Originally published December 18, 2016
This post is an effort to “talk through” a recent conversation I had with a very dear friend regarding the outcome of the election. Because I sincerely respect this person, and his sources, it was necessary for me to re-examine some of my assumptions; to seek some point of view that would allow me to see “the other side.” This was heavy lifting, folks, but if I wanted my friend to see my point of view, I felt it incumbent on me to try to see his. We agreed, in the end, to sit down with a bottle of something or other in four years’ time and sort through our expectations to see what was learned. Yes, we are still friends. For now, here is my perspective on where we are in our country’s history. This is my internal conversation to struggle through some understanding of the other side.
George Bernard Shaw is quoted as saying, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
As this country, and the world, has struggled through the past year or two, many believed that if we just spoke louder, longer, and with more passion, the other side would understand. They would “get it.” Consequently, the rhetoric escalated, and in a drunken rampage we said things to each other we would have never considered appropriate or truthful in years past. For some overwhelming reason, many supported the winner because he “said it like it is.” But did he? Are we really a nation of people who vehemently hate our neighbors, or, for that matter, anyone who is not white, heterosexual, in perfect mental and physical health, Christian, and English speaking? Really?
There were also many who just walked away, and while denouncing what the machinery of democracy had become, pushed the process of deterioration further by refusing to participate. As mentioned in my previous blog, as a nation we started and ended in a no-win contest. That is where the communication thing comes in. We didn’t. From the very start, we just didn’t.
When I view our current situation from this perspective I see why we are not communicating—we are not speaking the same language. At all. First there is the issue of cascade thinking. This is a process by which a person believes the content of a story because it fits with the person’s preconceived notions. No matter how bizarre or off the charts a “news article” might appear; if it said something horrible about the opposing side, it must be true. I saw one post on social media that said, even the fake news shows she’s evil. If it’s fake news then how can it contribute to an honest opinion? Where is the logic in that?
Putting aside our tendency to remain within our own thought-circle (scientifically, it is very hard work for our brains to do otherwise), if we are going to become one nation again, we need to learn how to communicate. How to express concerns in clear, well supported logic, to reach that place where we can emotionally agree, and find some middle path to success. We can no longer assume that our deepest passions are foregone conclusions that everyone should understand and support. Here, then, is my take on this past election cycle. Remember, the next one began on November 9. Choose well your forward path.
Putting aside the angry, protesting, and outright Supremacist voters, what would make a thinking, logical, being vote for what half of us saw as a misogynistic, racist, anti-LBGTQ+, demeaning, lying, bombastic, ultra-privileged, and uber-rich white guy? (This is a small collection of sentiments I have seen in the past several months). Understanding that provides a rather interesting framework in which to see the events of the past month or so, and why none of it seems to phase those who contributed to putting this person in the Oval Office. Here is something of what I learned by doing my best to listen.
There are a number of people in the country who are quite tired of “business as usual.” I think that is actually something we can all agree on. Whoever we supported, we were looking for change. Even if we wanted to see more work in the social services, quality of life, and equal protection under the law departments, we knew that some changes were very necessary. Having Congress at war with the White House was just not getting the job done however that was defined. This was one of the driving forces behind the outsider run Mr. Trump made. He was not Beltway material. He did not care (at least that is the notion he has projected) what agreements may or may not be in place—in his opinion, American business was the single most important criteria by which we should develop both internal and external rules and relationships. Well, in some ways we all feel that way. The health of our economy, whatever our end goals, is an important factor. How we get there is where we diverge in opinion.
Then there is the businessman thing. Long ago I learned that the only calculation that really counts in the business arena is that what comes in is greater than that which goes out, no matter how many zeros are attached. I find it difficult to conceive that a person who lost nearly a billion (at least on paper), and has a record of stiffing his vendors, could be considered successful. But, well, I’ve lost (for me) substantial sums in an effort to achieve goals, some of which might still pay out. I have an issue with stiffing people—whatever the reason. I have been informed, however, that the Trump organization does indeed hire persons of multi-cultural and multi-sexual identity and persuasion, and treats them well. The fact remains, he has built an empire that supports a privileged life-style, so when it comes to cash flow, he has it down.
We have a love-hate relationship with such success. Depending on our social status we may resent those who have amassed fortunes. There are successful people who devote large amounts of their fortunes to programs that support a better, more humane world. We seem to be more kind to the rich when they give something away. This does not appear to be the modus operandi of our current president-elect. Which is, again, one of the reasons so many voted for him. America was built on the Protestant work ethic, an ethic that demanded much of us, one that morphed into a “if you don’t work, you don’t eat” mind set. Except, that’s what happens in a communal setting as well. The cold reality is, if we insist that those who cannot contribute, or those who are doing their best for the very least, shouldn’t share something of the wealth of a nation, then we abandon the compassion that makes us human. No society can survive if it does not find a way to support those who are in need, or to ensure that those who are working do so at a rate that provides for the barest of necessities. If you are a Christian, you might check out some of the writings of the prophets from the Old Testament.
That leads us to the reason that all of the appointments, videos, tweats, and blusterings that half of us deem so offensive seem not to even phase our fellow countrymen. They wanted to break the back of “business as usual.” They want to see people who would think outside of the box, to look at foreign policy with a different eye, one that would see the nation as a producer of wealth and not a distributor of wealth. They see this man as someone who seeks advice from people who have experience from the outside of government—remember, they wanted an outsider and they expect him to find outsiders to advise him. These are people who have built successful empires here and abroad. Whatever we sort out about conflicts of interest over the next several months, or years, those who voted for him see a person who has experience in the world developing profitable relationships—not necessarily diplomat ones. When viewed from this perspective, I can almost see why they are complacent on so many other issues. They just see a different “bigger picture.”
These are a few of the things that I learned by listening. It does not mean I agree, or that I am happy with the outcome. What I do have is a clearer picture of how to approach those who are willing to have a conversation, who are willing to do that thing they so wanted to see—think outside the box.