Election 2016: Take Two

Where do we go from here?

When I wrote “The Election: Who Stands to Lose the Most?” last week, after agonizing about it for quite some time, I really expected people to voice their opinions, share their perspectives, post some comments of one sort or another. Frank Robinson, Licensed Mental Health Counselor, posted a most substantive comment, building on the case I had made and further explaining it from a psychological point of view. (The comment is there; you can still read it.)

For the most part, though, people didn’t comment. It has certainly been the most-read post in the history of the Tamarack Communication Speakeasy, but not a lot of ink was invested in a retort.

People called me, though. And they emailed me privately. I did get a response – just not a public one. And, you know what? It wasn’t the response I expected. I really did believe a few people would say “mea culpa, I now realize I do that – I make up my mind and then seek only those facts which support my position and discount whatever does not.” I expected it from a few; I got the mea culpa from no one.

We might speculate on why no one shared the confessional opportunity with me, but first let me offer you the gist of the messaging that did come my way. I’m going to be very careful about how I put this, now, because these people trusted me with their confidential responses. I won’t reveal their identities. I heard things like this:

·      It doesn’t matter to me who got elected, once the election is over. I don’t have any hard feelings against the people that don’t vote the way I vote. Maybe I used to, but I don’t and haven’t since Bill Clinton was elected president. I didn’t vote for him, but I think he did a good job in the eight years he served. He passed NAFTA, which I still support. But his womanizing and related personal behavior while serving as the leader of our country was just indefensible. After that experience, it’s hard for me to even consider Donald Trump given the things he’s said about women.

·      We need to get rid of career politicians. They are, as a group, corrupt and dishonest, because their top priority is always to remain in office, to win the next election. So I can’t support Hillary Clinton, if only for the fact that she is a career politician. Donald Trump is not, so I’m supporting him.

·      Personally, I believe our country lost a good candidate by not supporting Bernie Sanders.

·      Bernie Sanders might be the most popular member of Congress in his home state, but he’s a career politician. He needs to go. Look how long he’s been in office! I would never have voted for him, had he got the nomination.

·      It’s just fun to stir things up. I like to post things on social media just to get a rise. I don’t necessarily feel strongly about them. Other people sure do though.

·      I was on Facebook, but I saw the things people were posting, and I said, “This is not for me.” (told to me by two people)

·      Your article made a good point.

·      I remember when Barack Obama was elected. My friends and I thought life as we knew it had ended. Oh, it was going to be terrible. Now, eight years later, I have had to admit that my life hasn’t changed one iota due to his presidency. Oh, some lives have been impacted for better or for worse, but not mine or my wife’s. Kind of makes you think twice about all the emotion we invest in this sort of thing.

·      People say Hillary Clinton’s had her chance; she should step aside. That makes sense to me, whether she’s trustworthy or not. (I’m not sure about that.) It’s time for a change. Washington insiders can’t be trusted. I will vote for Donald Trump because he’s not a Washington insider.

·      I can understand some people are jaded by the political dynasties we’ve seen: the Clintons, the Bushes, the Roosevelts, the Romneys. And we hear about how long-term congressmen and senators spend way more time raising money for their next election and trying to keep their jobs than they do trying to run our country. But still, that’s no reason to vote for an “outsider” just because he’s an outsider. I mean, if he’s a know-nothing and emotionally volatile and self-centered, is he really going to be any better than an insider who might at least be qualified?

·      My brother is going to vote for the other candidate. He and I are very close. I won’t hold it against him no matter what happens. Life will go on just as it always has.

·      Your essay pegs it beautifully. It is a great way of looking at the winners and losers of this election. We are the losers, of course. It's always us little guys. Your insight into how the world will look and feel after the election, the rosy future that will prevail for both candidates, and the huge pool of hate they will have left behind is literally terrifying in its possibilities.

Well, that’s most of what came to me privately. So let’s talk just a little bit about what did not come to me. No one owned the confirmation bias, the selective exposure, the attitude polarization. You mean I’m the only one who admits to it? I’m the only one who avoids the TV personalities that promote the candidate I’m not going to vote for? I’m the only one who immediately distrusts and discounts what someone is going to say because I’ve already decided, based on their choice of candidate, that they’re wrong? I’m the only sinner among saints? Who would have guessed?! I know I’m naïve, but really!

So maybe we can talk about someone else for a few minutes. (I’m kind of sweating here.) Let’s talk about the lengthy comment posted by Frank Robinson, the counselor mentioned above. His first point is that we access reality only through a window, and that window is made up of our unseen thoughts, attitudes and beliefs. Oh, most of us believe we have access to the truth, he explained, access to unvarnished reality. We do not. We don’t realize how quickly we add meaning to the world’s goings on. What we experience is what we bring to the world.

Frank went on to say that we drink our own Kool Aid so fast we don’t even realize the effect it has on our lives. We cannot see that we are, in fact, the source of our own experience, so we can’t even test it out. He also explained that we don’t like to face the fear of confusion, uncertainty, complexity or paradox, so we seek agreement wherever we can find it.

When he related the truth-from-an-asshole story, I confess that it took me a few reads to get the point. But now I see it: “If an asshole told you the truth, could you hear it?” Ah, so, if the candidate I’ve decided is not the right one speaks factually, with wisdom and understanding, can I allow myself to hear and assimilate that message? And if that candidate’s surrogate does the same, will I have already closed my mind before he or she says the first word? Frank says he “tries diligently to make it a habit to listen to the people and sources with whom I most strongly disagree until I can hear at least one kernel of what I think is a truth.” He falls down sometimes, he admits, but he believes his life is better because he tries to do this.

So, that’s my new challenge to all of us, you and me: For the next few days, can each one of us listen openly and eagerly to someone we’ve already labeled in our mind “asshole” and genuinely seek at least one kernel of what we think is a truth? I’m going to try very hard to do that. Will you? And then, if you’re too shy to post a comment here, well, just contact me privately and I’ll try to share the bounty anonymously again.

You know what? If everyone who reads this would try it, and then share it with their own networks, and they’d all try it, why, I believe we soon would not even recognize ourselves or the new world we’d suddenly inhabit.