The grief is palpable—if you are liberal. 11/9 is like 9/11, in that your very way of life is under attack. Which, in many ways, it is. But why it feels that way is more complicated than that.
If you are centrist, this outcome doesn’t much register—this is business as usual, maybe a little worse but not that much. And if you are conservative, it’s annoying but still a win—Trump is an unlikely hero for conservative values, but hey, you won, so who cares about the other two thirds of the country. Fuck em.
And because there is so stark a divide right now, I need to apologize to my conservative friends. I think you are dead wrong about Trump, and no, Clinton is not a corrupt criminal, and no I don’t forgive you and would never trust you with my rights—but you were right about one thing: the media does have a liberal bias. All that grief? It’s in the media. All that confusion? Yup, that too. All our pain? Everyone seems to share it. After all, how could this happen? How could we have gotten it so wrong? The media is convulsing along with us and scrabbling for answers.
Well, in the bluntest way possible, the Onion answered that: Area Liberal No Longer Recognizes Fanciful, Wildly Inaccurate Mental Picture Of Country He Lives In. But put more kindly, we thought most of the country shared our values, or at the very least that they wouldn’t tolerate the obviously intolerable. And we didn’t realize that fairness and protecting people from harm—the principals Trump violates and derides—are themselves liberal values.
In fact, I just learned that there are five major centers of moral value: harm/protection, fairness, loyalty (and patriotism), respect for authority, and purity/sanctity. These are the things we use to build social arguments. These are the things we rely on the evaluate right and wrong. And these are the things that make us proud, angry, righteous, judgmental, or engaged.
And if you hadn’t got there yet, they break along party lines at “loyalty.” If you’re a liberal, your moral center is probably fairness/harm/loyalty. If you’re a conservative, it’s probably purity/respect for authority/loyalty. You can check.
This brings me back around to the media and its liberal bias. We tend to reject that idea, because we think bias means lying, or distorting the truth, or rejecting the evidence—you know, Fox News. The mainstream media doesn’t do that in any consistent way. But what it does do is filter all those carefully collected objective facts through a liberal moral lens that prioritizes harm/protection and fairness, with no idea at all that it is doing so.
That’s why we, and the media, scoffed at the idea that Clinton could lose to Trump. That’s why we looked at a tight race and told ourselves it wasn’t, heard about a possible two-percentage-point polling error and projected it to a 4-point Clinton win, and why, if Clinton had won by a few electoral votes instead of Trump, we would have gone on believing the same false narrative.
But in the actual America, more than half the country didn’t vote. They weren’t disgusted by Trump, or inspired by him, or energized by either candidate. And of the people who did vote, half of them figured Trump was fine, because the things that make him anathema to us are values that just aren’t that important to them. Meanwhile, Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server and accidental disclosure of classified documents ticks the other boxes hard. “No love of her country! No respect for the law! Lock her up!” And when we talk about Trump’s bigotry, they think: “Fairness? Life’s not fair. Deal with it. Protection from harm? Don’t be a bunch of crybabies. Suck it up.”
Meanwhile, the idea of taking the country back resonates. We need to get back to pure American values. We need to get rid of the outsiders and be loyal to the core American. We need to restore law and order. All things liberals tend to look at from the other side and say “that’s nonsense.”
And that’s how we got it wrong. We didn’t imagine anyone could ignore Trump’s bigotry with all its harmful consequences and inherent unfairness. We didn’t imagine that anyone could have a different moral center. But of course they can.
That doesn’t make it right for them to throw their fellow Americans under the big orange bus. That doesn’t make it right for them to welcome hate and prejudice into their midst. Not for one minute do I excuse it—but I do now begin the grasp it.
I want, desperately, to protect the people I care about. I want, desperately, for America to be a place safe from persecution and prejudice. I’m not giving those up. But now I have an idea of what’s missing beyond that.
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