What You Should Think About the President-Elect

November 9, 2016

“I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice.”

–Albert Camus

This is not good.  In a lesser-of-two-evils system, the same can be said about most Presidential elections.  This is a special case.  My fellow Americans have collectively decided to shake up that system by electing P.T. Barnum Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States.

This man began his present political arc by challenging the citizenship of a duly elected President.  This man began his successful candidacy by pandering to hateful misconceptions about immigration — in a nation with barely 2% indigenous population!  Contemplating how he will begin his Presidency requires that I stiffen my drink.

Voter behavior yesterday hints at the prospect of a new dark age.  Perhaps I should save my booze for “mazel tov cocktails” to hurl in battle during the imminent Purge.  Serious thought reveals no such devastation is inevitable.  Every moment in time precedes a sprawling tree of possibilities.

Nearly half of the electorate did not make this choice.  It is fair to suggest many among the other half were misinformed.  Must we guard against a wave of militant nationalism?  Absolutely, but change need not take that particular course.  Last night’s popularity contest was entirely Constitutional.  It is far from the end of our American struggle.

There is no way to deny both major parties’ primary processes reflected a powerful national craving for upheaval.  Elder statesmen amongst the Democratic Party managed to keep that genie in the bottle, expertly exploiting superdelegates and other process issues to orchestrate their desired outcome.

Elder statesmen amongst the Republican Party did not prove so capable.  Many made no secret of their displeasure at Donald Trump’s sweeping victories over other contenders for the GOP nomination.  Some even announced their intention to vote for Hillary Clinton.  Yet their genie has run amok, now granting wishes to a range of unsavory characters.

For almost all of us, the easy way forward is to put politics in the rearview mirror.  Voting when the hivemind is sending “vote” messages is sufficient to feel a sense of belonging, even duty fulfilled.  Democracy never thrives where standards are that low.  Instead of quadrennial spasms, civic duty permeates every moment of thought about political matters.

This duty extends into communications.  Next week, next month, next year, and beyond; you should take political conversations seriously.  The price of avoiding these uncomfortable moments goes wildly beyond any social discomfort.  If you have relevant investments, weigh a cringe here or a cold shoulder there against the dollar value of your recent losses.  Then consider the ramifications for Americans who are not blessed with capital reserves of their own.

Becoming “that person,” strident or even tedious in defense of political ideas, is the barest minimum of political activism.  Yet that has value.  Dismissive attitudes about substantive political discussion are the driving force behind our obsession with the politics of personal destruction.  The general phase of this Presidential election, despite considerable divergence of policy positions, was overwhelmed by savage personal attacks.  Even Presidential debates wound up in those gutters.

Candidates were selected in large part by the culture of celebrity permeating American corporate infotainment.  Only the most egregious buzzkillers do wrong by driving political chatter toward serious fact-based discourse.  140 characters is seldom adequate to the task of conveying useful insight.  How passionate about his or her opinion can anyone be if reluctant to delve deeper into an issue?

Even more than words, this situation demands action.  The ramshackle establishment of the Republican Party was overcome by one billionaire’s bluster.  The power structure of the Democratic Party is more resilient, yet it was almost overcome by real financial support from millions of ordinary citizens passionate about non-incremental remedies to aggressively accelerating maladies of capitalist excess.  Radical upheaval is only worse than stability if the nature of that upheaval is unjust.

A grand American movement has twice showed itself to the world.  Occupy Wall Street, incoherent as it was, rightly identified both the severe burden imposed by our bloated financial sector and the enormous gulf between perception and reality on the subject of wealth distribution.  The American economy  is presently dominated by a mix of counterproductive and unsustainable practices.  If we do not find thoughtful remedy through constructive interventions, we will be forced to reckon with harsh inevitabilities.

Bernie Sanders is not known for fire and brimstone or its political equivalent in the form of violent revolutionary rhetoric.  In a thoroughly muddied lexicon, “democratic socialism” is still a far greater departure from the American mainstream than the Sanders agenda.  Single-payer healthcare, public universities, sweeping criminal justice reform, military non-aggression, national renewable energy investment — a fact-based path forward can easily generate more prosperity than any alternative.

November 8th, 2016 was not about a choice between that principled vision of the future and a Mexican border wall.  For the ~90% of citizens who would never consider casting a third party vote, yesterday was a choice between continuity for a dysfunctional system or spectacularly unpredictable disruption.  Public support for disruption exceeded public support for continuity.  If that is no surprise, by extension last night’s result should be less surprising.

The upheaval has begun.  The genie is out of the bottle.  Unlike any other time since the Viet Nam era, the United States is on the brink of major transformation.  Supported by a precarious entwining of oligarchs, nationalists, zealots, and opportunists; one political party now grasps every major lever of federal power.  Active citizens will be challenged.  Complacent citizens will experience unrest.  Backlash is inevitable.

Is our society functional?  Can we process this backlash before those who know the history of the Bolsheviks seriously entertain less enjoyable purposes for imported liquor?  I prefer to think that we are not so barbaric.  Donald Trump is a vainglorious buffoon who triumphed over a series of insincere professional politicians.  He is not Satan.  He isn’t even Skeletor.  The man sometimes fairs poorly when he goes toe-to-toe with Rosie O’Donnell!

What well-informed people of conscience must overcome is no more insidious than apathy.  The emergent federal power structure has no anchors in the real world.  Coal subsidies will not enrich the nation.  Immigrant hunts will not drive down unemployment.  Privatization for its own sake will not increase efficiency.  Military adventurism will not make us more secure.  Donald Trump’s supporters will pursue their agenda.  There are no actual successes to be achieved along those paths.

Alleviating educational finance burdens would be a real victory.  Separating health care decisions from financial planning would be a real victory.  Moving subsidies from petrochemicals to renewable technologies would be a real victory.  Voting behavior does not change physical realities.  Actions dedicated to constructive goals are the only reliable path to progress.  As citizens of a self-governing society, we are all duty-bound to be mindful of this not merely in 1,460 days, but continuously across that interval.

Over the next week, readers will no doubt become tired of encountering the Winston Churchill quote, “you can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.”  It aligns with the facile glibness of infotainment airheads.  Yet it is also an intuitive nod toward our present situation.  The 2016 election did not catapult us forward.  The 2016 election did not offer us an option to be catapulted forward.  At best it only offered incremental advances.  Voters instead chose a retrograde option.

Last night set the stage for a struggle that may finally allow our culture to get real about the failings of financial oligarchy.  If Abraham Lincoln was right about the best way to get a bad law repealed, then our vigorous embrace of trickle down economics, fossil fuels, and authoritarian law enforcement will become our springboard toward a future of broad prosperity, sustainable industry, and peaceful coexistence.  The difference sits in the space between becoming distressed about current events or acknowledging every call to action leading up to this election is but a whisper before the klaxon of Donald Trump’s triumph.