What This Election Taught Me (or retaught me)

I know it’s dangerous to publish this while many people are still reeling from last night’s election results, but I’m going to do it anyway because it’s fresh in my mind and I want to remember everything I’ve learned about myself, about the American public, and about this political process.

Dang. What a wild ride it’s been.

For better or worse, here are some important things this year’s election season has taught me (or retaught me):

 

Americans have bought the lie of the false dilemma and it’s both self-destructive and counter-productive.

In an American mind, it’s always a question of either/or, him/her, us/them. We are so married to a two-party system that the two-party concept has steeped into our personal ideological construct and our interpersonal relationships.

Sure, there are some things that I’ll agree are black and white. I’m a pretty black and white thinker myself. But I still believe that, even with strict ideological commitments, it’s possible to entertain more than just Option A or Option B. (Case in point: Option A and Option B in this election didn’t satisfy me, so I choose another option. Yes, you can do that.)

This false dilemma appears in relationships, as well, as we become so committed to our own solutions to the world’s problems that we not only refuse to examine the potential for another solution, but those adopting other solutions become our enemy. Two sides. Us and them. That’s all we can comprehend.

Political media is manipulative.

Because all media is created by people and all people have some sort of ideological commitment, it’s prudent to be wise about how media is consumed. It’s not always clear, at first, whether the “news” sources we use for information are really intended to inform or to influence.

Basically, all media tells a story. But very few sources are telling the whole story.

Every political candidate will say and do a million things during the duration of their candidacy, but each media source will pick and choose which photos to show, which quips to quote, and which videos to play. If you’re a media junky, you’d better be consuming more than one source and more than one ideological school of thought or, chances are, you’re being sold a lie. (Or at least only a small part of the truth.)

No one wants to believe their guy might be the bad guy.

You know that Biblical parable about the sawdust and the plank and “judge not” and all that? (Matthew 7:1-5. Read it here.) I’d venture to say that this applies to more than just our personal sins. It applies to our choice political candidates, as well.

In this election, both candidates were the brunt of some pretty serious allegations of both character and behavior. Yet, for the most loyal of followers, those allegations meant nothing. As if the sins of the other were so terrible that nothing else mattered. The double standard was almost laughable.

Whether the specific allegations are legitimate or not almost doesn’t matter at this point. The sentiment was clear: your guy is the real bad guy here; mine can do no wrong (or at least not as much wrong as yours, so it doesn’t really matter to me).

(Sidenote: have you seen this?)

Most of us don’t understand the guy voting for the other guy.

This is true across all political lines. We presume to know all there is to know about those who support our opponent, yet all we have to rely on is exit polls and media scams.

The truth is that it’s easier to see the opposing side as a “people group” to be categorized or write them off as a demographic with an agenda than to actually know and understand why someone might support something we don’t–increased border security or universal healthcare or stricter gun laws, for example.

I may disagree with someone’s position on an issue, but I can’t possible know all of their stories. If I did, it might start to make sense why they care about one issue and not another or why they believe some issues are more urgent than others. And, once I start to understand why we all vote so differently, it dismantles the us vs. them dichotomy.

Even if we don’t end up agreeing, it could lead to mutual respect. Or, in the least, less adolescent name calling. And it would save us from the surprise when discovering that those people groups we’re so quick to subject to our own stereotypes are not nearly as homogeneous as we’d like to believe.

No one likes hyperbole, but everyone uses it. (And no one is willing to admit it that maybe the other guy is just being hyperbolic.)

I am first to admit that I love a good hyperbolic argument. But I also understand the nature and use of hyperbole. And I hate it when it’s used dishonestly rather than for illustrative effect.

When the news hit last night/today that Donald Trump won the election, it was like a hyperbole tornado:

“The Apocalypse has come. All immigrants are going to be deported. African Americans are going to be shipped off to ghettos. Men everywhere are now welcome to grab a stranger’s crotch. And I’m moving to Canada.”

Instead of looking honestly at what we’re actually facing (by reading Trump’s actual immigration plan, for example), thinking through it critically, and considering what the actual implications might be (both for good and ill), we choose extremism. All we hear in our heads (which, come on, is all the media wanted us to hear because it makes for good tv) is the irresponsible and reprehensible rhetoric of Trump’s public persona and then we, in turn, spew off the same doomsday rhetoric. This does not excuse him, but neither does it excuse our response.

Hyperbole is great. But it’s dangerous. Learn how to use it and how to interpret it. It will save us all a lot of anxiety.

Our children are listening.

And, no, I don’t mean this in the Clinton campaign video sort of way (although I think she’s correct, as well).

What I mean is that our children are listening to us. And, because they know no better, they believe us. So when we make outlandish claims about the other candidates, or speak in hyperbole about the implications of this, that, or the other thing, they are listening.

They see our overreactions, hear our outbursts, and will internalize either our hope or hopelessness. Be careful what you model for your children.

Everyone has a trigger (or two).

We all have our triggers–things that elicit a strong response or reaction from us. For one woman, it’s sexual assault. For another, it’s healthcare. For another still, it’s gun control or education; race relations or childhood poverty.

I think it’s a beautiful thing that we all carry different sensitives within us. I think it’s a providential thing that insures we, as a collective society, cover all of our bases. I mean, what if the only thing we all cared about was childhood poverty? Sure, kids would be fed and clothed, but the elderly would not be. Or what if the only thing we all cared about was climate change? We might have the best sustainability initiatives in the world, but our economy could go belly up and leave us trillions (more) in debt.

There is no need to minimize someone else’s political trigger just because it isn’t your own. Sure, there are some that are, on a certain level, mutually exclusive. And there are some issues that some of us will never get behind personally. But, for the most part, I simply don’t believe that’s the case.

Here’s a thought: It might actually be possible to work toward a healthy planet, well-fed families, a strong and equitable economy, safe babies (and mothers!), and affordable healthcare. Geez. What an amazing thought.

The real (exciting and difficult) conversation starts when we get to talking about the how. (But that’s a post for another day.)

For now, people are really hurting.

This election triggered not only strong ideological responses but really strong emotional responses, as well. And although empathy is certainly one of my weakest traits, I’m not heartless.

I think it’s important to acknowledge that many people in our country have deep hurts that made this election (and its outcome) really painful. I may think that some of the reactions (toward both candidates) have been immature or overly dramatic, but whether those pains are “legitimate” is not my decision to make.

I don’t have the right to tell a woman who has been sexually assaulted that she shouldn’t take Donald Trump so seriously. And I can’t promise the Mexican-born US citizen that Trump won’t suggest something that threatens their citizenship.

Just like you cannot insure the safety of my children from the terrorist waiting across the ocean.

And just like I can’t honestly tell the third-generation coal miner in West Virginia or the small-town family farmer in Iowa that their livelihood and the future of their families wouldn’t be on the line in a Clinton-run America.

Those hurts, those fears, those concerns are real. And, even if they are unspoken, they influence how we approach politics and social issues. So even if we don’t share them or understand them, we can at least be patient with each other as we work through them and, hopefully, find some resolution.

In the end, hurting people can’t depend on a government to save them. Because a government can’t save them. Maybe temporarily or in small, calculated ways. But not in the personal, loving way that people need. Certainly not from the depth of pain that leaves people crushed at the end of an election. And, honestly, not even from the hundreds of unknowns and the fears of danger and the evil lurking around the corner in this scary world.

Which is why the greatest lesson this election has retaught me is that, while I love and respect this country, my hope rests elsewhere.

And I am really thankful for that today because, honestly, if Donald Trump was the foundation on which I was building my hope for the future–yikes.

(Listen.)