Dear Family and Friends,
I have a confession to make.
I was in shock, as I watched the 2016 U.S. Elections coverage on TV. As too were the anchors, the pundits, and the pollsters; Donald Trump was a deplorable, unelectable candidate, and having him as president would be a disaster.
And yet, he was winning. He had stronger turnout in specific demographics than Hillary had in the countervailing ones in counties all across America.
How had we missed this? Was our polling wrong? Was our models wrong?
Simply put, the Democratic party’s world-view did not take this possibility seriously.
And because most people did not take this seriously, they missed what was right here all along. Maybe the pollsters had biased samples. Maybe the pundits modeled voter behavior wrong…
Should I feel betrayed by the talking heads? Misled by the echoing voices? No, I should have known better. After all, I grew up in rural America.
Presque Isle is a small city in Aroostook County, a large, rural county of northern Maine. Growing up, I had a large family, an active church, and a great school system.
Aroostook County is in decline. Since it’s peak in 1960, the population has decreased by 35%.
I am part of that decline. I attended attended college in Massachusetts, and never returned.
The Aroostook Centre Mall opened in 1994, with 4 anchor stores, nearly full corridors, and an eight-screen cinema; also, Wal-Mart opened in 1996. Today, the mall has one open anchor store, half-empty corridors, and the cinema closed a decade ago; many small businesses have gone bust.
This part of America is not thriving. A sixth of the population live below the poverty line. Inflation has risen faster than median incomes. They are surviving, pridefully, but their future is far from certain.
There are counties like mine all over America. They would love for their America to be great again. They would love for politics in Washington D.C. to change, so that it may respond to them.
I’m vaguely aware I live in a cultural bubble. I sometimes joke that I live in Liberalachusetts. I live next to Boston, with a high density of colleges and graduates. I work as a Software Engineer in an industry that seems to grow and evolve faster than I can comprehend.
I did not seriously believe Trump could win. He’s uncivilized, lacks governing experience, and has a myriad of business liabilities. The polls from all the reputable sources said Hillary had a significant lead for election day.
And yet he did win; my world-view said that almost surely would not occur.
I should have known better. But I didn’t seriously consider it.
I know we live in an increasingly segmented society. Mass media is an echo-chamber of self-confirmation. Our political parties have become severely insular over the years.
I still should have known better. I follow a diverse set of public thinkers, such as historians, technologists, and erudite thinkers who challenge my thinking. And yet, I didn’t detect this.
I have been duped; many of us have been.
I’m despondent because I have allowed a dehumanizing process to occur within me.
Many people find it expedient to portray opponents as the ‘other’; they are flawed, unrelatable fools with whom one cannot reason. That is an intolerant perspective that divides us. Do I really believe at least 26% of U.S. citizens are unworthy? They can’t be; some of them are my hometown community, and family.
If I told you he was your brother
We could reminisce
Then you would go about your day
If I said you ought to give him
Some of your water
You’d shake your canteen and walk away
The perception that divides you from him
Is a lie
For some reason you never asked why
This is not a black and white world
You can’t afford to believe in your side
—Līve, “The Beauty of Gray”
I am complicit in this; I’ve silently endorsed the separating and pitting of people against each other.
How can we be become a better egalitarian society, or a more perfect union, if we don’t admit we are a victim of the system, so we can overcome it?
Since it’ll come up in conversation, let me share some of my perspectives:
- I see the current political divide is a urban / rural divide.
- I did not vote for Hillary in the 2008 primary. I voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary. I voted against Trump in the 2016 general.
- Some people vote for a party. Some people vote for a cause. Some people vote for a personality.
- It is uncommon for a political party to have a member in the White House for more than two terms.
- The election of Donald Trump is unprecedented; he has no military or government experience.
- The election of Barack Obama too was unprecedented; he is not White.
- Some people like the machismo of Trump; to them it displays power.
- Intellectual organizations can be self-serving, and breed disdain for outsiders.
- Not understanding how a complex system works, ( like our country voting, ) is likely evidence of a lack in understanding, not of some conspiracy.
- Yes, Congress has other issues, like only representing the concerns of the top 10%.