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Six Months After Election 2016: A Moment’s Assessment

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It is hard to imagine that it has been six months since November 8, 2016. For what it’s worth, I imagine that all of us have a tale to tell for how that day went down.

Here, for your enjoyment, is mine.

The night before was a late one for me because I had an evening theology class at my college. The discussion was on Martin Luther King Jr. and the fight for civil rights. Considering this was coming only eight years after the election of 2008, the subject and the material seemed slightly off to me. We first talked about the Civil Rights Movement, but the conversation moved inexorably toward the invisible black hole that was the 2016 presidential election. Although we never speculated about who would win, we did talk about the incalculable ramifications that this election, like 2008, would have on the country and the world at-large.

Although we constantly like to think that these elections happen in a vacuum, events like the recent French presidential election should be ample evidence to show that this is not the case. In the end the entire class of six and our teacher agreed that whatever the outcome would be, it certainly would be a unique event quite unlike any election any of us had seen.

The next morning I got up shortly before 8 a.m. and went to my polling station to commit my civic duty. I had done so three times already that year; in April, in June, and in September. Each time I always made sure to note how many people were voting with me in the booths and how many had already voted by the counter in our vote-scan tabulators.

In April the number who had voted by 6 a.m. (when the polls opened) was one (me!). By June the number who had voted by 10 a.m. (when I finished my morning routine) was thirty. By September the number who had voted by 12 p.m. (after a brief lunch) was twelve. This morning the number at 8:30 was a steady 125 and rising. Unlike my last trips, a steady line was in place, with people checking into their polling site and moving to their voting booths with ease.

I could not understand why people did not vote in the same numbers on any of those primary dates just as I did now, but as I had come to observe over the past year in working for the Bernie Sanders campaign, democracy was not a right afforded to its citizens without a fight. Sadly, these questions would need to wait for another day, and I cast my vote and promptly went to the hospital.

See, my father is a doctor at a nearby hospital. When the schedule permits we usually get together for lunch and swap stories about our day so far. He tells me his stories on the ward, and I tell him about my assignments and friends at school. I was going to see him early today, though, because I badly needed a pick-me-up.

I’ve been voting since my eighteenth birthday in 2009, and my feelings after voting could be comparable to soaring under the warmth of the sun. It felt exhilarating to be participating in something people had fought and died for. I not only honored their sacrifices but also felt invested in the great experiment that is democracy. The past year had been a rude awakening, however; democracy, even one as vaulted and rarified as ours, was in a bad way. My father—having lived through a dictatorship, a coup, and numerous authoritarian regimes—perhaps could give me perspective over what I and the world had been a witness to over the last eighteen months.

After quickly going through our respective days, we soon came to the heart of the matter. I am not very good at hiding my disaffection, and my father saw right through my slumped appearance and quiet demeanor.

I told him about the unique melancholy and detachment I had felt while voting earlier in the day and the feeling that no matter who won, things had been said that could not be undone with the unambiguous will of the people tonight. Although he agreed that the campaign had been one that would be better remembered for how politics could reach for our coarser behavior, there was still much to admire about the campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and a congressional candidate whom I had also worked for earlier that month.

After the Democratic Convention in July I had worked for a time for the Clinton campaign, canvassing on the streets of Philadelphia. I suspect that I did so out of some guilt perhaps, but I also felt an urgency unlike anything I had felt before. Even then the experience felt much more canned and sterile than what I had suspected it would be. Perhaps the most difficult experience of the whole affair was to hear people repeatedly tell me (paraphrasing), “With the Electoral College, I just don’t think that my vote counts.” After spending three hours in a bus getting to Philadelphia from the safe blue state of New York, it was something that was quite ironic to hear.

Another warning sign I saw was the oft-repeated phrase, “Ahh those politicians, they’re all just crooks! Who wants to vote for them anyway!” I could not help but feel that my position as a lowly campaign volunteer was a poor one through which to explain the mechanics of our electoral politics as well as the merits of civic engagement. It was way above my pay grade.

However, persist I did, both on my own and with a wingman, either in an open dialog or in a mostly one-way conversation. Despite my best attempts and my honing and tinkering of the wording, I could tell my message was not getting through. It was not that my sincerity was in question; my heart just was not in it anymore.

After October 7 I hung up my walking shoes. I had simply had enough. The Hollywood Access video and the WikiLeaks revelations made me realize that I was dealing with forces that were beyond my ability to comprehend, let alone explain to others. The break was exactly what the doctor—or my old man!—ordered. Life and its welcome monotony and routine came back to me in a welcome flood of comfort and relaxation. The election was as far away as a foreign country across the ocean or on the other side of the moon. I had learned an important thing: everyday life is more important than any election.

For election day I planned to continue my willful ignorance by steeling myself from the wall-to-wall coverage. After running a few errands, I took the family car toward a nearby park on a river, and as the results started spilling in, I tuned in to the nearest music station. Rather than listening to commentary and the latest figures, I spent the evening on the hood of my family’s station wagon, listening to rock ‘n’ roll.

Sure, there were the occasional updates from the disc jockey, but my mind wistfully rolled the tape of the history of the world as the night wore on and the temperature plummeted. I had my own pet theories about how the night would proceed, but rather than ruminate, my mind rolled about the world much like pinballs dart about a machine, bouncing off everything they touch.

“Wow, I can’t believe my grandma lived and died without seeing the Cubs win, and now I have.”

“Nobody’s on the river tonight. Guess it’s not the weather to go boating or fishing in early November.”

“I wonder how candidate X [not Clinton or Trump] is doing? Probably losing.”

“Gosh, I better remember to get that paper handed in to my professor. He seemed insistent we hand it in on-time.”

“Man, I wish I had a telescope! The stars look really good tonight!”

“That reminds me—I better get the camera from my friend’s dad. I’m sure he done using it by now.”

After flipping through a couple of pages of the latest book I was reading and catching a few minutes shut-eye, I made my way to some civilization in the form of a twenty-four-hour diner.

It being long past the midnight hour, the place was mercifully empty and quiet. The PA system, tuned in to a slow-jazz radio station, kept me blissfully unaware of the tumultuous events ensuing in New York City. A few fellow patrons quietly munched on some late-night meals on the counter or in individual booths, and mostly alone. Most were truckers taking a break in their long trek across the nation on the way to their destination. The parking lot was lined with Mac trucks silently awaiting their pilots for the next leg of the journey.

Again, my mind wandered, thinking about the stories these men of the road could tell me if they had the strength or the time. After placing my order, I quickly took a stroll around the establishment to snoop out the trucks’ license plates. Of the six trucks out there that cold November morning, there were trucks from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Missouri. In the swing-state sweepstakes I had hit two out of six—not bad!

At roughly 2:30 a.m. I returned home. The viewing party had long since departed, and only my mother stood as a silent sentinel awaiting my return home. “Whatever happens, everything will be all right,” she cryptically told me as I hugged her. None the wiser about what was unfolding across the country. I thought nothing more about my troubles and restless mind, and I quickly drifted away.

The morning saw me awake very late after everyone had left for work or school. My class was in the evening, so I showered, dressed, and stepped out to what I thought would be a changed world.

My plan was to do as before: visit my father for lunch after doing some homework at the nearby library. The walk was a brisk eight blocks filled with the sights and sounds of a neighborhood. As I began my early morning walkabout I began to notice the profound and deafening silence I encountered as I ventured through the streets.

Don’t get me wrong: people were out and about, cars were running everywhere, and the soundtrack of city life seemed perfectly normal. But nobody spoke. There was no conversation, no smiles, no laughter, no mumbles—nothing. At the end of a simple fifteen-minute walk, I had learned more than any news article or video could ever tell me.

As if by osmosis, I had learned the outcome of the race by the sheer magnitude of the event. I recalled what joy and hope people had in their expressions, faces, and voices after 2008. It seemed now that that blissful period had tragically run out, run aground, and was torn asunder, never to return.

I unilaterally ended my media embargo at midday, just in time to listen and watch the Clinton concession and President Obama’s remarks, largely the most symbolic and final chapters to the most historic and divisive election our nation had ever known. I for one did not share in the shock many had, but the feelings of anger and despair were all too familiar by now.

Had not Bernie been actively defeated—or even sabotaged—to avoid this very situation from becoming a reality? Why, oh why had she used the word “deplorable”? How could this happen? The Electoral College again!? I had so many questions, but the worst thing was knowing that to some questions, there would never be a satisfying answer.

Since then I’ve thought long and hard about what I as a citizen did wrong to help contribute to what occurred six months ago. In fact, we all share some of the blame for what happened—not as individuals but as a part of a civilization.

One thing I can say is that people have gotten the message, and perhaps that is what good has come from this election. No longer will we see ourselves as merely pieces of life but now as parts of the fabric of society. No longer will we believe that our involvement in some action or effort is to be taken for granted or will passed on to someone else. No more will people see politics as a flavor or a sport of choice but rather as a dynamic debate. No more will people see the other side as some unintelligible group of aliens—in more ways than one—but as citizens, compatriots . . . as people.

What the long-term impact of Tuesday, November 8, 2016, will be is too early to tell. But if the last six months are any indication, it goes to show how people can see the real power they have as individuals, the great strength they carry as a group, and the real value we all share as a nation. As our country’s motto aptly says: E pluribus Unum.

Out of many, one.

The Hypocrisies of Our Left-Wing Echo Chambers Will Destroy Us

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In the days and weeks after the 2016 election, many of us on the left were shocked. Some blindsided, some devastated but not surprised, others bewildered.

After months of putting Trump’s racist, ableist, sexist remarks—and only those remarks—on a 24/7 loop in our left-wing, self-created echo chambers, we couldn’t understand how anyone could vote for Trump unless they were raging, unapologetic racists and misogynists.

So we pulled ourselves out of our shocked states by releasing a damning, name-calling tirade against anyone who voted for Trump.

It felt good, didn’t it?

It felt so good to hurl invectives and vow to fight till our dying day those awful, horrible people.

Because they’re hateful. And we’re not.

“Love Trumps Hate,” we told ourselves as we looked down on them and reduced them to one-dimensional caricatures so we can generalize about who they are and what they’re capable of—effectively dehumanizing them.

We’re the good guys, we told ourselves.

But some voices, including Bernie Sanders, have piped up out of the morass of indignant anger to argue that Trump wasn’t just making racist and sexist remarks—he was saying other things as well, things we didn’t register because we only listened to his incendiary rhetoric.

Some have pointed out that Trump struck a chord with people who feel left behind by our current economic system, people who feel angry that their lives and their values are being forgotten, if not demeaned.

But we won’t stand for that, now will we?

No. If you voted for Trump because he said he was going to shake up Washington politics (yes, I know, he has failed on that promise), because he wasn’t part of some entrenched political dynasty that has been failing our country for decades, or because he adamantly opposes the “free trade” deals that have eviscerated much of our working class, no matter. If you didn’t NOT vote for him because of his racist and sexist remarks, you’re a racist and misogynist and that’s all you are.

And just as we don’t watch your news shows and read your news sites (and thus don’t see what they’re emphasizing, what they’re saying, how they’re shaping your perception), we’re not going to listen to you and we’re not going to talk to you because, we say, hate is unacceptable.

We will shut you out and shut you down and shut you up…because love trumps hate.

Meanwhile, an African American named Daryl Davis has made it his mission to reach out to, talk with, listen to, and ultimately become friends with members of the KKK and other hate groups. The process has been slow, and I’m sure it’s rarely been easy, but as a result of his willingness to see them as people, to listen to their viewpoints, to open a door between himself and them, 200 of them have changed their views and renounced their memberships in the KKK.

Martin Luther King said, “You cannot drive out hate with hate: only love can do that.” Davis’s efforts exemplify this.

If just 1% of us were willing to enter into spaces where we are perceived as the cultural enemy and instead just show them that we are human—complex, flawed, products of our environment and circumstances, and yet capable of love—and that we see them as human and worthy of compassion and empathy, imagine the impact we could make.

No, we won’t convert everyone. But we could shift the balance. We could change the narrative.

Conversely, recently singer Kim Burrell was disinvited from appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show after she called the LGBT community “perverted.” DeGeneres said she chose to not allow Burrell on her show because she did not want to “give her a platform after she was saying things about me.”

I get it. Talking with people who say racist, sexist, homophobic things is hard. Listening to them with a level head and not reacting in disgust and condemnation is even harder. Having difficult conversations with people who hold not just different but socially destructive views and trying to see where they’re coming from—how can anyone do that? After all, if we see where they come from, will we become racist, sexist, and homophobic too?

But if you don’t know where someone is coming from, don’t understand where they are, then how can you bring them to a better place?

Many have argued that it doesn’t matter that millions of rural and working-class white people struggle economically and culturally. That we should not care about the white rural and working-class perception that they are being left behind while minorities get special treatment (yes, I know, this is a distorted perception, but it’s their perception nonetheless) and their financial duress (after all, many of us feel that same duress, and yet we refuse to discriminate, so they should too, even though there are myriad other circumstances affecting how each individual processes their own reality).

They say we should not try to empathize, should not listen with compassion and respect because we know their perception is distorted and their values are based on hate. They say we should disregard Trump voters’ pain, struggle, and isolation. Because we’re right, they’re wrong, so what they feel is invalidated.

But we disregard and dismiss their lived realities at our own peril. As we scare ourselves shitless drawing comparisons between Trump and Hitler, we forget that Hitler came to power as a result of the combination of draconian international sanctions and punishments on the German people following WWI and widespread anti-Semitic propaganda. If the German people’s lives had not been reduced to desperate penury and cultural ostracism within the European community, there would have been very little fuel for the anti-Semitic propaganda that elevated Hitler and the Nazi Party to power.

When people muse about going back in time and killing young Hitler in his cradle, they imagine that if they separated the head from the body of the beast of Nazi Germany, then the horror it wreaked never would have happened.

As though Hitler, and Hitler alone, caused the infectious hatred, the devastating inhumanity, the widespread destruction.

Instead, what if you could go back in time and change the Treaty of Versailles. What if you could prevent the post-WWI punishment of the German people? What if you could remove the body from the head?

It’s easy to condemn Trump voters. But when we do that we are not only strengthening the arms and legs of the Trump beast; we are also lying to ourselves when we think that we are not being hateful as well.

We can and must love better.

Reflections on Elections Past, Present, and Future: A Perspective

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Does anyone remember Tuesday, November 4, 2008?
I remember where I was. It had been a long day at school for me. I was a high school senior who was having a tough time (but that’s another story!) and had returned with my father from voting. Had I only been five months older, I would have joined him in the booth, not as an observer but as a full-fledged voter. Being that I was only seventeen and was not interested in committing voter fraud, I instead egged my father to vote after coming home from work. Because he was a doctor who was on his feet all day, it took some doing to keep him awake and drive him to City Hall to fulfill his civic duty. But he could see the passion and pleading in my voice over the phone and thankfully assented to us going together.
Five months later, after jogging together on my eighteenth birthday, he and I walked to our little town hall together so we could cast our votes—my first ever—in our local town elections. It was an occasion he and I have both cherished ever since. But this all still lay in the future. Right now it is Tuesday, November 4, 2008.
Seeing as I could not vote in any election that year, I had mostly stayed out of the election process. It was a decision I’ve personally regretted since then. The titanic struggle between Senators Clinton and Obama showed me how glorious our country and democracy could be when people of all walks of life are stirred to action by voting and donating their time, money, and hearts to a cause higher than themselves. Elections—even this one—are not devoid of the sometimes vacuous charges, aspersions, and manipulations we’ve become cynically accustomed to, but they generally leave everyone at the end with the sense that the voice of the people—those who vote anyway—have genuinely heard. Ranks close, partisanship falls, and the work of governing can fully begin.
As that evening progressed I sleepily watched the results as they played out on the television screen and a new president was ceremoniously and solemnly declared for the whole world to hear and see. Most people felt that this story could only happen to America, but I disagree with that notion, as I’ll explain later. For me, all I knew then was that tomorrow was just another day of school for me, where I would hear the story of my older friends who were able to tell me they met their constitutional duty and voted for the first time.
Seldom do moments of great historical import pass without people gauging their place as to when they heard. September 11, 2001, the JFK assassination, and the attack on Pearl Harbor are those that quickly come to mind. But there are those such as the first moon landing, the new millennium, and, yes, the election of President Barack Obama that should be proof positive that those moments need not be sad or tragic for us to indelibly etch them in our minds. How proud I am that in that sleepy state as a seventeen-year-old, I could place that moment in my heart where it shall remain for me to forever recall as long as I live.
Looking back, I am struck by a sincere sadness that that moment did not portend better things to come. The elections of 2010, the Citizens United ruling, DACA, and the worldwide economic downturn all changed my perspective from that cold and damp November day. I have voted, but with a heavy heart every time. I have participated in my share of elections, but not with the vigor I would have thought that day would have instilled in me. Perhaps I thought there was something wrong with me. I knew that I looked to my leaders, expecting their leadership on a host of issues, but I always came away feeling rather disowned by their actions. That all changed in 2014 with the help of a woman by the name of Professor Teachout.
Participating in that campaign as I did (only for the last week), I got a ground-floor view to politics that most people seldom know and that no one watching the television on election night would see. The turnout in that election, by the way: a nominal but measly ~10%. Lesson: participation counts! From there on, I worked from the tack of engaging people directly through conversation, argument, and persuasion. I can happily report that although not all the results are in, I have changed some minds, learned some key insights, and will continue on this line so long as it does not fail me!
Arriving at this year, I am struck—as all must be—by the loss of tenor and civility on both sides of the campaign. Let me just state here that although this is not a vote of endorsement or condemnation on one candidate or another, this is a vote of no confidence in our political system as it stands now. I will of course vote, as many others will, but not with the same feeling I had that first time that it will really accomplish much other than having my vote placed on record.
This may seem blasphemous to some, unpatriotic to others. However, when you come right down to it, how many among us would say that our democratic system is truly in a good state as it stands? In our post-Citizens United world, I’m with my father in the opinion that our ever-fragile democracy “is in the ICU at the moment.” The questions we must all ask ourselves is:
After this election, what are you going to do about it?
Sure, we all have our daily lives to live; we all have our problems. Nobody is asking you to give any money or time to any cause. My only plea is that you think about the alternatives to and possibilities of our political system. If you’re just like me, you won’t remember this year’s election night as fondly as I did eight years ago. But the question remains:
What are you willing to do so elections of the future don’t end this way?

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