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.
Politics has always mobilized the most intuitive kind of lies—the kind that we don’t bother to look at very deeply because they confirm our existing prejudices. Politicians are masters of the lie that feels true, even when all the facts run counter. And we buy those lies, and repeat them, and believe them, not because they have any isolated value, but because they bolster our view of the world.
Yet even knowing that, this election seems to me to be built on uniquely straightforward misinformation.
So I have been paying more attention to this election than some in the past, but not because I am disillusioned or disgusted with the choices, or frustrated by my vote not counting the way I’d like. Instead, it is because I think this election is historic, I very much want to see how we deal with it as a society.
It would be very difficult to cover politics in this country if we didn’t have any rules to do it. But there is an entire framework of unwritten rules that I, personally, believe ought to be explicit. Weekly, even daily, we the people are subject to these rules because the media, collectively, abides by them.
I’ve been having some problems with the simmering Bernie/Hillary feud among my friends (and their friends, and a bunch of loud people who showed up and no one is sure whose friends they are). I don’t usually write these essays as direct commentary on current events, because current events fade away and writing, in my opinion, should have something to say for a long while. But I think that feud, which is nearly national at this point, has something to tell us about politics.
I’ve been having a problem lately with the word “establishment.” It’s a two-part problem, and one part of that problem is that I cannot seem to read anything about our current election cycle without getting run over by “the establishment.” The other part of the problem is the difference between what it means and how we actually use it.
To take the first part of the problem, I keep hearing about how Trump supporters are against the establishment, and how Bernie supporters are against the establishment, and about how no, actually Hillary is also against the establishment, and Cruz is most definitely against the establishment, and to be safe, lets just say all political candidates are anti-establishment.
We’ll gloss right over the problem of who the establishment actually is for now and accept that it’s fashionable to be against it.
There is an acceptable narrative about social change: that individual choices are the starting point, and that those choices add up, and that if enough people make those choices, change happens. That is a very attractive narrative, because it says that my choices matter. It says that what I do is part of a grand democratic society where, if my choices have majority support, the system will improve. It says that if I use reusable shopping bags, and I buy an electric car, I am making an impact.
That narrative is also, I think, wrong. Or, at least misleading.
It isn’t wrong in the sense that I am not making an impact—I am, albeit a small one. It also isn’t wrong in the sense that our choices don’t add up—they do, and if we all decide to drive electric cars, that will make a pretty noticeable impact.
As I see it, that narrative is wrong because it pretends that individual choices and systemic choices are the same, and they absolutely are not.
Common wisdom is that you can’t complain if you don’t vote, but that your vote doesn’t really count for much outside of a swing state. As it often is, the common wisdom is wrong. Since many of us are going to the polls in the next few weeks, and many of us a week from today, I thought I would take a minute to explain why your vote matters (even if it doesn’t always count).
In many states, the presidential primaries are held alongside a whole host of other elections. In my home state of Vermont, for example, my primary vote probably won’t swing the presidential primary one way or another, but it absolutely could swing a more critical election.
In the political war of extremes, it seems like we’re setting up for one of the more divisive elections in recent memory, and yet perhaps also one of the most hopeful. For once the debate isn’t just about running to the center, which means we have an unusual opportunity to see where we actually are.
All things being equal, I think a large group of voters would prefer a centrist president. But of course all things are not equal. The middle-of-the-road candidates on the right don’t get attention anymore, and Hillary is losing a lot more ground to Bernie than she’d like while trying to argue that middle-of-the-road is more realistic. Unfortunately, moderates on the right and the left both are all suffering from one major problem: the centerline isn’t where they think it is.
I sympathize—when the road is covered in snow and ice, you can’t see the centerline. You have an idea of where the lanes are, but you mostly have to guess. Maybe you can’t even see ahead much. And the far right has spent the past decade doing everything they can to make the visibility worse.
My smart conservative friends care a great deal about the 2nd amendment, and my smart liberal friends care a great deal about the 4th. Yet both seem intent on limiting the other, and I was recently struck by the idea that the arguments about both amendments are the same. Both, I think, are about the cost of freedom.
Even for my smart conservative friends, the idea of some basic regulations of the 2nd amendment is tolerable. Overall, though, they would prefer a government that treats ownership of weapons as a necessary liberty to be protected even at cost. The fact that we have mass shootings is the price of that freedom, but they hold the freedom essential even at the cost of lives.
I have to admit that I sort of like Rand Paul. He has some good ideas, and some bad ideas, and he doesn’t always know which are which, but that’s common of all politicians; what I like about him is that he has a centeredness and honesty about his ideals. And I agree with some of his ideas, which would be great, and would probably drag me over towards libertarianism, if those ideals didn’t conflict with one another.
People have told me I should be a libertarian before. Actually, they’re told me that I am a libertarian; it’s just that I don’t really believe them. They always seemed to be making that judgment based on one view of one part of the world, and I never really found myself convinced by it.