This feels like a weird—and not in a good way—election doesn’t it? A lot of ink has been spilled on why that might be so I thought maybe I would join the chorus.
I think a lot of little things and medium-sized things just all came together to make this election possible. There was the economy, the politics, and the social rules. Let’s start with the social rules. You know how when you drive down the road, nobody signals anymore. Maybe that’s a minor infraction but it shows a disregard for social norms. As does the propensity to use swear words to underscore a point. So kids don’t say “Oh, that’s awesome”; they say “Oh, that’s bleep bleep awesome.” And adults do that too. I know I hate swearing (if there is too much swearing in a film, my husband and I tend to stop watching it) but even so I know I use words that are either swear words or “swear substitutes.” I am not immune to the society in which I live and I break the social rules too. And we know from the (proven) “broken windows” theory in criminology that monitoring urban environments for small acts of vandalism is the best way to prevent major crimes because if a society tolerates minor infractions, it will tolerate major ones too. And we have certainly seen that happen this election.
Then there’s the politics or perhaps I should say politicians and politics both. We have become accustomed to our politicians breaking the rules (it’s the broken windows theory again) but thanks to the Internet we know so much more about all the different ways politicians break the rules. We know who gives them money, how much, when, who they sleep with, who they talk to (and don’t), who they offend and so much more. And we delight in telling ourselves that all great men have feet of clay. So Jefferson is not the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence, he’s a slave-owner; Benjamin franklin is not one of the greatest diplomats America has ever had, he’s a great PR man. And as a result, we have no political heroes anymore. Maybe that’s why superheroes are so popular? But that also means we have lost faith in the institutions that hold us together and, as a result, they don’t work anymore. Or if they do, they don’t work for us. And so we call everything corrupt and tell ourselves we should burn it all down. Burn, baby, burn.
And then, on top of all that, there’s the economy. Now you may been reading a lot about the folks who feel forgotten by the economy. And they have a point. A lot of them are/have been. And part of it is that the jobs they grew up with are never coming back. And to the extent that people’s identities are tied up with what they do, that job loss also means a loss of identity. And we know those jobs (and those identities) are not recoverable because even as American companies move back to the US (as they have been doing for quite some time actually due to rising Chinese wages, good PR for doing so, and shorter supply routes) manufacturing jobs have not been increasing. This is because those companies have automated huge chunks of their labor force. So the question is not how do you bring manufacturing jobs back (sorry Bernie); it’s how you make service jobs and the sharing economy jobs at least somewhat comparable to manufacturing jobs in terms of pay and benefits. I think health care reform is a step in the right direction in that regard but a lot more needs to be done. Starting with leveling with the American people. And no-one wants to do that probably because they remember what happened to Mondale. He was right. He also lost because no-one wanted to hear it. But here’s the thing—even though people don’t want to hear hard truths they know they’re being lied to. We are social animals after all; we are “programmed” to know this sort of thing. And so long as our politicians refuse to lead—or even level with us—we will continue to be angry and frustrated and betrayed.
How do we solve all this? We need leadership yes but must also be willing to be led. And that means trust. We must—somehow—recapture the faith and the values and the identities we have lost or this, I am afraid, will only be the beginning.