Understanding what happened

donald-trump-five-reasons-victory

I want to talk about the U.S. presidential election results, and I want to do so in what is hopefully a helpful way for everyone regardless of who you voted for.

The reactions to the results are polarized just as the election itself was polarized and just as America itself has been polarized for an incredibly long time.  I don’t want to ignore the people who are truly hurt by the result, but I want to attempt to think about what is at the root of what just happened without going into speculation about what will happen next.

I want to do this because – for our country to move forward beyond our polarized reality – we actually have to understand each other, particularly the people we disagree with.  It doesn’t do any good to engage in name-calling and stereotyping: we truly need to understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of someone completely different from ourselves.

So, please, put your prejudices aside along with me as best you can so we can look into what motivated the majority of our fellow countrymen to vote for Donald Trump as president.

In the interest of full disclosure (and I’ve written about this previously in this blog), I was adamantly opposed to Donald Trump.

That being said, I sincerely hope with all of my heart that my concerns and fears about a Trump presidency are completely wrong and that he proves to be a wonderful president.  As a Christian, I will be praying for this and for him.

There is almost never a single reason for any major, complex event to transpire because there are numerous variables in play.  That’s why I recoil at flip and glib explanations that label Trump supporters as racist or homophobic or some other stereotype.  I know many wonderful people, both friends and family, who voted for Trump.

But on the other hand, it’s not correct to completely discount those labels, because without a doubt racism, homophobia and other stereotypes were incredibly large factors for several people who voted for Trump and may have been – even subconsciously – mitigating factors for others who voted for him.

It’s that way with every candidate.  People who voted for Hillary Clinton likewise did so, in some instances, for reasons many of us would find reprehensible.

So amidst these complicating factors, is it possible to even identify a root cause for what happened when there are so many different reasons?

I do think there are major themes at play that need to be appreciated.

First and foremost is the fact that there is widespread acknowledgment and agreement – whether Republican, Democrat, or something else – that our government is seriously broken.

We may not agree on the specifics of how it is broken, but we do generally agree that it is broken.  Ironically, I think part of the reason President Obama was surprisingly (at the time) elected to begin with was due to the same base feelings motivating a largely different segment of our population: a desire for change, for hope, as his slogan outright stated.

Some change did indeed come with President Obama, but, arguably, the systemic problems that have plagued the U.S. government for decades remained the same, rampant corruption foremost among them.

As embodied in the serious problems brought about by Obamacare, some of the President’s policies were beneficial to many lower class Americans, but at the expense of hammering the middle class.  I know several people who benefited from Obamacare, but I know several more whose insurance rates skyrocketed because of it.

I believe one of the best ways of looking at the heart of the divide between these large segments of American society is as a struggle that has existed since the very beginning of the nation: between urban and rural populations – city and country folk.

While there are obviously a number of other variables to consider, a defining divide at the outset of the nation in the 18th Century between Federalists and Republicans pretty neatly divided between those who lived in cities and those who lived on plantations.  That of course also applied during the Civil War between those representing the far more industrial and urban North and the agricultural and rural South.

If you can forgive the language, I found the article How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind to be incredibly insightful and respectful of our differences (despite first impressions from the article’s title).

When I visited my family in early September in rural Indiana for the first time in a decade, I was shocked by the state of both the people and the infrastructure as towns and buildings were literally falling apart.  It’s of course complicated pin-pointing who’s to blame for this, but the loss of manufacturing jobs, for whatever reason(s), has devastated a lot of the nation that doesn’t make regular national news highlights.

I think that Donald Trump, for all his numerous shortcomings that everyone readily admits, represented a champion for this large part of America that has felt completely left behind and alienated by the changing economy and culture.

One of the many important lessons we need to learn as a society is not to belittle and vilify those with whom we disagree.  We are all equally guilty in this regard.  We also cannot ignore massive portions of our citizenry, as is the equal temptation to all.

There are enough accusations and finger-pointing to go around for everyone, and it’s these actions that have dominated our civic life for numerous years.  We need to recognize all of our problems, from the real civil rights horrors that have attempted to be addressed in much of the current century to the broad realities of our socio-economic issues that have – obviously – not yet appropriately been addressed.

There is ugliness and hatred that needs to be fought in all parts of our society, from those who supported Donald Trump, those who supported Hillary Clinton, and those who supported neither or someone else.  None of us are immune, and all of us have huge problems that require us to both look in the mirror and work together.

In the end, beyond Republican or Democratic policies, that alone is the only thing that can save our nation.

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