Friday, November 11, 2016

Further and Further Behind

It was comforting to me that Hillary got slightly more of the popular vote, but the thing that had the most profound effect on me the day after the election was a piece in the New York Times by Michael Lerner entitled “Stop Shaming Trump Supporters,” which I think explained very clearly what happened here, and included this, to me, comforting line: “The racism, sexism and xenophobia used by Mr. Trump to advance his candidacy does not reveal an inherent malice in the majority of Americans.” I sent it on to a group of friends, to my colleagues at work, and to a group of dharma buddies.

Later I saw something online about people in Silicon Valley likening Trump to Hitler and mulling over whether California should secede from the United States, and my reaction was one of rage—at the techies, who I picture saying, “I’m Google employee #3! I paid $10 million for my house! If things don’t go just the way I want, I’m leaving and I’m taking my state with me.” It seems to me that such people have nothing—absolutely nothing—to complain about. Had they been able to see the person collecting their trash and the person scrubbing their kitchen floor and had they actually cared about the lives of these people, this might not have happened.

Trump’s election is an invitation for us to consider them. I’m not saying he will do the slightest thing to improve their lives; I’m sure he won’t. Plus he’ll probably get us into a nuclear war in his first six months in office. But I think the reason he won is that a lot of people are despairing and angry, and rightly so. As I studied the weary face of the person making my burrito that day, I suddenly felt perfectly fine about my new president. I imagine he’ll actually end up being impeached—how could he not?—and we’ll end up with Mike Pence, which is OK with me, given the alternative.

I may be wrong about all of this. Maybe it’s simply that we do still have enough bigoted, selfish white people in America for this to have happened.

Several people said they also liked Lerner’s essay; one of my colleagues sent it on to a bunch of people. However, one of my dharma buddies wrote that she disagreed entirely. She felt that the message could be boiled down to one of shaming people who speak up about racism. Her note was clear and respectful and calm. I replied in the same spirit, and will think over all that she wrote.

This is one part of Lerner’s essay that particularly got to me: “The upper 20 percent of income earners, many of them quite liberal and rightly committed to the defense of minorities and immigrants, also believe in the economic meritocracy and their own right to have so much more than those who are less fortunate. So while they may be progressive on issues of discrimination against the obvious victims of racism and sexism, they are blind to their own class privilege and to the hidden injuries of class that are internalized by much of the country as self-blame.” I confess that one thing I thought after Trump was elected was, “Well, I’ve saved up a lot of money. I’ll be all right.”

I got a response from another close friend (not Chantal, my 40-year friend) who started her longish note by saying, “I voted for Donald J. Trump.” She went on to say that she used to make such-and-such hourly wage, and now she makes less, while things cost more. She said, “I am falling further and further behind.” She pointed out the condescension in my email (I said at the top that Lerner’s essay was comforting to me because I had been thinking that the country was half full of “stupid, hateful people”) and she finished by saying that she doesn’t dare tell her colleagues how she voted.

“I sit at work and listen to people talk to each other about how stupid I must be. They are so smug talking about how people voted against their interests when they are in the exact same economic boat as I am. Talk about voting against your interests—Hillary never gave a s**t about my co-workers. She would have been elected to do Wall Street's bidding.”

I felt sad after I read this note. And there you have it. I was condescending, and I was assuming way too much about the views of others. (How could anyone possibly not think what I think!?)
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