An illustration: How Alienation undermines our national interest
Let me provide a quick example of how alienation hurts everyone nationally.
When Donald Trump won the recent election, from many blue-voters on the coasts we heard denunciation of, among others, red-voters; those in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, etc. We’ve all heard the labels; these voters were lumped together as dumb, racist, misogynist xenophobes.
Let’s just abstractly break down that reaction: The subject blue voters (a) dismissed the possibility that Trump was the right choice for these particular red voters and then (b) extrapolated from that that therefore said red voters must have malicious motivations.
Now, if you feel that way, don’t get offended! These behaviors, (a) and (b), are not unique to coastal blue voters. All humans do this. Frequently. There is a lot of research on these propensities (much of it referenced in the e.pluribus.us Resource Library). Fertile ground for a future post.
But to stay focused on the Rust Belt, my observation is that it is very difficult to want to reach out to, understand and empathize with individuals that one has concluded are malicious.
“Dumb, racist, misogynist xenophobes.”
I mean, that’s pretty tough language? How does one feel motivated to try to engage and collaborate with such vermin?
One does not want to collaborate with vermin…
But here’s the problem. If one did, indeed, engage, and open-mindedly explore why these individuals rationalized voting for Trump, one may find, no doubt, at least some representatives of the aforementioned vices. But one would also find all sorts of other reasons why voting for Trump might have made actual sense for them. Many of these reasons are logical and defensible and have nothing whatsoever to do with racism, misogyny or xenophobia.
Let’s imagine one such rationale. For clarity, this is not my rationale; this is a hypothetical voter. And this is a simplification(1), for purposes of illustration.
Let’s take a voter in a former manufacturing town, who has seen her job automated or shipped to Asia in recent years, seen associated declining economic opportunities across her region, has a lower quality of life for she and her children, cannot feed them the same as she used to and cannot dream of the same education for them. This voter looks at the candidate for the Democratic Party and may observe that the candidate helped negotiate every major trade agreement the US has inked in the last 8 years that — in the voter’s view — directly resulted in her losing her job. That same Democratic candidate prioritizes in her campaign speeches not jobs for the Rust Belt, but global warming and minority rights. This same candidate earns millions in private talks with Wall Street m/billionaires, Hollywood moguls and Silicon Valley automation advocates. This candidate spends hours on the campaign trail championing the rights of those south of the border, yet — and this is possibly the most objectionable part — never visited the voter’s own state, north of the border.
Meanwhile Trump did. He railed — on the national stage — about the plight of exactly this voter. The voter doesn’t entirely trust Trump, but the alternative — Democratic — candidate made clear through word and deed that this voter and her critical issues are not who the candidate was focused on serving.
Could that be a logical, defensible rationale for voting for Trump? Perhaps. (Please remember, this is not my own rationale …)
Here is the key point. This voter’s true problem was not stupidity, racism, misogyny, nor xenophobia. This voter’s angst was declining economic opportunity. And that is a challenge that a blue-stater would be willing to collaborate with her on. Probably even empathize with.
But the two individuals would never discover that common ground if they had alienated themselves from, and considered one another, vermin.
That is my point.
(1) There have been studies on what drove Trump voting in the Rust Belt, some of which conclude status threat or fear of cultural displacement were bigger factors than economic anxiety. The New York Times summarizes these. While “status threat” and “fear of cultural displacement” may sound like racism, misogyny or xenophobia, I would observe that in fact, they are not. They are indeed angst that can lead to such vices, if not acknowledged, addressed and defused. We all have our fears, and know that such fears often lead to intense, sometimes negative behavior if not acknowledged by those we look to for support.
Ergo, the need to engage and listen.)