Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Election Night with My Trump Friends

Forgive the poor writing. Like many of you, I'm feeling a bit foggy/numb. But I have a takeaway I think you might find helpful. Skip to the final paragraph (above the italicized postscript) if you'd like.

I spent last night in one of my favorite watering holes, out of state, where lots of Trump supporters hang out, some of them friends of mine, and all really nice, non-racist/sexist/monstrous people.

The bartender is a youngish guy, way nicer and more sympathetic and respectful to a wider range of people than I am. He admitted he'd voted for Trump, but he couldn't stand the guy. I asked whether he recognized what a shallow narcissist he was, and he frowned back at me, offended. "Duh!" He'd voted Trump because 1. he's in the habit of mostly voting Republican from the old days, and 2. he absolutely can't stand Hillary. That's it. He hadn't been conned by The Wall or any of the rest of it.

Hearing him say this - a real live person rather than a thought experiment - I saw the parallel more clearly than ever before. The vast majority of Clinton voters - including me - voted for Hillary fully aware of her flaws, because they absolutely couldn't stand Trump. It was a recoil. And the other side, like a passing train on the other track, did likewise.

It was an edge case election of reciprocal recoil voting. We find it tough to empathize with the recoilers on the other side - "But she/he's so AWFUL!" we protest. We angrily dispute any assertion of symmetry. But the symmetry wasn't in the candidates, it was in the sentiment. That's how to understand this, and that's how to re-normalize your neighbors.

A reciprocal-recoil election is a dangerous, volatile pit of gurgling emotional irrationality. If Biden had run, he'd have wiped the floor with Trump. The problem with Clinton wasn't with Clinton, it was with Clinton sentiment. On the other side, Jeb probably would have wiped the floor with her.

We imagine that Trump supporters bought into his bullshit. And while some surely did, most were simply recoiling. That's all. And, by this point, every American knows a lot about recoil. The daffy surprise this morning, as the smoke clears, is that we're more alike than we imagine. And the other daffy surprise is that now that the recoiling's over, a big chunk of the other side shares our worry (if not our terror) about what's to follow.

As Trump's victory became clear, my bartender friend didn't celebrate. Rather, he tightened into a fearful thoughtfulness I'm not sure he himself noticed (though it'll likely blossom as the week progresses). I asked if he was experiencing buyer's remorse, and he chuckled nervously. I think he, and a lot of American Brexit voters, are feeling as free-fallish this morning as I am.

The main thing I want to say is that none of the Trump people were celebrating. Seeing avid Trumpies cheering and rejoicing on TV last night was like watching Middle Eastern radicals burning American flags on TV: it's a mistake to assume you're viewing the widespread sentiment. There's a whole lot of Brexit hangover, though the loudest, most strident voices will be seen in media for a while. I'm awfully glad to have a diverse set of friends for a truer picture.

For the third time, I highly recommend "The March of Folly" by Barbara W. Tuchman, a beautiful analysis of how successful, stable societies every once in a while go insane and poison their own water.

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