Unlike many of my friends and colleagues, I made no predictions concerning the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
I neither followed the campaign coverage very closely, watched the televised debates, nor tracked the polls. Thus I didn’t feel as though I had a good read on the likely outcome. All I knew was that if I did vote (I ultimately did), that I would opt for a third-party candidate. I live in a state whose Electoral College votes were safely in Trump’s columns, and I felt no guilt at all about registering a protest against both major parties with my ballot.
Immediately after voting, I took Sons #1-4 to see a movie. I checked major news sites before the lights went down at 7:00 p.m. CST, knowing that it was too early for any results to have come in, but I saw that everyone was giving Hillary Clinton a 90%+ chance of winning at that point.
About 2.5 hours later, I left the theater to the news that at that point Donald Trump was being given an 85%+ chance of winning the election.
The turnaround stunned me. My wife and I sat up for the next several hours watching CBS News’s coverage of the election on a free Apple TV app (we don’t have cable). I spent a good part of the next 24 hours reading deep analysis of and commentary on the election. After soaking up this information and filtering it (hopefully) through many years of studying and teaching humane letters and political theory, I have the following observations to make:
- Establishment media has become hopeless: Throughout this campaign, I have noted and commented on the blatantly slanted coverage that the mainstream media gave the candidates. In fact, I had stated on social media that the unmasking of the media’s bias and their resulting loss of credibility could end up being the most enduring legacy of the campaign. Many others have noted this development as well, so I will not belabor the point here. I think this article from a left-wing perspective states the idea pretty well (N.B. some bad language).
- Americans on both the Left and the Right desperately need to develop the moral imagination: Read Russell Kirk’s discussion of this essential concept. Will anyone seriously argue that popular discussion surrounding this campaign has been characterized by “ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and momentary events”? To the contrary, leading partisan voices have been worse than ever in caricaturing their opponents and failing to make an honest attempt to understand what motivates their opponents’ supporters. Instead, they write off tens of millions of their fellow citizens as godless, racist, sexist, or what have you. We’ve all seen this nasty rhetoric: all Trump voters are just fine with sexual assault; all Clinton voters want to eradicate religion from American life. I agree with secular liberal Jonathan Haidt that this problem is more prevalent on the Left than it is on the Right, but both sides suffer from it to an astonishing degree. While not agreeing entirely with it, I thought this piece in the Washington Post made several good observations in line with this idea.
- The sky is not falling: I lived in Tallahassee, Florida, when Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1998. A friend of mine who was teaching elementary school was told after that election by a distraught African-American child that the governor-elect was certain to re-institute chattel slavery upon his inauguration. As ludicrous as this fear sounds to anyone who knows anything about modern American politics, it’s not much worse than the hysterical predictions filling up the internet since Tuesday evening. To me the most bizarre of these fears is the one that a President Trump will be the most anti-LGBT president in American history, when in reality Trump is further to the Left on this issue than any GOP presidential candidate ever, and further to the Left than any DEMOCRATIC presidential candidate prior to 2012! I do not discount stories of the worst of Trump’s supporters feeling emboldened to do nasty things in the wake of his victory, and when those things happen, they need to be dealt with quickly. However, my friends on the Left should heed the words of Hillary Clinton’s gracious concession speech and keep an open mind here. There is zero evidence in Trump’s proposed first-100-day agenda that justifies the kind of freak out we’ve been seeing. (I would be saying similar things to my friends on the Right if Clinton had won.)
- Maybe we’re not stronger together: Everyone agrees that the USA is deeply divided. If we cannot develop the moral imagination to understand each other better, I wonder whether we can continue to live together peacefully in the long term. As I write this, news outlets are reporting on widespread protests against the outcome of a perfectly orderly election process. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump won this election fair and square, just as Barack Obama did in 2008 and 2012. If large numbers of people who are relatively concentrated in certain geographical areas (such as the West coast) can’t stomach that outcome, it might finally be time to ask the question whether America is too big. Does it really make sense for 320 million people with widely divergent views on all sorts of things all to be governed from Washington, D.C.? Would the people of this country flourish more effectively with a peaceful partition? Given our particular history with secession in this country, I think a movement of this sort needs to come from the Left to gain popular acceptance, and maybe we are starting to see that with talk of “Calexit.” I wish them well.
I have plenty more things to say about all this, but I have work to do today. I welcome your (civil) comments below.
UPDATE: Several thoughtful journalists (who supported Clinton) are facing up to the epistemic closure in their profession. Within a few hours of making this post, I came across these articles, all of which are worthwhile: