Yesterday, my social media feeds blew up with the fear, anger, and shock at the news that Donald Trump had been elected president, and I received a lot of messages from a lot of people I love asking what happened, what we could do in the wake of this event, and how to be in this reality. I’m fairly politically motivated and as an artist and arts administrator and arts advocate, vocal about standing up, speaking your mind, and making a difference. This is my first response to that fear, anger, and longing for a solution, originally posted to my friends and followers on Facebook, but I feel like it’s worth sharing here as well because it has wider implications for all of us, American voters or not.
All right, folks. Buckle your seat belts, this is going to be a long one. So long, in fact, that I’m writing it in four parts, and will be breaking it up on Facebook, because TL;DR is a thing and I feel too strongly about all of these things for anything to get left out, missed, or skimmed over. I’d encourage you to read all four sections before venting any outrage or inflamed commentary you may have, because chances are I may have qualified something elsewhere that might make something make more sense to you. (Or not, and in that case, fire away. Can’t wait to drill down and discuss this.)
Part I: On What Happened And Why It Matters
If you’re reading this on social media, then you’re probably no stranger to my writings about politics. Many of you, I dare say, have probably edited me out of your newsfeed because of my long-winded writings in favor of cat videos and laughing babies, and for that I can’t blame you. This election cycle has been brutal, both in the more personal fora of social media feeds and in the more formalized arenas of journalistic outlets. It’s safe to say we’re all tired. It’s also safe to say that many of us are profoundly broken and disillusioned on both sides of the aisle.
That phrase is one I’m coming to loathe these days: both sides of the aisle. As if there is only one side of a coin or another in which to participate in democracy. If we really want to face facts, it’s a highly reductive and dangerous way of dealing with issues that are complex, varied, and prone to ignorant slanting of perpective about matters and people that matter very much to all of us, albeit in very, very different ways and for very, very different reasons.
We’ve found ourselves posed, positioned and launched at one another in a life-or-death struggle over issues on which we should be trying to find common ground for more than two years in this particular cycle, and for our entire lifetimes before that really, but never more so than in this era of 24-hour news analysis, constant social media participation, and interactive commentary. We’ve lost friends over this, stopped speaking to family members, and laced ourselves tightly into little enclaves and bubbles of opinion in order to keep our minds and hearts safe. What we’ve found is that instead of raising the tone, it’s reduced us to the lowest common denominator and put us in the hands, not of dedicated public servants, but skilled marketing manipulators. The motivations of those in control seem to be very clear: power, persuasion, and exactly that– control, over their image, their brand, and our hearts and minds, to whatever gain they can find for themselves. We have, in short, been expertly manipulated by those in a better position financially and from a position of influence to this outcome.
I am, of course, speaking about our now President-elect, Donald Trump, but I’m also speaking about Hillary Clinton and the host of other figures who vied to win our votes and our support as well as those people who worked on their behalf and also against them. A little more than a year ago, I made a now-infamous request to my Facebook friends to just stop talking about Donald Trump. Why? Because he’s a master manipulator. This, above all else, has been proven true in spades: we watched as he pushed the limits of decency, truth, and voter loyalty to the very last degree– and he won. From the moment he took the stage, I could have predicted this outcome, beyond all hope and beyond all odds, because of his consummate skill at self-promotion. I say his, but it really extends to his team, the best interactions his money could buy, and the privilege of his constant media presence over decades. Make no mistake, this was carefully planned and executed to the last second, with a skill that communications and marketing analysts will be unpacking for years to come. It’s terrifying, and it was brilliant.
That also shines a light on Ms. Clinton’s campaign as well: as qualified as she is, and as much groundwork as she’s done to prepare for an office that in any analysis of experience should be rightfully hers, her campaign failed on the most important level and the one that is the newest present challenge to major political figures: she couldn’t connect with and draw the voters she needed. Clearly she came close to making it happen, and indeed won the popular vote as far as it’s been tallied at this point. As you know, I was definitely With Her, but in the ring of PR she never had a chance against Trump, and we’re all now going to have to face the consequences. To be clear, neither did Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, or any of the other myriad contenders, and I believe she was the best option we had to oppose him. However, it was a Herculean task that would have had to be perfectly executed by a flawless strategy, and that the Clinton campaign both didn’t have and was hampered in by outside forces. Vale, Democratic ticket.
So why did he connect so much more strongly– and to many people, surprisingly– than she did? First, his familiarity and constant presence in our homes, on the TV in our living rooms, on the screens of our devices in news stories and blog and social media posts and Tweets and Facebook likes and trends. Like it or not, this is the currency in which we trade these days: fame equals fortune.
But also more importantly, he stepped up and said things that other politicians were not only reluctant to say, they were afraid to say. In many cases, very rightly so, because much of the rhetoric he used was so incredibly and bluntly vitriolic, hateful, discriminatory and shameful that yesterday I and my friends who are teachers and parents had to comfort our students and children who were completely terrified of what this man’s new power would mean for their families, their friends, and their loved ones, those words repeated on playgrounds after being overheard in living rooms and around dinner tables, espoused by the adults in their lives or simply repeated in horror where they could hear. I watched my social media feed scroll by with a broken heart yesterday morning for the terror of my LGBT, black, Latinx, disabled, female, and simply otherwise reasonable friends as they questioned what this would mean for them, not based on vague implications and political machinations, but on concrete words stated in public and broadcast by the man that half of our voting public voted into office and who now has the titular power to try and make those things come to pass. As ashamed as it makes those of us of conscience and tolerance, Trump’s complete lack of shame in voicing the basest opinions and fears privately held by a certain portion of our electorate moved not only those motivated by shockingly discriminatory beliefs, but even reasonable voters who saw that as a positive willingness to speak truth to power and defy the conventions of political correctness, which the rest of us otherwise call human decency. It’s a powerful call when someone defies authority and convention by saying things you privately believe, particularly when you feel like what makes your way of life comfortable is draining away in the service of the comfort of others, whether rightly or not.
When someone starts to speak to you on a level that resonates differently than the norm, it can inspire connection. One of the things that we saw so clearly painted in the returns on Tuesday is that the country is deeply divided not only ideologically but geographically. This is not a surprise to anyone, really, but this election has had the added fuel that in both our broadcast media and our own social media feeds, we’re doubly protected by a bubble of like-minded content that doesn’t reflect the breadth of opinion in the country. I also watched my social media feeds explode with statements of incredulity from many, many people who really, truly couldn’t understand where all those opposing voters were coming from, because it completely defied their experience and interaction for the past two years. Why? Because we’ve mostly self-selected an echo chamber of what makes us comfortable.
As someone who is a big blue dot from red Southern state, I have a particular sensitivity to the difference of opinion and indeed lifestyle between the coasts and the middle and South in our country. Sure, there are pockets of left-leaning like-minded souls who live there, but they exist in defiance of the general state of opinion. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama (Roll TIde), and come to live in D.C. by way of college in Tempe, Arizona (Go Sun Devils), so I’ve lived in a couple of places that are, to say the least, different than the blue coasts of the U.S. The simple fact is, they live, work, and believe very differently than I do. As a consequence, I don’t still have a lot of Facebook friends from there that are not blue-dot-transplants to other places, and when I do, interactions over politics are difficult. Many of my family members, particularly those who still live in the South, hold viewpoints that wildly oppose my own. Sometimes even going home to be there with them is difficult because of it, not because I don’t love them, but because we have to skirt the elephant in the room in the interest of the love we share for each other. Sometimes it’s just too hard. Sometimes I choose to stay away. I’m not proud of that.
There is an entire half of the voting public who sees things completely differently than I do. They live based on different values. They strive for different things. Their communities look vastly different than mine does. They have different economic concerns than I have. And I never see that, because I stay in my circle of friends here in this place and in those virtual places online, and listen only to news that I find palatable in opinion despite any claims of fairness and balance and objectivity. I’m hearing an entirely different side of the story than they are, and operating on a completely different set of assumptions. (Want proof? Check out the Wall Street Journal’s Blue Feed, Red Feed, which pulls liberal and conservative info into separate feeds, which approximates social media segregation.)
Here’s where we get to how this really happened, folks: it’s very, very difficult to engage civilly, intelligently, and constructively with those who don’t agree with us. Moreover, we’ve had a really, really bad example of how to do so for the past few years from those in power. Both of the major parties have done an excellent job of completely digging in their heels and refusing to compromise on anything, both leading to and stemming from an uncompromised divide in political discussion and interest among their constituents. The problem with this is that compromise and discussion are necessary, and we’ve accepted this behavior both in them and in ourselves.
I’ve said more than once that I’m willing to have difficult political discussion with those that oppose me as long as they’re intelligently laid out, based in facts or reliable research, and come from a place of civility and willingness to discuss without useless intransigence. That doesn’t mean I expect peoples’ beliefs to change, or that I’m right. Many times I’m not and I’ve learned a lot from those I’ve engaged. I’ve also engaged in shutting people down, tuning them out, and muting their voices through disconnection, and this is where the problems begin: when I don’t listen to people who are different than I am and at least try to work through what’s making them angry, sad, or fearful, I lose the ability to connect with them and to help. Sometimes that means a change in one of our points of view and moving forward together in like mind. Sometimes that means accepting that my way is better than theirs, but theirs is a more workable solution for now, and choosing to swallow my superiority complex and get things done. Sometimes it means taking a stand and saying no at all costs. All three options are necessary, but when you resort to the third, they stop seeing you as part of the solution and file you away as part of the problem, becoming your adversary instead of your partner. There are things for which the third is the only option, I do believe that. By and large though, the third option has become business as usual both in interactions between people in general and in those we’ve elected to public office in lieu of the other two, and that has to stop.
Hearing Mitch McConnell and other members of Congress make statements that they will in no way work with the President is infuriating to me. It’s infuriating when it comes from Democrats too. Clearly, this way of thinking doesn’t faze the electorate too much, because many of the same people who behave this way in public office were reflected on Tuesday. (I was going to write that it must make sense to those voters who elected them and others as well, but then again they’ve come to a reverse solution by putting the Republican party in power in both the House and Senate s well as the White House, so we may well see some serious legislative movement if the GOP doesn’t turn on its own man in the Executive branch.) Perhaps it appeals to them, but it doesn’t to me. I believe it’s possibly the biggest disease in American political landscape these days and something we have to stop. Will it be easy? No. Will it be simple? Yes: we have to refuse to keep people in power that refuse to work together with those they oppose. It’s dangerous, it’s obstructive to progress, and it’s unhelpful and unworthy of the responsibility they’ve been given. There are no term limits in Congress, but there are elections, and we should use our votes to voice our opinions about this terrible behavior.
We also need to strive to do so in an educated way: research the issues, know where you stand and why without being told in a reductive sound byte, and read widely about both sides of the argument so that informed solutions can be found that benefit as many people as possible. One of the hallmarks of my thought process in engaging with opposition is insisting on intelligent conversation and putting a stop to ignorant rhetoric immediately, and I have to say it’s made a great difference in the quality of argument and is worth holding the standard for. This is a big ask these days, when people are so busy they eat on the way from one meeting or soccer practice to another and only have time for internet articles, radio news sound bytes and social media commentary, but it’s necessary. It reminds me of the daily necessity I have as a musician to practice– time spent meditating on, honing my skill for, and deepening my understanding of my craft. I’d argue that thought about and dedication to political education and action is equally important, and more vitally necessary than most people understand to their everyday lives. It’s a hard argument to win: we’re all too busy, too tired, too angry, too, too, too. It’s a necessary part of the responsibility of human governance and being a citizen of the human race, though, and something we need to emphasize more and insist on in our interactions if we want to elevate the discourse to a useful level.
In private life, we need to engage more with those who are different than us. I realize that this is a particularly liberal and progressive sounding thing to say, but I also think it’s the only way we’re going to cure the divisive climate that we’ve created for ourselves though social media and broadcast journalism. We need to talk to people who think differently than we do. It’s hard. Really hard. It’s difficult to have empathy for someone who needs different things than we do, and whose needs may necessitate a change in our own way of living. But it’s also the only way to avoid war, conflict, poverty, disease, and political infighting.
This is where the road gets rough. It requires work. It requires time. It requires thought. It requires exploration. It requires patience. It requires emotional remove. And it requires steel resolve. It’s difficult. But it’s necessary if we’re ever going to close the divide.
On The 24/7 News Cycle and Social Media
One of the major personal fallouts for me of this election cycle has been a whole lot of digestion and analysis of information sources. TV, blogs, “news” sites, satire, analysis, Twitter, Facebook, newspapers, government archives, historical sites. You name it, I’ve probably read it.
The 24-hour news cycle has changed the way we consume information and shifted the way our minds formulate opinions on politics. Not only that, but social media serves us a complex cocktail of facts, opinion, satire, and to be frank, bullshit, that can be hard to navigate and sift. All of that repetition breeds anxiety, fear, and frustration, particularly when it’s something that threatens your way of life. Of course.
With all of these outlets vying for our attention, they need to have information that rates: things that grab our attention and hold it. The problem is this though: not all of this information needs 24/7 analysis. More and more as they hash through the important aspects of events and important issues, the more they focus on minutia, marginalia, and sensational tidbits to do that, repeating them over and over and over and over and over until you could virtually quote what they serve you, and Lo! a sound byte is born. More than in any past election sound bytes have been determining our opinion on our political candidates. They’re all that most of us have time for most of the time. Sound bytes are compact and easily passed on, but they’re also reductive, factually problematic, and devoid of nuance. They’re also the things that most easily inspire and escalate fear, anger and hatred both in and out of context, I’ve found. They’re bite-size, easy to consume, and easy ways to determine comfortable opinions without a lot of research. They’re also largely toxic, designed to titillate rather than inform, and usually end up unsettling you if you consume too many.
The Beer Nuts of news.
I want more than that. I want informed opinion, real and carefully considered expert analysis, and factual information delivered in professional form that doesn’t aim to scare the pants off of me in a minute or less. So where do we even get that these days, and how do we determine what sources are factually correct with a minimum of bias? I personally think it’s damn near impossible, particularly on a tight schedule, but it’s worth the time and research if we want to truly take control of who we choose at the ballot box.
Moving forward, I’m going to be rejecting the 24-hour news cycle, broadcast and online, from now on. It’s not helpful, it’s a waste of time, and I can form my own opinions. For the last six months I’ve literally turned off cable news and targeted analysis except for random well-written articles, and even then only if they were fairly comprehensive and factually based. I recap the news in my feed periodically for a few minutes and run down the most important facts, and then spend a half hour or so catching up every couple of days. Virtually no analysis, no real-time shakedowns, no talk radio, and no punditry. Just the facts. And you know what? I had a whole lot more free time on my hands and the same amount of actual information. And I was less afraid.
I began to notice the same thing about social media when I started to edit my consumption– news items that go viral and sweep through my feeds are often those designed to scare us to death or play on some other baser instinct rather than actually giving us real, new information. The crazier and more outlandish the revelations became as the election progressed, the more my Facebook feed began resemble the ad strip on a bad gossip website, and the more the fear and hysteria began to bleed through the screen. In addition, you have to carefully select your sources, weeding out overly biased fluff articles designed to sell you some version of events that makes no factual sense. Never mind that all of the above is simply designed to generate ad or subscription revenue at the expense of your well being and peace of mind.
Make no mistake, this is entirely by design. I’m sure everyone is aware of the rise of clickbait headlines (“She Turned The Corner And You’ll Never Believe What Happened Next!” UGH) and the strategy and percentages behinds the traffic they generate. It’s off the charts. And every time one comes up in front of you, they’re banking on your sense of anxiety and FOMO to drive you to click through. Don’t fall for it, I tell myself. It’s almost never worth it, and the only goal is to make money off of us. I’m so over it.
One thing I’m not over, though, is the connections afforded by social media and the social commentary I see here about everything that matters. another to mention the ability to connect, organize, and advocate. I’ve seen real change start here, and real help, and real oversight too, which is going to be vital in the next four years. I’m seeing a lot of people considering fleeing social media in the wake of this result or turning it solely into a professional outlet, and I feel like that negates the point of the whole enterprise, which was to connect us personally, and may even be a dangerous disconnection in a time when we’re going to need all eyes open and deployed. I know I value knowing when those I’m friends with or connected with have personal triumphs, crises, and questions about things, and I’m amazed by the geographical breadth of the connections I’m able to maintain.
In the immediate aftermath yesterday, there have been a lot of people opting out of the pain and outcry, which I completely understand, but there have also been a lot of people offering real comfort and perspective, which I know has helped me immensely. Perhaps my favorite thing that I’ve seen has been so many of my progressive friends rising up in outrage and action to actually organize and DO something even if it’s only been hours since the situation became clear. It’s also offered me a galvanizing outlet, seeing the initiatives my friends have enacted so quickly as a response. Clearly, we are better together, and better when we’re connected. Just not connected constantly to the information downspout.
Unity. As a word, it means basically one thing: the state of being united or joined as whole, of being in full agreement.
Since we woke up Wednesday morning, I’ve seen many and varied responses to Trump’s election using this word, ranging from calls for both sides to pack away their anger and come together to work through this to vehement denials of any willingness to work together with those whom we’ve set ourselves against for so long.
Things have been said. Promises have been made. Changes have been set in motion.
Can it even be possible after a campaign so divisive? Or, in my mind more importantly, should it be possible, and should we pursue it?
Like it or not, on Tuesday approximately half of the United States’s voting public ushered in a four year term headed by a man who is easily the most vitriolic, stridently offensive, openly discriminatory and divisive candidate we have seen in our lifetimes. He has been so unabashedly vulgar and offensive that words usually hidden from the ears of children have graced the network news. Within the span of his campaign, he has denigrated women, insulted entire nationalities, and promoted policies designed to exclude and disenfranchise entire portions of the population based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or ethnicity. He has promoted an agenda of hate and retribution based on personal gain and private insult, and has begun to surround himself with other colleagues who have done the same and hold the same values.
Do I believe that most of the voters who supported him believe in these sentiments he’s uttered? Not really. Do I think that there’s at least a portion of his voters who *did* come out of the woodwork for these sentiments? Without a moment of doubt. Do I question how voters of good conscience could still cast a ballot for someone who espouses and promotes these things? Absolutely.
It comes down to this: if you voted for Donald Trump, you doubled down your own power and put it behind someone who verbally committed to ending safety, well-being, and freedom for entire portions of the population, and who may well enact policy to make those words reality. You have made the moral judgement that for whatever reason, that mattered more to you than the principles America claims to espouse about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans, not just ones who look like Trump.
I cannot be unified with you.
I understand there are reasons of your own that you’re hurting and looking for change. I can’t expect you to vote against your own well-being. It’s against human nature, or some humans’ nature. Then again, actually I can, people do it all the time by choosing candidates whose policies they don’t understand or bother to investigate, or would rather not acknowledge in service of greed, insular safety, and nationalism. I can’t logically expect you to choose the well being of another person over your own, even though people of conscience choose improvement of collective well-being tied to measured personal sacrifice all the time. What I can expect is that in matters of life or death, that my fellow Americans choose their own integrity and character in support of those characteristics in those they choose to lead. There were multiple times when you could have considered ways to change the course of this thing. You didn’t seem to do that, given opportunity after opportunity.
I cannot be unified with you.
Across the nation already, there have been instances of hate speech, violence, and discrimination tied to the victory of his man. Some of them by *children* who have internalized his victory as tacit approval for his tactics and his words, and no amount of qualification over why you voted for him will negate that, no matter the reasons primary in your mind that allowed you to ignore them. By lifting him into power through your vote, you have helped give rise and approval to harm and sorrow for a legion of Americans.
I cannot be unified with you.
In the past few days, I’ve seen calls for Trump supporters to explain themselves. I understand this inclination on a deep level. We want to know how, if someone loves us, they can support someone who has implicitly stated harm for us. I think it’s a valid request. I think it’s a question that should be answered, face to face, in millions of moments of private accountability.
What I do not agree with, however, is the idea that only Trump voters are accountable.
Only 47% of eligible voters showed up at the polls on Tuesday. That isn’t even a majority in and of itself. That means that less than a quarter of our nation voted for Trump. Certainly, the other 25 percent who cast ballots otherwise tried to stem the tide, but that still leaves more than half of our nation that didn’t bother. It’s clear already if you know me at all that this, to me, is a tragedy of epic proportions.
To those of you who did not vote, I cannot be more clear: this man showed you the nature of his character, and you. were. SILENT.
I cannot be unified with you.
The abdication of responsibility on that level is literally painful to me. I understand that the choices were hard, and that there were no easy answers, and that the process can be arcane and difficult and weigh strangely heavy on your shoulders. I understand that there were work schedules and travel and family emergencies and Reasons. What I do not, and can never understand, is how you can continue to live in this country and not make an effort to see it run well. Your passive comfort in silence is abhorrent to me, because you continually allow us to make choices based on the opinion of a tiny fraction of the population, and that is inherently dangerous.
I cannot be unified with you.
Given the above, the chance for healing the divide we share seems bleak. It seems like a stark contrast, a gulf uncrossable, and a path ending abruptly in a wall of intransigence.
However, I believe there is a path to the unity we seek. As I said above, changes have been set in motion. Choices have been made, but the beauty of a choice is that hopefully and hope-fully, other choices follow.
I don’t believe in continuing to shame voters who voted with their hearts and their consciences. I believe that we need to acknowledge what those choices meant, and that they happened, but I also believe that we need to now take the opportunity to stand for action that will protect those made vulnerable by the choices that have been already been made.
Amid the fear and uncertainty of the morning after the election, I began to see sparks of intention among the cries of fear, frustration, and uncertainty among my friends and colleagues. In the darkness of the swirling despair, there was a core of still, steely determination among those of us dedicated to equality, change, and community that was breathtaking. Even in the early moments, there were those among us that set their stance, offered care and hope for those in peril, and those that set their hearts, minds, and feet in motion. It’s been only two days, but there are already things being *done* to move forward. And that gives me hope.
To those focusing on what we can do, how we can comfort, protect, and work for change in the world:
With you I am unified.
As I said in the first part of this series, I believe in the ability and the necessity of opposing sides to listen to one another, discuss our differences intelligently and civilly, and try to come to some arrangement regarding progress. Not everything is cut and dried, and there are things on which we can compromise. However, there are certain things on which we cannot compromise, the safety and liberty of all people regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion, age, and many other differences being a major one.
I believe that the best chance we have to make real progress in the wake of this election is by standing together against the forces who have risen as a result of the political climate and rhetoric of the past few years. This is not limited to those who already desire equality, tolerance, and change and are, and have been, working toward it. To those of you who made another choice on Tuesday which could set that progress back: you now have the opportunity to make different choices. Every day. Large and small. And I expect you to make the choice for unity whenever you can.
If you stand up for equality and tolerance, I can be unified with you.
If you speak out against actions and words that promote discrimination, I can be unified with you.
If you do your part to ensure progress and work toward change, I can be unified with you.
If you do not, I and everyone unified with me will be your worst nightmare.
As with all of these posts, I’m asking you to keep the discourse civil. I know we’re hurting and scared and combative at the moment, but just breathe before responding. Find your strength and your resolve and write from there.
Also, I’d appreciate any links or other information you may have that are germane to this discussion. Please post in the comments with your analysis. It’s wanted and appreciated.
In the next three posts, I’m going to be going further into other major areas of contemplation that I’ve worked out over this election cycle about how to be in the wake of this election cycle.