This Ship Is Sinking

Well, this is embarrassing, to say the least. Each headline last night and this morning felt like we were living in an alternate reality, where the timeline changed and we got to see What if… And though when they said the polls didn’t show his real support, we thought they were conspiracy theorists, it seems we were the deluded ones.

Like most of us, I’m still processing what just happened. To be sure, I knew that most of this would happen: that Trump, once I saw him on stage debating his primary opponents in August 2015, might actually clinch the nomination, and that Hillary was practically certain to win both the nomination and, given Trump, the White House. And then, as we watched the results pour in, people began biting their nails, while I kept hope. She can’t lose, I thought, not because she’s great, but because this country–I’m so disappointed in it that I cannot even address it by name–just wouldn’t do this.

But it’s like the captain watching the Titanic fill with water: it can’t sink, it can’t sink. And in his words, we hit disaster. And I don’t mean just for us “elites.” This is most likely going to be bad for just about all of us; even if his policies are constrained or are survivable, the rhetoric won’t end, and this country will continue to tear at itself.

So what made us hit the iceberg? Maybe this is just who we are. But I’m angry, and in my anger I’m going to point fingers at:

  • Pollsters. What were they telling us? My faith in models, along with humanity (which makes the damn models), is nearly gone. Somehow only the LA/USC poll, widely criticized by poll followers, was the only one that was right. The basic assumptions of 1) that the people who respond to your poll are representative of the population and 2) that people are telling you the truth. Assumption #1 more off than usual this time, while assumption #2 went out the window because of what seems to be a sort of Bradley effect: that is, people were going to vote for Trump, but too embarrassed to say so. I am going to look at every poll with incredible suspicion now. How did this happen, say some of my friends, when Obama has such a high approval rating? 1) Do those respondents care enough to come out and vote again, and 2) who the hell are they asking?
  • Hillary Clinton. As in 2008, Hillary should’ve known her win was not a given, that though she’s always been around, current trends can always move against her. She beat Bernie Sanders, and I wasn’t surprised, because fewer people than expected actually got out and voted for him. I believed she’d be fine, but in the back of my head was a creeping, scary little thought: Don’t mess this up, Hillary. My roommate at the time told me to take seriously the plight of the “American worker.” I thought he had a point, and I assumed that Hillary would reach out aggressively to these voters, particularly in the Rust Belt–where she so crucially lost. I’m not sorry to have canvassed for her: we helped turn that county of Pennsylvania blue, even if she lost the state as a whole, and I learned a lot about voters in the process (and voters, I will get to you in a moment).
  • George W. Bush. We are still dealing with the consequences of this horrible war in Iraq–in Iraq itself, we (and the Iraqis) tired of our presence there and we left the place open for ISIS, which of course stirred fear in the hearts of many who voted for Donald. Domestically, we created not just a war-weary population, but a world-weary population. We have so many problems at home! we said. Why do we need to be the ones to fix the world’s problems? To be fair, these are good questions. However, Bush’s foreign policy pushed us to the breaking point of what a democratic superpower can handle.
  • The Republican Party. At least going back to 2010, the party adopted a block-the-president-at-every-turn approach that made Washington super-dysfunctional when the president had been elected to “change Washington.” (“In retrospect,” Obama joked at the WH Correspondents Dinner this year, “I should have been more specific.”) One could argue that this was okay from a strategic or even a policy perspective, but from a perspective of the public morale, this was a horrible idea: voters chose Obama hoping he would make Washington work for them, and then a new Congress prevented Washington from working at all.
    Then, 2016 came–it was time, the party had failed in 2012, but that was okay, Romney wasn’t their best anyway, 2016 was in the bag. And then, in its overconfidence, the party spawned like 20 candidates. And one stood out. And that same one won. All the while the party’s ruling elite struggled to understand what was happening, and when the dust settled, scores of them backed him, gave him legitimacy, made him stand on platforms that would make him appeal to a broader set of voters. To be fair, many, many Republicans never supported him, and still don’t. But they gave him the infrastructure needed to win. And even though he exhibited “textbook racism,” the allegedly-enlightened leader of the party endorsed him nonetheless. And for this I’m never forgiving the party.
    Many liberals thought 2016 would spell the end of the GOP. I thought they were dreaming. But I certainly didn’t think the party would control both houses of Congress and the White House, and now we don’t even know what they stand for.
  • The Democratic Party. The left isn’t getting off here. This party didn’t mobilize the voters it needed to, not only failing to win the presidency but also losing Congress repeatedly. It is not only incompetent, but, taking its anti-Sanders campaign as an example, is corrupt to a fault. I have serious doubts about its ability to stop Trump from enacting his worst.
  • Barack Obama. I’ve long been an Obama supporter, though my support is full of nuance. Until now, I’ve thought he was one of our greatest modern presidents–but the problem is, presidents must be judged for what happens after their time in office. And here is where I’m frustrated with the president, and where the right has a point: he has at least come off as arrogant. To most liberals, the Obamas are this country’s well-deserved royalty, a John and Jackie Kennedy for the 21st century, and there’s no doubt they have brought poise, respect, and grace to the office.
    But to many people who swung the elections in his favor, he is distant, he is aloof, and most importantly he doesn’t seem concerned with their problems. I might sound like I am drinking the Kool-Aid, but I feel this even as a supporter. Some months back, he joked and laughed to a crowd about Trump, and given that I knew Trump’s supporters meant business, I thought, Mr. President, don’t laugh, help us. Even if Hillary wins we still have to deal with these people.
    In many ways, Trump is the opposite of Obama–which will make for a painful, awkward hand-off in January–and ironically, change was what a crucial segment of voters wanted, and Hillary not only promised to continue most of his policies, she was nowhere near as charming.
  • Money in politics. Astoundingly, Trump raised about half of what Hillary did. This is good news: it means the voter’s anger can still triumph over big money. However, Citizens United and its consequences are still to blame for his victory: besides its real effects the decision gave the perception to voters that they were losing their government to big, monied interests, and brought them out in force.
  • The media. They gave him practically unlimited coverage. They started with the 24-hour news cycle, making the service of delivering news entirely unnatural, and then they started the campaign basically as soon as the 2012 election ended. They have done it all for ratings. Last night was amazing for them as a record number tuned in (a reality TV star winning the presidency? What could be better?) The large media corporations have been grossly negligent. They play for profits, not for information.
  • Silos and disinformation. I have to call out Facebook, and everything else that has contributed to our bubbles in which we believe everyone thinks like us and, moreover, appear to confirm dubious claims and things that are patently false. The Wall Street Journal shows the difference between conservative and liberal bubbles in its “Blue Feed, Red Feed.” Because we have allowed this problem to fester, we’re susceptible to anything a Russian troll tells us to think.

    And the Russian trolls are to blame for that? Maybe people are to blame. They’re lazy and believe everything they read.

  • The church. I hate to attack the church publicly, but it is the church that has moved into the public arena in the first place. When people tell me they pray for an “awakening” or a “revival,” I usually roll my eyes. Now I pray, pray hard for the very same thing. I’m sorry, but when our nation believes its savior is a man who [insert the enormous list] it’s difficult to believe that our nation is in the slightest interested in defending “Christian values,” and it’s deeply troubling to see folks like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and the like pushing him towards power. If the church can’t defend the weak and the oppressed and cannot express properly the love of Christ in the public arena, it now more than ever needs to get out of politics altogether.
  • Arrogant urbanites and dumb rural folks. The city vs. country divide has gone too far. I’m tired of the area between the coasts being referred to as “flyover country.” I’ve lived there, and so does so much of the population, that denigrating it this way just comes back to haunt you. At the same time, it’s not right to dismiss the progressive ideas of “city folk” when they come from real aspirations and fears.
  • Our inability to call out racism, sexism, etc. All they had to do was call it out, and he might have changed his behavior. But people (I’m speaking of the ones that aren’t Nazis, of course) aren’t prepared to call it out. They think racism is over. They think sexism is okay. And so they legitimized his behavior.
  • The Founders. I somehow believed that if anything, the electoral college would save us from a Trump presidency, but instead, it has done the opposite. Encouragingly, Hillary won the popular vote, but Donald overwhelmingly won the electoral college. That is, instead of protecting our republic from populism, the Constitution reinforced it, and while some might say that is for the good of democracy, I say that, at least in the electoral process–our system can still prevent his actions–the Founder’s architecture failed in what it was supposed to do, mainly making it “more difficult for unworthy candidates to practice the vicious arts by which elections are too often carried.”
  • Ignorance and disengagement in this country. People didn’t seem to know or care that Trump had no experience or sound policy ideas, or that though he’s a billionaire, he was already rich to begin with and that he’s been a pretty bad businessman overall. Nowhere did I become more irritated than the town we canvassed, where people shut their doors or avoided speaking because they were so sick of the election and tended to hate both candidates. I understand that feeling perfectly–do you think I want to be out here talking to you? But it’s no excuse to disengage. One guy couldn’t even be bothered to talk with us because of the football game, and if you put sports or entertainment ahead of the big decisions that impact this country, then I have nothing to say.
    As for hating both candidates–if you extricate yourself from politics entirely until November 8, what do you expect to get? The primary process is controlled by the parties, itself dominated by a small minority of voters. I get it, you don’t have time, I hardly have time, but how can you be so reckless with civic duty? On the education side, what have we done so wrong? This problem does not end with Trump; that is only its newest consequence. However bad this administration is for this country, it’s deserved. The only folks who don’t deserve it are the millions of people who have been marginalized by Trump at one point or another.
  • Donald himself? It’s hard to pin too much of it on him. He did go crazy with the birther movement, for example. But frankly, all this was sitting around for Donald to exploit, and he’s brilliant for it. I congratulate him, I really do. But as far as the damage he’s caused, well, that’s what yet to come.
  • Me. When I point fingers, I’m not doing it vindictively (not entirely, anyway). I’m a part of several of the above problems. And I’m allowed to be furious about it all.

All this said, I wish our president-elect the best, I really do, because I have no other choice. I hope that he will strengthen this country like he promises and abide by its Constitution, although considering presidents haven’t been great at this already, I have considerable doubts.

For me personally, it’s like watching a ship sink–except you’re on the damn ship yourself. It was my father’s will that I be on this ship, because he decided 40 years ago that he would come to this country, because it seemed to be a great nation with a great people. So maybe I ought to stay on the ship. As I said in the previous post, I will continue to examine key issues in this country and the world. I will continue to pursue a career in public service. It’s just that it all got a lot more complicated.


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