Monday, November 7, 2016

Getting Trumped on Tuesday

Tomorrow we'll get to see if a person can get elected President of the United States campaigning on fear and anger—because Trump sure isn't running on qualifications (unless you have a soft spot for bluster and misogyny).

Over the course of my lifetime I've observed the steady erosion of civility in political discourse. (I yearn for the good old days of Humphrey and Dirksen). In this era of extensive polling and psychological profiling, candidates have moved sharply toward vilification (in contrast with discussing issues) because studies show that that has the greater impact on how people vote. Ugh.

What could possibly be a more potent validation of that theory than the viability of Donald Trump's candidacy? He's tall, rich, arrogant, racist, a blatant womanizer, has no experience in political office, and no reverse gear in his demeanor. As a collaborator he makes Genghis Kahn look thoughtful. He is the absolute embodiment of competitive spirit, who will fight until the end and has no qualms about who he climbs over or trashes en route. On top of all that, he's a whiner, graceless, and has minimal self control. In short, he's completely odious and inappropriate. And yet, he's within a few percentage points of being the favorite tomorrow.

Take a moment to let that sink in. That's how far he's been able to ride the tiger of anger and fear. His policy ideas are naive and unworkable, yet he's found resonance with labeling his opponent as Crooked Hillary, and making the pathetic case that his philandering is OK because Hillary's husband did it, too. Are you kidding me??

I wish I were.

I could rail against Trump all day, but he only does his shtick because it works. Rather than focus on the avatar, I'm more interested in what's going on in our culture that such tactics are effective. I believe there is a deep reservoir of hurt and anger in this country. The delineation of its elements are some combination of:

—Life is unfair. We were raised on the promise of the American Dream and it's inaccessible.

—Jobs are being exported overseas or obsoleted. And even if I'm fortunate enough to have one, I'm underpaid, disrespected, and without job security.

—The chasm between the rich and everyone else (like me) is yawning wider all the time.

—There is despair that my individual voice is too weak to be heard, or is ignored when it is.

—Politicians lie, the media lies, and so do doctors, lawyers, and bankers. Who can you trust these days?

These issues have been gestating for decades and will not be solved by tomorrow's election. Nor, I'm afraid, are we likely to see any diminishment of vitriol in political pronouncements—regardless of who wins. It may feel good (at least in the moment) to vote your gut, but lashing out will not rebuild trust. Not ever. What it will take is winners reaching out across the aisle to lend a hand to losers, because the bigger picture is that we're all in the same lifeboat.

Sadly, even taking that first step (which may strain credulity to imagine—Trump offering the top job at EPA to Elizabeth Warren, or Clinton appointing Chris Christie to head a blue ribbon panel on election reform) is susceptible to vicious criticism. (Note how viciously Obama was disparaged for attempting bipartisan dialog during the early years of his administration—it was labeled a sign of weakness and roundly dismissed.)  

What does it mean that Republicans are boasting that if Clinton is elected and they retain control of the Senate that they'll indefinitely tie up in committee any and all of her Supreme Court nominees? Is that just a measure of the GOP's resilience, bouncing off the mat after a knockdown—or a sign that the apocalypse is upon us?

It seems to me that we'll have to start by acknowledging these deep hurts (which, I want to point out, can be done without assigning blame) and taking their measure. There will need to be room for people to express their anguish and a place for that to land. Not because anyone meant to hurt the disenfranchised, but because the actions of the powerful have had that effect, and no lasting bridges will be built unless the abutments upon which they are constructed are secured to the bedrock of open, heartfelt communication (as opposed to posturing and mugging for the camera).

I'm gravely concerned that we may have gotten so inured to mudslinging and slimy behavior that we may have lost our ability to discern integrity, or our will to insist on decency from politicians. And I mean all politicians.

While someone will undoubtedly get trumped Nov 8, will it be Hillary? The Donald? Or the American people?

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