Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More Election Reflections

We are not quite at the official action of the electoral college, and the inauguration of Donald Trump follows soon after. I expressed some of my thoughts after the election here, and we have all had time to reflect more on what lies ahead.

I remain cautiously hopeful that the next four years will work out—at least so far as life in North America is concerned, but I admit to increasing anxiety as new directions take shape. So here is a brief sample of my thoughts (as much to allay my own fears by expressing them as by a sense that anyone else need read them).

1. I said before that I am concerned with the way that we the people have validated bullying and vulgarity with our choice. That sense has not decreased. An account of the Michigan recount suggests that the Republican playbook is made up primarily of using political and legal might to force the desired outcome, rather than any real desire to do what is right.

2. The recounts are an interesting idea—not because they might change the outcome (I don’t think the outcome is in doubt; the hanging chads from Bush-Gore were far more serious), but because how people respond to the idea shows again what they think. Trump’s response was to say: No recount; the only true result is that I won (the popular vote too, not just the electoral college). Clinton’s response was to say: We’ll co-operate. What else would she say? The real opportunity was for Trump to show that he believes in the basic integrity of the state officials running the elections. Clearly he doesn’t. Which suggests that he believes that he was the only honest person in the election. That attitude troubles me.

3. Trump’s lack of concern for facts continues to bother me. I am not sure that he is actually any different in this regard than most Democrats. We have adopted the idea as a country that perspective is truth. If that idea is correct, we have no grounds for saying that Trump is not speaking the truth, just because we don’t like his ideas. Both sides of the aisle tend to applaud the facts when the facts support the truth they want. Both sides of the aisle tend to pretend the facts aren’t there when the facts support the truth they don’t want.

This last point is perhaps where we could begin a national conversation [not national: big conversation involving lots of people, but national: lots of small groups of people talking and trying to understand what’s going on]. We need to decide what to do with facts. It is a fact that biologically we have two genders. It is also a fact that a small minority of people are biologically mixed. We have ignored the facts on both sides: one group of people ignores the fact of people born with two sets of genitalia; one group of people ignores the fact of gender entirely and makes it all a matter of how one feels inside. But if we go only by how we feel inside, on what grounds do we refute Trump’s positions. That we don’t like them? Then “might makes right” becomes our national motto.

Similarly with global warming. The facts are clear [the globe is warming, and we are helping make it so]. How we interpret those facts, what we do with them, is a further and vital conversation. I could continue with most of the hard conversations in our society. We retreat too quickly into calling names (homophobe; radical; whatever name you think of for those people you don’t like). Many people have observed that we need a return to civility in public discourse. Such civility, I believe, requires also that we admit both the factness of the data of life, and the importance of perspective and interpretation in handling that data.

The question of who hacked whom during the election is one such arena. The CIA says, “The Russians.” (I think the CIA is right on this one.) The FBI says, “Not so fast.” Okay, let’s acknowledge that good and intelligent people regularly disagree, and let’s abandon the defensive response that says, “Your interpretation can’t be right, because I disagree.”

In my own field of study we call this process of trying to understand the world around us “critical realism”, a recognition that perspective matters, and an admission that reality remains beyond our limited perspectives. We need each other to cope with an increasing complex real world. Trump’s administration is set to roll. I hope they open up their ears and minds for the journey, and I hope we do too.

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