Onward

So when reality started to set in yesterday I can’t say I was entirely surprised. Kind of devastated. Despondent - but mostly in a way that felt like this outcome was the only logical conclusion to a period of peak craziness. I’m not sure... There are a lot of feelings…

Part of me is heartbroken for the fact that a woman like Hillary Clinton – possibly the person most well qualified to hold elected office in the United States, ever – has been beaten to the post by a man who has no such qualifications.

But the rest of me knows it isn’t about gender, or about how qualified she is to do the job, or that it’s time for there to be a woman in the White House.

It is yet another indication that things are not working. Trump’s election is nothing if not a sharp departure away from business as usual. The whole thing is ready and ripe for disruption. And I don’t mean in a business buzz word kind of way that really doesn’t really change much of consequence. More in the way that the system isn’t working for most, and needs a major shake-up. Like things will probably never be the same again – but maybe not in the way we think.

The cynical side of me thinks Trump making it to the White House won’t even change anything. If real change through the traditional channels of democracy (ie, elected office) was even possible, surely we would have seen this with the first black President. But Obama himself has admitted to being frustrated by the lack of progress made in his two terms in office. It turns out democracy in a wildly capitalist global society full of embedded allegiances and legitimised corruption has its limitations…

The significance of the fact that Trump – a racist, bigoted, sexist human, legendary for his shady business ethics, who deals in the currency of exclusion and holds grudges like no-one else – has managed to capture the imagination of 120 million people in what was formerly the most affluent country in the world should not be diminished.

 Image via the New Yorker

Image via the New Yorker

But isn’t it inevitable in a global culture that teaches us that our success is the most important thing? And that our success is relative and disconnected from fulfilment? The thing is, this is a feature – NOT a flaw – of the system. Wealth is supposed to concentrate in the hands of a few. This wealth is supposed to embed and reinforce cosmetic and other kinds of power. Disenfranchisement is supposed to prevent everyone else from organising and developing a sense of agency. This has happened by design, not by accident.

Trump’s election is just the last in a long line of these kinds of indicators that have been building for many years now. We should have twigged in 2008. The rise in deaths from so called “diseases of despair” (suicide, drug and alcohol misuse) in the developed world should have alerted us. And climate change, the ultimate canary in the mine, could have prompted us to act – if we could.

And now such indicators are too many to ignore. Here in Australia, the resurgence of Pauline Hanson could have triggered some soul searching, just like the election of Tony Abbott before her – not because of their political allegiances, but because of the values that brought them to power. The Brexit vote was a big one. But perhaps it took this big American “shock” to finally wake us up. (Everything is bigger in America, after all.) Perhaps it took a global circus of insanity to focus our attention.

Despite the examples I’ve called out here, I don’t think this is a question we can solve by choosing the better one from the political ideologies of the left and right at all. Indicators suggest Bernie Sanders would have done well in this election despite nominally sitting on the opposite end of the political continuum. In fact, like Stephen Colbert discussed in his Election Day show, the idea of political polarities is part of the problem. The fact that we’ve forgotten that we’re all in it together has magnified the cracks that are now showing. We’ve become bitter, full of blame and resentment - directed at everyone but those like us.

And I think if we’re going to successfully emerge from this still intact, we need everyone on board. For this to work, we need all the contributing factors to realign – beyond self-interest.

I imagine many in the media will be having a good hard look at themselves in the coming weeks, wondering how they didn’t see the signs. The reality is they created the signs – the wrong ones. They focused on the fact that stories about how Hillary’s email woes made her seem untrustworthy would attract clicks, and ignored the bigger story – the huge scale of personal and public dissatisfaction emerging globally which appointed Trump as their Pied Piper. It’s harder to write a good click bait headline for that.

I can just see the political class wondering how they got it so wrong. How an election campaign for an unqualified caricature that ignored all the conventional wisdom managed to succeed despite projections. I wonder if the idea that a political class exists in the first place will strike them as at all problematic. I’m intrigued to see how the GOP react to this unexpected victory – whether it will give them an incentive to rethink and really work to understand what makes a difference to the people living a long way from the halls of power, or whether they’ll take it as permission to be ever more dogmatic about their pro-market, pro-life agenda.

I suspect a lot of the wealthy business elite are quietly confident, happy to be sitting pretty where history has put them in - the best possible position to be able to buffer themselves for what comes next, and better yet, to profit from it. But I wonder which industries are most vulnerable to the inevitable shocks that will come (just like they did in 1929 – a year after the last occasion when Republicans controlled all 3 levels of US office) and whether they’ll adapt their business model to capitalise out of altruism or pursuit of profit.

I imagine many of Trump’s supporters are relieved that their hero has swept to power, just like many people were thrilled when Obama was elected proclaiming a different kind of change. (The irony that many Obama voters supported Trump this election cycle is crazy, but goes to show just how much the idea of change counts for these days.) But I wonder if they realise that the real work happens with them – that their hero is unable to change the way things look at the ground level, unless they themselves work to change it too.

I’m going to spend time with the people I love, build up energy and empathy to put into my community. I'm going to constantly remind myself that I'm not someone who will be most impacted by this decision - and work to love and protect people who have more to lose than I do. I'm going to have many conversations, exercise patience (or at least try), work to understand what motivates people who think differently than me, and focus on sending everyone love and kindness.

 

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