Signing Off on the Election; Signing Up for What's Next
Last Tuesday night, and early into Wednesday morning, the world changed a bit, right? That was my initial reaction at least. Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States, beating out Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, a massive surprise and an upset to many. The emotions played themselves out all across social media, as was to be expected regardless of the outcome.
Throughout the campaign, Mike, Collin, and I agreed that we wanted to maintain a wide berth between Cities | Places | Things and politics. There are just too many competing stances on incredibly important issues, and none of us are experts. Not to mention all of the noise generated, especially on social media, message boards, and comment sections, between strangers who may well get along swimmingly were they to meet in real life. Yet the effects of this election are too large to ignore.
I came to several realizations that have provided me energy and comfort following the initial maelstrom of emotionally-charged reactions. I want to share these with you, dear reader, and in doing so, hope that this post still steers clear of any political statement.
Social Media is Not Real Life
In the final weeks leading up to November 8, despite the all-knowing polls that suggested the race between candidates had tightened, I expressed to my wife that I just couldn’t imagine a scenario where Donald Trump emerged victorious. By saying this, I wasn’t voicing my preference for our next president; I honestly was unable to imagine the scenario. I’d read the news, listened to the expert interviews on public radio from both sides, and, of course, I’d seen the polls that hinted at a tightening race, but still favored Hillary Clinton to win.
However, one of the largest influences on my assumption that Democrats would maintain control of the White House was my Facebook feed. Friends across the country, representing many different ethnicities, ages, socio-economic statuses, etc. voiced their eagerness, enthusiasm, anticipation for a Clinton presidency. They posted messages of excitement and linked articles touting the former Secretary of State’s extensive track record and relatively moderate positions on the issues they cared about most. Posts expressing skepticism and mistrust of the Democratic candidate found their way into my timeline occasionally, but support for Trump was non-existent.
When the results became apparent and then final, hope and confidence were replaced by despair and dread. How did this happen? The outcome ran perfectly counter to everything I’d heard and read on social media for months. Why were we all so unaware, mistaken, and wrong?
It turns out, my social media feed is far from reflective of the world as a whole. Perhaps this is a truth you already know well, and truly it’s one that I understood well before this week. We each curate a virtual representation of the world on our social media platforms by requesting and accepting the “friendship” of those with whom we largely agree. We interact with individuals with varying degrees of frequency, mobilizing each platform’s algorithms to prioritize content in a way that reflects our preferences and behavior. We even filter out positions or opinions that are unappealing or disagreeable. What is left is a narrow, artificial, unbalanced, and even idealistic representation of the world that often fails to embody competing opinions or beliefs, no matter how legitimate or popular they may be.
Placing faith in social media as an accurate representation of anything really is risky. I was reminded this week of how our nation and its citizens voiced a collection of beliefs and opinions that is far broader and more diverse than what I’ve seen in my daily scans of social media.
Which leads me to my next realization…
The Nation is Much Larger and More Diverse than I Thought
Ever hear the term Washington Insider? I always attributed the label to folks working on the Hill or for some special interest group with an aim to affect policy in some way. The term, however, took on a broader meaning this past week. For better or worse, I’m a Washington insider. Not in the sense that I am in any way professionally tied to a political party or a specific cause. Rather, my community and the people I interact with on a daily basis represent a population that voted 93% for Hillary Clinton. That is overwhelmingly out of touch.
Living in Washington, DC, I’m exposed to some of the brightest and most influential political minds I’ve ever met on a regular basis. However, those folks represent a tiny portion of a much more diverse population, and they were clearly not the audience that the winning side chose to target and eventually win over during the campaign.
Washington, DC is a wonderful place to live, and it truly does represent a diverse variety of opinions and backgrounds. Compared to the rest of the country, however, jobs are easy to come by, especially if you’re fortunate enough to have earned a college degree. In that same way, however, it does not represent the many communities across the country in which people are afforded fewer opportunities and less prosperity. Contrary to what my own neighborhood has led me to believe, the financial and economic situation for individuals and families in many other communities across the country has not gotten better in the last eight years. No wonder people voted for a change.
This realization, one that I probably should have recognized more fully before the election, is a prime reason why it bothers me to see some of the reactions to the outcome that have been popular in the last several days. I am not ashamed to be American this week. Our democratic process functioned exactly as it was designed, and I accept the results. Nor am I angry at my friends and family that voted one way or the other. Some awful things were said during the election, but I know for a fact that the people I love do not subscribe to an agenda of hatred or intolerance. Perhaps I owe it to them to better understand their motivations.
Which leads me to my personal call to action…
Live Your Life the Way You’d Like your Candidate to Govern
We as a nation put a whole lot of faith in our politicians and hold them to incredibly high standards. At their core, however, they are citizens just like us, no better or worse. We demand that they reach across the aisle and demonstrate bipartisan open-mindedness and cooperation, but how often do we behave this way?
My immediate community is largely filled with people that share my political views. Yet some of my closest loved ones and friends across the country voted differently than I did. Just as I turned to my own beliefs and expectations for how the next few years should play out, they had theirs. And rather than bicker over whether or not those expectations will play out one way or another, I’m intent on better understanding their position. I don’t expect them to change my views, nor do I intend to alter theirs. Yet just as we all would like to see our legislators cooperate more effectively to achieve some sort of progress or improvements on myriad issues, so too should I seek to find common ground or understanding with my loved ones. At an empirical level, there are surely shared motivations to which we can all agree. Finding them and understanding where we deviate on the details is the first step in reaching mutually beneficial compromises.
As the legacy of the next administration writes itself over the next few years, I’m energized by the understanding that I don’t have to wait until 2018 or 2020 to participate again in our democracy. I intend to live my life in support of the issues and positions that I’d like to see my representative champion, and peacefully engage the other side where there may be discrepancies. In other words, I won’t wait until the next election cycle to act, to speak, and to engage. And I won’t hesitiate to live by the values and standards in which I believe until a politician tells me its right to do so.
I’ll close with this: in the days following the election, there was a palpable energy nearly everywhere I went in DC. It certainly wasn’t positive excitement from the results of the election. Instead, I believe people are eager to get to work, both professionally and personally, putting the ugliness of the campaign behind them, finding that common ground, and achieving some progress that benefits all. In the coming days I’m excited to call up some friends and family of many different backgrounds and beliefs to better understand why they’re excited or nervous. Ultimately I don’t believe the world has changed as a result of the election… yet. Perhaps with a better understanding of each other it can for the better.