This short commentary comes from a lifelong conservative with some moderate tendencies who voted, without hesitation, for Hillary Clinton. I did so for all the reasons the average American who was repulsed by Donald Trump did, and for many of the reasons an average liberal did. I’m also a more-or-less evangelical Christian, and some of what you suspect about me is true, and some of it isn’t. But that’s the perspective from which I’m operating. The kind of weirdo who would have voted Romney or Rubio over Clinton, but definitely Clinton or Sanders over Trump.
I believe Democrats lost the election due to a failure of empathy. Remember, empathy isn’t sympathy, nor is it agreement. It’s a willingness to listen and attempt to understand. There are millions of people in this country who have issues with where we are as a nation, post-Obama. They tend to have some similar psychographic and demographic markers. It’s understood that they skew toward the middle and lower-middle classes, Caucasian, less likely to have attended college, less urban, more religious and less trusting of institutions and government. Their discontent is rooted in personal economic upheaval, and a disconnection from some major social and cultural trends.
Meanwhile, in spite of the democratization of information brought on by the Internet, we’ve ended up in a place where the national conversation is largely dominated by “elites” who are basically the opposite of the group described above. They are highly educated, professional, socially and professionally connected, and living in major media centers. They also tend to be more liberal/progressive.
This cohort’s Achilles heel during this election cycle was a sense of entitlement that created an environment where moral grandstanding in social media postings, articles and opinion pieces was filtered through a smugness usually mixed with snark or smarm (take your pick). The result? The very people they hoped to persuade were rightly repelled. In social circles (Facebook included) they simply kept their mouths shut out of fear. They were too intimidated to speak due to potential social and professional shaming. Diversity has its limits, apparently.
Instead of the left seeking to understand, the electorate was barraged with self-righteous hectoring. When you are repeatedly told you are stupid, ignorant or a hypocrite, you can imagine feeling a bit abused, and so you simply shut down. You don’t even tell the pollsters how you feel, so intense is the shaming. Then election day rolls around, and you are finally free to speak. It’s not dissimilar to a pattern of emotional abuse.
I have so many friends on Facebook whom I know to be very good people, who do good work in life and make my life in my part of Atlanta, GA a better one. Yet some of them felt very free to traffic in an unattractive smugness that was designed to put others down. It was very tiring. I usually agreed with the actual points being made, but thought, man, stop being such assholes.
Your snarky, holier-than-thou tone definitely produced a reaction, but I don’t think it’s the one you were hoping for.
Don’t miss this: The merits of the arguments of those opposed to Trump were solid. It’s the arguments against the actual people supporting Trump that were largely off-base. It’s maybe too glib, but for those looking for a sound bite: Net net, the workers rejected the smirkers.
A person I know was finally asked today, after the election, why he would support someone like Trump. The answer was surprisingly rational. I’ll note it here without modification: “National debt solution, build up military, support vets, appoint conservative justices, immigration control (not elimination), lower taxes, better solution to Obamacare, end of cronyism and DC politics, delete a bunch of useless Obama executive orders, stop funding Planned Parenthood. That is a few why I voted for DT. I did not like either candidate but felt DT will appoint the right folks to get things done, and we will indeed see change.”
Surely many Democrats would object to many of these points, but at least one could acknowledge that these are fairly normal reasons for supporting a particular candidate, and don’t mean the voter in question is misogynist, racist, homophobic or anything else. He just has different thoughts on how to solve problems than you do.
If I ran any kind of political editorial operation, I would insist that my team select a few people to move out from whatever major media centers they live in for the next election cycle. It appears some heads are too far up the associated posteriors. We need Vox to move someone from Brooklyn to Greenville, someone from The Atlantic to move from Manhattan to Manhattan, Kansas. And for the love of God, how about a big time political writer for the New York Times who lives in Youngstown, Ohio? As far as FiveThirtyEight, supposedly the data is the data, but the misreading of polls leads me to believe otherwise. Nate Silver should set up shop in Tallahassee or central Pennsylvania.
Many today are confessing their “bubbles”, belatedly realizing they actually lived in one. Funny thing about those bubbles: they are rather self-incriminating. For all our talk of a love of diversity, many don’t seek it out on a personal level. And here we are. Steven Covey’s 1989 classic, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, contains a bit of advice that would have served us all well the past year. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Some humility and yes, real empathy, could create the dialogue we are all hoping for.