I haven’t been asleep. I’ve noticed that Trump was elected president of the United States. I’ve been following the hyperbolic reactions and speculations. Predictions of doomsday have been loosed with abandon.
Most of this coverage comes from the same heedless simpletons who’ve failed miserably as journalists umpteen times. But this time, we should listen to them because what they have to say is important. Any opinion that lines up with their own is valid—regardless from whom it comes (i.e. another fool who hasn’t passed up an opportunity to be spectacularly wrong in the past).
So I’ve taken my time with my reaction, to counterbalance the gut-reactions of the rest of the world. That doesn’t mean it’s any better—just that it’s less likely that I’ll regret what I’ve written.
My 2016 Election Experience
I was in Germany for the entire election, shifted 6 hours from EST. I led a two-day training on Tuesday and Wednesday; I traveled Monday night.
I’d mostly forgotten the election was even happening. I got a ride back to the hotel from a guy in my training and he asked what I thought about the election. I expressed no preference either way; he concurred, shaking his head. Urs asked if I could even stand not being able to check on results. I told him it wasn’t that difficult. Knowing my penchant for American politics, he didn’t believe me—but it was true.
I hadn’t really been following the U.S. elections very closely for a while but I had heard that either Hillary had an insurmountable lead or that Trump was closing the gap. That’s the kind of news you get from media more interested in remuneration than accuracy.
It was as I was searching for an accurate electoral map that I realized—unlike in other years—I was looking for electoral predictions for the first time after the election.
I didn’t check my phone, I didn’t check the interwebs, I just didn’t really care. I’d written off the election because both candidates were so abhorrent to me. I’d voted for Jill Stein months ago.
On election night, I’d come back to the hotel and had dinner and wellness to look forward to. The saunas helped me easily forget about the election. At least until a guy from the area asked me about it in the 95ºC “Blocksauna”—but all thought was gone again after jumping in the 5ºC “Polarbärbad”.
The next morning, I saw a text message from a friend about “if things go south here, I’m coming over there”, but someone always writes that during elections. Usually I check newsfeeds in the morning, but that’s on my computer at home, not on the work laptop. I don’t check Facebook regularly. I don’t use push notifications on my phone. I had another long day of training to run, so I quickly forgot about the election again.
Immediately after the training, we headed to the Bad Grönenbach train station (see image right). I’m in a foreign country with no data-roaming package and (as you can clearly see) no wireless in the train station. We were chatting about the training and next steps, not the election.
In Memmingen, we had to wait longer for our next train, so we went to dinner at Restaurant Zum Älles, which felt like it hadn’t changed since 1955. We were having a beer before dinner and toasted another successful training. The radio was on; the elderly proprietors were reading newspapers. No-one else was there but Urs and me.
I heard something about Martina Navratilova saying that she was surprised to see how racist America still was. It was then that it dawned on me that Trump had won. I had to ask Urs if it was true. He was astonished that I didn’t know. He’d known since that morning when he checked the news.
I gut-laughed. Literally. My look of surprise was enough to convince him that I was hearing about President Trump for the first time the day after the election. We ordered another round and toasted President Trump.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
How can you not care?
I do care. Probably more than you. And almost certainly for longer than you. I’ve been paying attention for decades. Most of you just noticed that there is something deeply wrong with how America works. Welcome to the club. But you should sit down and listen for a little while before you start pretending that you’re in charge. The first step isn’t whining, and it’s also not claiming that you have the solution and everyone else is too stupid to see how right you are. The first step is getting a realistic grasp on the situation and then setting priorities.
I appear not to care because I didn’t see an upside to a Clinton presidency either, so I can’t get all broken up about her not being elected. I was thinking the other day that I could understand the uproar, had Trump defeated Bernie. That, in my mind, would have been a greater shame, narrowly missing out on having a much-more progressive president—one that you wouldn’t have to check every nanosecond to make sure he wasn’t going to sell us out behind our backs. You’d still have to keep tabs, but at least you could catch a catnap every now and then.
And, then, in a flash, I realized why people are in the streets: a lot of people think that that is exactly what happened. Think about it: if you’re deep in the bubble, then you have no idea that Hillary Clinton isn’t a progressive. You don’t even remember how she and her coterie of merry thieves flat-out stole the primary from Bernie Sanders. Those same Democrats are now calling for a recount and re-election because they think “they was robbed”.
Take a Moment. Take two.
These keening, hair-pulling depths of despair come from an unshakable belief that Hillary was the one and now we have the Devil incarnate. I’m here to reassure you both that Trump is no worse than many others (look up Lyndon B. Johnson and “racist quotes” and bask in the glow of racist cant from just a few decades ago) and that Hillary would have been just like all the others. That is, I’m reassuring you that your hopes were only dashed because you ever believed there was any hope in the first place. There wasn’t. The system makes sure of that. You shouldn’t be so broken up about this election because your first mistake was believing there was ever a good option in the first place. Join us. Join us at the table of malcontents and cynics. Join us at the grown-ups table.
The “Grown-ups table” is condescending, I know. It can be maddening when people claim that you don’t know enough to have an opinion. Or when people claim that what you know is wrong. But remember: “the more you know, the more you’re aware of what you don’t know”. If what you know often comes into conflict with reality, you have to reexamine what you thought you knew. If you don’t bother doing that, don’t be surprised when others don’t want to re-hash old arguments with you. If you were recently shocked to the very core of your being that Clinton lost, then please take the time to figure out how that came to be—and fix it—before you try telling everyone your new opinions.
With Eyes Open
The catastrophe hasn’t just started. Things didn’t just get cataclysmic. America was not a Utopia before Trump was elected; it was more an Elysium. Things have been bad for most people for a long while and both of the major parties are complicit in keeping things that way. Hillary would have continued things that Obama did, much as Obama continued things that Bush did. Be honest about their legacies and you’ll see they’re not that different: drones, surveillance, war, big-business giveaways, bank bailouts, class war.
You think you’re clever when you tell Trump voters that they’ve been duped. Of course they have. But so were you. Hillary was duping you hard. Just like Obama duped you. The peace president, remember? That was so good and so true.
The Paradise you’ve retroactively envisioned isn’t coming to an end. It never was. I’m glad that you’ve all started paying attention now that Trump is in charge, but it’s hard not to hate you all a little bit for being mindless zombies so long as the guy in charge wasn’t threatening your lifestyle. You only charge to action once you see something that might affect you and yours. Injustice that affects people out of your sightline? Meh. Drone away, Obama.
An objective look at major policy points shows no change. She wouldn’t have closed Guantánamo; she wouldn’t have pulled back troops; she would have fucked up climate-change policy to benefit world players just like Obama did.
Sure, we wouldn’t be talking about federal abortion rights if she were president, but neither would we be talking about the fact that most women in America don’t have de facto access to abortion because of insidious access policies that do an end-run around the law that Hillary wouldn’t change.
Would it be bad if abortion gets rolled back in the U.S.? Yes, but make sure that that’s actually an issue before spending all of your time and energy on it. If you’re attacking straw-men, you’re not doing anyone any good. It’s probably counterproductive because you’ll suck in a lot of other people whose time might otherwise have been well-spent.
Probably number one on the list of issues is the climate. Everyone’s pining for the days of the Paris Agreement. That’s stupid. That agreement was a sham from start to finish and, at best, an anemic patch on the gaping wound of climate change. But when you let others frame the debate for you, they get you to savage them unless they agree to the Paris Accords. Then they, slyly grinning, agree, because Br’er Rabbit doesn’t mind that briar patch at all.
Does it look like Trump is going to be terrible for the environment? Yes. But look at Obama’s record. Trump will have to work really hard to change the slope of the downward trend of the last several decades, stretching from Clinton to Bush to Obama. Obama’s administration found trillions to keep banks healthy and expected you to be happy with a few paltry millions for alternative energy.
What about his cabinet?
The people Trump seems to want to hire look terrible.
But so do most of the people Obama hired. Remember Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education? Or Rahm Emmanuel as Chief of Staff? Or Larry Summers, Jack Lew (Citigroup) and Timothy Geitner as Secretaries of Treasury or economic advisors? Or billionaire investment banker Penny Pritzker as Secretary of Commerce? Or Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture? The guy who wanted to give away whatever money we had left to the corn lobby, who also doesn’t believe in global warming? Leon Panetta as Secretary of Defense? And now head of the CIA? Samantha Power as U.N. Ambassador? Susan Rice as NSC Chief? Or Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? Hell, those three ladies never saw a third-world country they didn’t think they could bomb back to health.
Do you know how toxic those people are to a progressive America? Or were you just not paying attention?
It didn’t start getting bad with Obama, I know. What about George Bush as President? Was that better than Trump? Really? With Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense? Or Cheney as Vice President? Condaleeza Rice as Secretary of State? She also never saw a country that she didn’t want to bomb flat, which makes you despair for the supposed soft touch of a woman in the halls of power. Or John Ashcroft, followed by Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General? Henry Paulson—Mr. TARP—as Secretary of the Treasury?
Keep going back. Bill Clinton. Madeleine Albright—Mrs. “Half a million dead kids in Iraq isn’t too high a price to pay”—as Secretary of State. Robert Rubin—Mr. Citibank—and Larry Summers as Secretaries of the Treasury.
Go back more. Bush the first. Cheney as Secretary of Defense. Dan Quayle as the hapless Vice President (the king of useless Vice Presidents).
Ronald Reagan was President, for God’s sake. An actor who’d lost what little brains he ever had. A hateful, vengeful, spiteful man who covered it all with a folksy attitude.
Carter had Zbigniew Breszinski as a top advisor. That got us into Afghanistan for the first time.
Before that we had the hapless Gerald Ford, who kept Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State, the man who set the bar for violence in that position that all of his many admirers/successors have struggled to match. He started off Donald Rumsfeld in his first turn as Secretary of Defense. Dick Cheney was his Chief of Staff.
Before him was Richard Milhouse Nixon, say no more. He had Henry Kissinger as Secretary of State first, which should say enough about his attitude toward global violence.
Trump’s going to have to try super-hard to make his cabinet as bad as his predecessors’. That’s not to say he won’t be able to do it. But stop pretending that he’ll be the first to stack his team of advisors with rich-loving, climate-denying warmonger billionaires.
You feel like you’re winning, but you’re winning the battle they set up for you, while their troops annihilate everything else. And “they” here is not just Trump. If you’re going to be useful, you have to acknowledge and “own” Obama’s legacy too. And Hillary’s. To be in this club, you can’t be in any other club.