For months I've been all too proud to have been on the anti-Trump wagon. A wagon that seems to grow day by day as his chances of becoming president do as well. I’ve seen countless articles making fun of Trump and his constituents. I’ve engaged in more conversations than I’d like to admit about this topic and have definitely been a Trump basher from day one. As someone who takes pride in being open minded though, I've come to the realization that doing so is an unproductive enterprise and a waste of valuable energy. Why?
Because simply bashing something or someone is the easy way out.
Most people I know would agree that things have gone from being entertaining to downright scary as we consider the evermore viable prospects of having 'The Donald' leave Trump Tower and take residence in the White House for four years.
How did we get here? How is it possible that this isn't just a bad joke?
However, shaking our heads regarding this issue does us no good. Pointing fingers feeds the problem and while yes, many media outlets and polls indicate that Trump’s followers are uneducated, racist, and poor, does that make them less human? Does that make their Constitutional right to 'life, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness' any less valid?
Matthew MacWilliams, writing for Politico conducted a research study where he found that:
'the single statistically significant variable predicts whether a voter supports Trump—and it’s not race, income or education levels: It’s authoritarianism...Trump’s electoral strength—and his staying power—have been buoyed, above all, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations.'
Assuming that the aforementioned statement is true, it begs the question: What would ever compel citizens of a country built on the premise of Democracy and defined by personal liberty to want to give that up? Why would people want to hand over their rights so blindly and willingly? Where's the win?
MIT professor and intellectual Noam Chomsky, a personal hero of mine and one of the most brilliant minds of our time summarized my thoughts on the matter quite simply:
“Fear, along with the breakdown of society during the neoliberal period ... People feel isolated, helpless, victim of powerful forces that they do not understand and cannot influence.”
Fear is a powerful motivator. Fear has led us to wage senseless war too many times in our history. Fear forces us to think in ways where we play small. We forget that the things that make us great are our ability to connect, to build, to dialogue. We play to our insecurities and the world seems to be a much unfriendlier place than it really is.
If we're being honest with ourselves, we've all felt the strong grip of fear. We've all felt backed into a corner. We've all felt invisible at one point or another in our lives. We all have that in common so we should be able to relate to a certain extent.
The tricky thing about fear though, is that it often times makes us perceive danger where there is none and makes any sort of collaboration or productive dialogue very difficult. You don't need anybody to tell you that a future without collaboration and productive dialogue is a bleak one. We just need to turn to history to know that fear and specifically fear of the future leads to authoritarianism.
People who feel that they have everything to lose and no hope because they are disenfranchised due to their beliefs, economic situation, or education feel invisible. Regardless of what those beliefs are, as is the case with racism for example, we can all agree that feeling invisible is frustrating. Feeling judged and ill-served by your country will make anyone angry. Feeling like your voice doesn't matter is downright infuriating.
“Hi, you know me as this super successful guy. I just want you to know that I hear you. I see you. I agree that things are bad. I am angry too and I'm actually in a position where I can fix them."
Like any great leader, Trump has been able to rally people around a shared vision and message even if that vision and shared message is one that goes against the very ideals that American society was built on. Trump Mania is what it is because as a society we have failed to address some very serious issues and for that, we are all partially responsible.
Have you asked yourself what being on the ‘right’ side of the Trump debate means?
That your sad view of humanity has been confirmed? That you’re glad to not be ignorant, racist, poor, and uneducated? You know better and it feels good to know that you have a moral and intellectual edge. Congratulations. You can take solace in the fact that you're not one of 'those people'.
What exactly does that accomplish though? You're definitely not doing anything that will make a Trump presidency any less likely just by feeling superior.
Rather than turn up our noses and partake in some more us vs. them behavior that only feeds this negativity, it would behoove us to think about this a bit further. After all, for better or for worse, the Trump movement is a ‘thing’ that happened under our watch and as responsible Americans we have to do something about it. We must get to the root of the issue and understand that doing so will take time and complex analysis and that fixing it is a long term play that involves more than just the general election.
In order to stop this tidal wave of regressive thought and action we can start by being more conscious with our daily votes. What do I mean by that?
Well, we vote with what we watch on television, we vote when we decide where to spend our money, we vote when we ignore real connection to be more ‘connected’ on social media in thoughtless ways, we vote when we stay silent in the face of injustice. We vote when we ignore the poor, divest in education, and try to deal with racism by pretending it's not there.
The choices that we make have far reaching consequences and although some of us are able to discern the difference between a guilty pleasure and a healthy one, some people can’t. Regardless, we all consume the garbage that is being made to appeal to our basest levels of humanity.
We vote for more trash television by giving it the highest ratings. We vote for materialism, gender inequality, and by senselessly creating or promoting it on Facebook. We vote for ‘evil corporate America’ when we purchase things by just considering their monetary value and not their real cost.… We vote for social injustice with our apathy and our silence when we are faced with it. Like it or not, we are more than partially responsible for this ‘sh*t world’ that we complain about so much.
Our political system is broken and corrupt because of special interests and corporate greed. I think this election in particular has made us aware of that. Lobbyists buy votes in Washington and make decisions for us regarding everything from what we pay at the doctor’s office to what our children are being fed in school. That’s messed up. What’s more messed up though, is the fact we gave them and continue to give them the power to do so.
By spending our money in the Walmart’s, McDonald’s of the world we gave away our power and our voice. We, short-sighted decision after short-sighted decision, made our society what it is today and we have some serious work to do to fix it. Things have to change and while change is uncomfortable, it’s also necessary.
We can start by:
- Informing ourselves and our spending. We need to understand where our money is really going and support companies whose values actually align with the future we want to be a part of. We need to support local small businesses if we want to weaken the federal lobbying that has hijacked our democracy. We need to take back our power with every cent that we spend.
- Watching better television. Sure, The Real Housewives of whatever or The Bachelor may be entertaining to you because it makes you feel better about your life but does it really contribute anything of value to it? By celebrating drama for the sake of drama and senseless television aren’t we telling the media that that’s what we want more of? What is it going to be like in 10 years if we don’t? We owe it to the next generation to stop watching garbage.
- Being mindful of what we post and share on social media. Thanks to Facebook and other social media platforms, the effect that you have on the world can be felt by people all over the world. Make sure your message is worth it.
- Activating our voice. There’s a saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. It's time to start squeaking about the things that are important to you and need to be changed. Political movements are created by people rallying behind a cause together and speaking out. Trump has successfully rallied enough of America to claim the Republican nomination, running on a platform of hate and fear. What would the world look like if we accomplished the same results with a positive message?
- Really committing. Real commitment implies action. You have four actionable items above. If you don’t like the status quo but keep supporting it through your decisions, you’re only going to have yourself to blame in the future. Our collective actions are the threads used to weave our societal fabric. We are the master weavers of the world that we are creating. This is a huge and also beautiful responsibility if we choose to accept and honor it.
We need more thought in our life. We need more conscience in our actions. We need to wake up and realize that we have a role to play and that our contribution is important regardless of how trivial it may seem at the supermarket, at home, or at the mall. The stakes are too high for us not to start today and start somewhere.