the economy being usurped, whether by workers in other countries or by workers from other countries. They fear that with the skills they currently possess, they cannot earn enough favors from society to support their families because they are competing with others who have the same skills but ask fewer favors, and they either feel entitled to live the only way they know how, or fear they will be unable to learn how to earn favors some other way. It may very well be a combination of both. Their vote is a reaction to the receding status quo they face in life: they want someone to bring back the world they knew, where they knew all the steps and pitfalls in advance, before they had to race against the entire planet. Trump promises them respite, so they vote for him.
A second type of fear and insecurity takes hold when people feel their cultural values are being threatened. The theme here is the same as before: the world that people knew is becoming more complicated. The formulas people used to know by heart that told them what was expected of them and what they could expect of others no longer apply. If you’re a man, you go out and face the world and take back bounty. If you’re a woman, you maintain a household, a protected space upon which to anchor oneself. You can tell men and women apart by their bodies, men and women pair up, and due to cultural taboos created to discourage and inhibit unethical behavior motivated by biological instincts, men and women even have separate hygiene infrastructures. Furthermore, every culture keeps to themselves, because they have different rules that most humans have trouble reconciling across interactions (using the communication mindsets). All of these rules are based on assumptions about how people work, without much freedom for people to do what they most want to do, but they make people feel comfortable. Arbitrary convention though it may be, it’s predictable and safe.
When it turns out that you can’t tell what a person is going to do or who they’re going to pair up with just by looking at them, or even what hygiene infrastructure a person may have used in the past or may use in the future, people who aren’t used to such uncertainty become frightened. It’s a visceral fear; if you base your rules about what males and females do on the same logic as your rules about not harming people, anyone who disregards the former suddenly becomes scary. Moreover, other cultures are not so far away anymore, and people who have never had to understand other paradigms are starting to feel an uncomfortable existential doubt regarding the way they’ve always looked at and judged the world. They think Trump will bring back the order they’re familiar with, so they vote for him.
On the other hand, there are also many people who don’t feel that fear of uncertainty, but who just feel that there is no need for the vast majority of people to go to any great effort just to make a minority of people feel comfortable. Why, they ask, should their established, “tried-and-true” culture give up anything because their assumption about how someone would behave is occasionally wrong? Even if it’s not their fault for being different, why should they get special attention? These people are not bigots, but merely neutral. Trump promises to respect their neutrality, so they vote for him.
It doesn’t occur to the neutral people that the ability to accommodate different people is not just for those people’s sake, but for the sake of the entire society. Here we come back to karma: if we practice building a society where people can feel comfortable being different, we will avoid the vulnerabilities of stagnation by cultivating diverse mentalities and the freedom to express them. Furthermore, learning to accommodate people with different characteristics strengthens our empathy mindset, which is invaluable in inevitable disagreements, at all levels of perspective difference, from between cultures to within a family. Finally, such kindness creates a societal identity committed to being good: putting forth the effort to help other people without expecting direct compensation. A society of good people is more beneficial for each individual than a society of neutral people, because each person benefits from the good people around them, whereas in a neutral society each person only benefits from those they do favors for.
The last group of Trump supporters are those who feared the consequences of allowing Hillary Clinton to win. They are not Trump supporters, but merely Trump voters. While Trump supporters may lack the meta-skill of empathy, Clinton supporters are by and large equally bereft. For the past several years, Clinton supporters have pushed away the fearful people I have described above, refusing to engage with them or do anything to assuage their fears, and labeled them scary monsters for having such fears. They have done so largely out of fear themselves; having been oppressed in the past by prejudice, intimidation, and force, they have out of caution or catharsis applied this same destructive treatment against their oppressors or anyone who reminds them of the oppressors. What Clinton has promised her supporters is a world completely rewritten to suit them, completely disregarding any fears or concerns of the Trump supporters as well as the Trump voters, and based in large part on values, beliefs, or interests that the Trump supporters and voters do not identify with.
Not only that, but Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, takes advantage of fear to gain power. With most of the news media as her ally, ready and eager to distract and dissemble regarding any wrongdoing on her part, she can eat her cake and have it, too. She can win popular support as a representative of the people while implicitly selling political influence to special interests, corporations, and even other countries, enriching herself in the process. Aided by her infinitely more professional presentation, Clinton’s supporters demonstrate a willingness to take her lies and deceit at face value. Most Trump voters are unwilling to allow such corruption and propaganda to be rewarded, lest it become even more entrenched in government. They feel it is important to reduce the level of corruption in government by voting it down and out, even if it means electing an empty-headed, vindictive blowhard.
Of course, the empty-headed vindictive blowhard is what Clinton supporters and voters fear. The Clinton voters admit Clinton’s shortcomings and take responsibility for their fears and their choice. Clinton’s supporters ignore or confabulate excuses for Clinton’s transgressions because they fear what happens if she doesn’t win, beyond the disqualifying traits of Trump himself. Clinton supporters’ fears are at odds with the fears of the Trump supporters, you see. The latter are trying to stop their own fragile world from collapsing, but in the process create a prison for the former. Clinton supporters try to escape the restrictions build around them, but in the process introduce chaos, economically and culturally, to Trump supporters.
This dichotomy of fearful people cannot possibly elect a good politician, not because good politicians don’t exist, rare though they be, but because the most successful politicians at the national level, by far, are those who make Politician Noises. The United States has bad political karma.
Until people stop being afraid, they will be attracted to politician noises. Until they master meta-skills to the point where they are confident enough to assume responsibility for their own lives, they will ask the government to protect them from what they fear.
Why wait passively for that to happen, when we have a workable plan? If you want to see a better world, help make it happen! Sooner or later, everyone will be part of it, so you might as well get a head start and enjoy the benefits of honing your mindsets. After all, no matter how good your brain hardware is, you won’t get very far if you don’t keep your software up to date.
For reassurance about the election, please see Tim Urban’s article at his outstandingly enlightening blog Wait But Why: http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/11/its-going-to-be-okay.html. I already answered the question he asks at the end. Um… spoilers? While you’re there, go ahead and read everything else on Wait But Why. It will do you a world of good.
You can also listen to the song Angels or Demons? by the excellent band I Fight Dragons. They have many songs dealing with hard-hitting epiphanies, which will probably resonate especially well with young adults, although I have a hunch older listeners can learn some things as well. Definitely check them out.
If you are irked by my criticism of Clinton, here is some thorough substantiation from Ethics Alarms, home to the ever-vigilant watcher of watchmen:
In the spirit of fairness, here are the articles righteously skewering Trump: