Like much of those in America, including possibly the winner himself, the results of the 2016 Presidential election came as a huge shock to me. So sure of the result was I, that when questioned why I would take children to an election party given that results don’t finish coming in until after midnight, I rolled my eyes and said “Oh, by 8, maybe 8.30, we’ll know. I mean, we won’t know, but it will be obvious”. I was anticipating the vote for Hillary to be such a landslide that in my wilder dreams I almost saw Texas as a swing state. I nearly made a T-shirt that said “Spoiler alert: Hillary wins”.
In the end, I was half right. By 8-8.30 I did indeed know. I can’t remember the exact time my heart stopped hoping, but at a certain point it was clear that the majority of the swing states were leaning red, and in other states Trump’s margin was greater than expected. Together, it was clearly an indication of what was to come. At 9-ish I said to friends “I don’t want to get in the car and drive home, because I know that when I get out of the car it will be a done deal”. But in the end keeping my children up far too late, and clinging on, and staying up 2 hours’ after we got home was in vain. Trump won.
Trump won. And I am afraid. And after the tears, for me, came the time for quieter introspection. How? I needed to understand two major “hows”:
1. While I respect that there were a multitude of reasons for voting Trump, many of which reflect values that I hold dear (but choose to manifest differently), how did an open misogynist, who mocked disabilities, who acted a racist to an almost caricature level, and who made hatred-inspired division a cornerstone of his campaign, win? I understand how he got some votes e.g the pro-life vote, but how did he win?
2. How did I so totally and utterly not see it coming? How did the Democratic Party and associated media not see it coming?
The answers to these are many layered and complex. They are being debated in the media now, and they will be written about for years to come. I am not Political Science savvy-enough to add to the experts, but for now I am recognizing that the DNP did not listen to their followers who actually echoed the same sentiments as the Trump followers.
I was not a Bernie Sanders fan. I liked his ideals, but I felt they were too extreme for the US at the present time, and his past record in the legislature (or more to the point, his lack of record) told me that he would not work well within the system to compromise and make change happen. I saw stagnation. But it seems I was an outsider in wanting someone more proven, more acceptable to other politicians, more used to working with the other side and deploying their army of machinations to achieve a compromise goal. I think the people overwhelmingly wanted Bernie the outsider and consistently overlooked his negatives – even some of the same negatives theory through at Hillary. And in the end, The DNP looked around at the American public overwhelmingly asking for an outsider, and put in place: the ultimate insider.
That’s just the start of what will surely be characterized in history as a catalogue of mistakes. But it is not even really where my thoughts were; they were more at the grass roots level (albeit how this reflects DNP actions) and with personal guilt. Why did Trump win? The difference this year seems to be because he exploited divisions while mobilizing a group of people that liberals all but ignore: non-college educated (I refuse to say “uneducated” like the divisive media), often rural, whites. He spoke to them, and he spoke for them. But surely, he could only get them to vote for such a heinous character but making the division between him and the other candidate strong. He must have made that wound so deep. And thinking about this, when I did some soul searching I realized that as an enlightened, tolerance-preaching all-loving liberal I was as guilty of contributing to these divisions as anyone.
Did I have any interest in America’s other whites? No. Did I care about disenfranchised whites? Oh, I read about the African American experience, and the Transgender experience, and the Refugee experience and so on. I lapped it up! I shared articles, I spouted about how enlighten I was because I could never really appreciate what it was like to be one of these minorities, but I could appreciate the environment they were in and how terrible my white straight privilege was! Oh, now I saw the light indeed. Now I was so much a better person indeed. Enlightened. Accepting. So open minded. So liberal. How did even manage to see when my halo was so bright.
But what about others? How could I not read about others who were disenfranchised? Is it that I had no access to such literature? No. Immediately I can think of two occasions where people directly tried to engage me on this issue. I posted about white privileged and two people directly said to me “I don’t think African Americans do have a disadvantage compared to me”. Of course, we all know my response. It’s the classic white liberal response: You’re wrong! And not only are you wrong, you want to be wrong. You don’t like the changing status quo my pompous ass concluded. Whether here is any veracity to those statements or not, yet problem to me is not what was said or through, but what was not. I cannot remember a single time I engaged with a disenfranchised white and said “tell me about your troubles”. “Tell me about how you feel marginalized”. “Let me listen to you”.
Why? I don’t think I am generally someone who doesn’t try to to see other people’s point of view, or who carries a self-righteous rightness about them. So why now? Why couldn’t I listen to family members and friends, of all people. Thinking long and hard about why I have changed to be like this, I have drawn the conclusion that a large part of it stems from living on Facebook for me. At the time of the election, I got almost 100% of my “news” from Facebook recommendations and click fests, and lived in that Facebook bubble where (and I forget what the name of it is), FaceBook shows you posts and media articles that reflect your previous interests and likes. How could this not entrench my views further? Everyday I logged on to have my views reaffirmed and deepened. Every day others logged on to have the same to their different views. How could this not create a chasm? Clearly this is only a problem when you get your information exclusively in this manner, but I am ashamed to say that I did. And now I think about it: that’s incredibly dangerous. Surely, it has to be incredibly dangerous to encourage oneself to narrow your world view? And to keep reaffirming your underlying opinions rather than evolving and challenging them. And often, let’s face it: doing all this with sound bites and memes. I nearly started a running series on this blog about liberal memes that annoyed me because so they so entirely missed the non-liberal point of view. Yet I still willingly exposed myself to them day after day.
Against this background of realizing that Facebook was not doing my world view any good, things started to get heated in my feed. I watched comment after comment get leaped on, and yelled at, even though the original intent was not to incite. The divisions deepened and became personal.
I am honest and true to my beliefs, but I express them differently depending on the views of the audience. I talk about them in person subtly and with nuance (I hope). I take care not to hurt people if they disagree with me. I try to listen. But it is very difficult to do this on Facebook. It tends to be quick status updates, memes and headlines. You speak to everyone at once, and in the same way. You can’t gauge those non verbal cues as to how someone is being affected by your words. But you do get all those self affirming likes and shares! It just wasn’t good for me.
I don’t know when much of my interpersonal discourse moved from real life to Facebook, but embarrassingly, it did. Some months ago I stopped making political posts and stuck to baby pictures and selfies. But it creeps in. A picture of Caroline in a (bi-partisan) election hat started flurry of passionate debate – by accident it seems (although I did tag it #imwithher). (#imstillwithher). That wans’t the only example. Being careful with what I posted on my own page probably deepened my resentment of the so-perceived “others”, rather than leading to discourse and learning.
So, it’s time for a break. I had thought about it before, but never managed to pull the trigger on deactivating my account. It makes me quite sad – there are so many people I am only in touch with through Facebook and I have enjoyed my friendships there. I have been to a wedding and had a marvelous friend come and stay with me because of it. I have reconnected with an old “sister” (“” because she is not family buy blood, just by love and experience). But I need a break. I seem unable to control my usage and use it only positively so Facebook is gone.
I’m sad that I have lost messenger as I deactivated Facebook, and I worry about lost friendships. But I am hoping that I can still connect with people here, and through emails and text messages. I’m not quite a hermit / dinosaur yet.
The above is just a snapshot of what is going through my mind. It’s worth saying that I recognize:
*There were many reasons for voting for Trump other than “white disenfranchisement” to include for example, his pro-life stance, and his business acumen.
*I don’t hate Trump supporters. I don’t just “tolerate” them. I love many of them, and I recognize and understand their reasons for voting Trump where I have heard them. In the same breath, I don’t dismiss articles which say, for example, that racism can be just about actions as about beliefs and voting for an open racist with racist policies can be seen as a racist act. I have trouble reconciling a lot of this in my head.
*A lot of my decision just reflect a need to hide away from the ugliness in the world for a while. It’s not helpful, but I need to be able to distance myself.
*Many felt Hillary was just a truly non optional alternative. I loved her, but they saw entitlement, dishonesty, murder and warmongering. She lost a lot of her vote because of this.
*Many (the majority?) of people are able to use Facebook in an entirely constructive way. I am not one of them at their moment. You would probably be horrified if you knew quite how much time I spent on there. This is a personal decision that does not reflect what I think of Facebook and its users in general.
*The extreme right seem to be gaining traction all over the world (including Europe and Australia). This is a world patterns right now which probably has nothing to do with social media and everything to do with the fallout of several wars and economic depressions.
*At times I sounds like I am really beating myself up. I am very sad at the moment. It is hard to put into words what watching a man who was vocal racist, who said women should be punished for abortions, who promised to enact racist policies and undo some of the greatest social progress this country has seen in decades, and who has no political experience to temper his actions, what it has done to me to see this man be put in power. What it has done to me to see literal hate spewed forth and not only be legitimized but supported. If I played any part in this, if I even contributed to underlying movements that in some allowed this to gain momentum, if I was even prepresentative of the problem rather than part of it, I take that very seriously and will demand dramatic changes of myself. Change must happen. A man such as Trump much not be allowed to be the face of a Nation.
*Coming off Facebook is not the most helpful thing I can do. I know this. I have already been researching organizations and making lists of what I can feasibly contribute to, both financially and by giving my time or expertise, to counteract racism, and promote gender equality. Good will come of this.