The result of the US elections has shaken me to my core. I am surprised by my own reaction and the heartache I am feeling about the election of a country that is not even my own. I have been trying very hard to figure out the source of my disquiet and disappointment. I have since gotten over my shock and disbelief, and this post is a way for me to organise my thoughts and reflections. I am fallible, just as everyone is. Half of the things I say here might be naïve, erroneous, idealistic, people may not agree with or a combination of any of the above. But I say them in good conscience.
1. A case for democracy
Many people claim that the election of Donald Trump is the surest sign that democracy has failed. That is an understandable knee-jerk reaction and I felt the same way when it first dawned on me that he really might win. But it is not true. I think the mere fact that there can be a peaceful transfer of power at the highest office of the US—or any country for that matter—is the most important sign that democracy is working. The ideals of democracy, and the presidency itself, is bigger than any individual. If set up properly, the checks and balances, and the purposeful distribution of power that naturally comes into play should curtail the dangers of a country subjecting its fate to the whims of any one individual. I grew up in a democratic country where there hasn’t been ANY transfer of power since the country’s independence 59 years ago. My whole life I have been made to feel like a second-class citizen in my own country where subtle and overt discriminations against the minorities are a norm. And believe me, it does things to you. It is not life-threatening, but it weighs on your outlook, chips away your confidence and is objectively damaging to the country.
Democracy has always been messy, raucous and frustrating, but its central tenet lies in the fact that not everyone will get everything they want, all the time. It’s not a perfect system. In fact, we should be suspicious of any political system that appears to be perfect. Despite—or maybe even because of—its various quirks and kinks, the collective hive mind swarms ever forward.
2. The Media, education and other essential ingredients of democracy
I think a lot of our grievances with democracy relates to the failure of the essential components of a mature democracy: a responsible media, an educated and informed electorate, an independent judiciary system, and minimal influence of deep-pocketed lobbyists on our politicians. When someone who is so monumentally unfit and unqualified as Donald Trump can be elected leader of the free world, something has gone horribly wrong in at least one of those elements. But fortunately, these are things that we the people have the power to change. Start a grass root movement, get involved in political activism, educate yourself, train your critical thinking muscle, talk to your fellow citizens, send your kids to school, demand better of your country’s media, be relentless in your pursuit of justice, and finally, vote.
3. The gradual erosion of the power of truth and facts
Among all realisations, this one hit me the hardest. The triumph of lies, fear-mongering and a flagrant disregard of objective truths indicate troubles that run much deeper than a mere election. If facts and evidence don’t matter and all that matters is rhetoric and style, what can we all fall back on? What do you use to reason with people? On the one hand there are ideological differences which I find disheartening, but comparatively easier to stomach. Women’s reproductive rights, marriage equality, universal health care, higher taxes on the rich, among other things. I have strong opinions on these issues and none of them align with the newly elected President of the US, but they are that, opinions. They are incredibly important civil rights issues but I also understand that there are differing views and compromises are sometimes necessary. On the other hand there are well-established scientific facts. There are objective truths that are (or should be) non-negotiable: climate change is real, vaccination works, evolution happens. The fact that someone who thinks climate change is a manufactured lie by the Chinese has been elected to be the head of one of the countries with the biggest greenhouse gas emission pains and scares me to no end.
4. Empathy and understanding for the other side
It’s funny to say this, but yesterday when I was steep in my despair over the implications of this election result, it suddenly hit me, is this how the opposite side feels when they are the ones losing? It is such a horrible feeling. I wonder what do they do when they despair? And I am humbled by this awareness. It’s a weird feeling, but it made me feel closer to the fabled ‘The Other’. Fact is, there are no ‘the others’. We are all in this together. People whose ideas I fundamentally disagree with are also people who have families, people who love them, they have hopes, dreams, and probably even the same sorrows and struggles as I do. At the end of the day their fate is inextricably tied to mine. So who am I to invalidate or deny them their claim to democracy, and by extension, a piece of humanity?
5. Complacency and the dangers of echo chambers
Had Hillary won, I won’t be sitting here, thinking hard and typing this out now. I would have carried on with my life as usual, vaguely aware of the existence of people who are different than me but oblivious to the extent and ‘realness’ of their discontent. Complacency is something that is so easy to fall prey to but so hard to get rid of. I have been lamenting to a few close friends about this nagging fear of mine that I am trapped in an ideological bubble. All my friends are university educated progressive liberals. I do not have a single good friend (someone whom I will happily go for a coffee with) who would have voted for Trump. Whether through homophily or conscious self-selection, I have surrounded myself with people who agree with me on most issues. And I think a big part of the shock and disbelief that I experienced is the result of this echo chamber I have inadvertently trapped myself in. Nobody I know would ever vote for him, ergo Trump will never win. But he did win, and I am stung by this realisation that I do not understand a lot of the people with whom I share this planet. How has this happened? Have I been too afraid of the discomfort of a confronting argument? Do I bear an elitist disdain for people whose views I deem to be stupid? God forbid, what if their arguments actually make sense and I am forced to change my long-held and cherished ideals? If I am confident with the validity of my stance, shouldn’t I be more tolerant and welcoming of dissenting views, believing that the best ideologies will eventually prevail in the marketplace of ideas?
I am reminded of the African proverb: that you do for me, without me, you do to me. If I genuinely believe that I have the power to change things, shouldn’t I try to understand the people who disagree with me?
6. The power of love
The election of Trump has emboldened some of the worst among us. The outright racists, bigots and misogynists among us will feel vindicated by the election of a man with a history of sexual predatory behaviour to the highest office of the most powerful country in the world (in Sydney there were chants of ‘grab her pussy’ in bars after news of Trump’s election came out). But I also believe that Trump’s election is more a vote against the establishment than a vote for bigotry, racism and misogyny. After all, a majority of the US people voted for his opponent, effectively rejecting his platform of fear, intolerance and hatred. I have many American friends who are good-hearted, decent, intelligent and kind people. The world is rooting for you. The road might be long and treacherous, but at the end of the day, love trumps hate. I believe it has to. And it will.