How did this happen?
by Peter Kremidas
Here we are.
I am devastated and shaking with a bones deep anger covering for a deeper sadness. I went to bed late last night with my country burning to the ground. When I woke up I saw a wasteland in my mind. A desert scattered with the refuse of buildings that my subconcious built in my mentally projected visual metaphor of what I thought America was. The one that used to be to my right meant decency. Gone.
A little cottage that always had a light on and a warm kettle brewing that was hope is just a dark smear on the plain now. The statue we all have the same vision of, justice, which was already showing cracks and fetching vines, is in a loose pile like it just gave up. Steel beams and pieces of architecture throw sharp chaotic angles skyward, too weak to reach anywhere near where they used to scrape.
People have likened this to 9/11. Obviously I share this sentiment. Appropriately, and even more so cryptically, he was declared president on 11/9.
And at the same time, I said this would happen. I thought this would happen. I could not anticipate how it would feel.
Until the last second, I really still harbored hope that we were better. But my eyes aren’t lying.
We just aren’t. Or not enough of us are.
This monster. This manipulator. This unjustifiably cocksure archtype of every high school bully. The one looking down which a curled lip on those he sees as inferior on a base level. The darker skinned. Those who don’t share his taste in sex. The different of all types. And women. Women who he feels entitled to grasp, use, the living feeling person inside detached and unconsidered by his entitled lusts. He of actions of no consequence. He for whom justice does not apply. His every belief of superiority reinforced every step of the way.
Brock Turner was just elected president of the United States. And I want to sob and vomit.
For some, it’s easy to dismiss emotional language and feelings and expression and laugh it off, perhaps emboldened by the thrill of victory for your chosen candidate, if it was him God bless your poor soul for what is coming. Or maybe to not feel so bad. The reality here is extremely harsh. Say we’ll be fine. Tell a joke. I know I want to. But I can’t look away from the reality of the wasteland I woke up to. I’m still looking at it. And it is really..
My feeble human brain, hardwired through billions of years of evolution to to seek causal explanation for every little event I see, wants to know how this happened. My metaphorical heart, bed of all my joys and tears, articulator of tiny whispers understood but unable to be spoken, only felt, it wants to know how other hearts could actively want this and still be the human sort.
I want to know how it happened. Which pronoun do I blame?
I think it starts with the way we’re built. Humans aren’t naturally rational, we’re just capable of it. This rationality becomes more and more difficult the more of us there are in the same place. I imagine humans like dogs. I’ve never understood why the word “dog” could ever be used as a pejoritave. Dogs are pleasant, they just want to love other people. They’re playful. They feel the same things we do and we can see it. When somebody tells me they don’t like dogs, I become suspicious of them. But, at the same time dogs are impulsive, they can be dangerous when mentally damaged. They need to be trained to not just chase that...delicious...enticing...squirrel. Have you ever seen a dog trained to not eat food until permission is given? The restraint is painful to watch.
Aside: Painful because it turns out another thing we share with dogs is empathy. Under an MRI, when watching a human or animal in pain, the same part of your brain that lights up that does when you are actually IN pain. Neurologically speaking, when we say “I feel you”, it’s very true.
We, who share something like ninety-eight percent of our DNA program with chimpanzees, share this type of impulsiveness. It’s the reason we can become addicted. It’s the reason our emotions can overtake us until we create deep permanent regrets. But with that extra two percent, we are capable of being rational. We can have restraint.
Human beings, to me, are like those naturally lovable dogs, but with a smaller, smarter dog on our shoulder that can do math. It’s the little piece of the universe aware of itself. And it is incredibly powerful. It builds rocketships, nation-states, algorithms, and all the shiny luminescent rectangles with are so happily addicted to. I still don’t know whether this addiction is more good or bad, time will tell. Addiction, after all, in and of itself is not a bad thing. People get addicted to exercise. Love is an addiction, and it’s beautiful.
But it’s still the smaller dog. It takes training and education to use it right. To innoculate oneself against bullshit. Most Americans don’t have the means for this type of training. And maybe it’s not their fault.
This type of understanding of humanity is something Donald Trump understood and the national media has understood for a long time. And both are incentivized by playing upon it. And both understood that both understood it. A silent parasite feeding off the rage of the country, while another parasite sits on top of it.
According to studies, viral content moves fastest when the dominant emotion is rage. Rage is the biggest trigger to our metaphorical “big dog”. (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-emotion-goes-viral-fastest-180950182/?no-ist)
So Donald Trump steps forward, says the most enraging things possible, the most offensive, the most disgusting, the most racist. In doing this he does two things. Our national media sees this, and knows that putting this on television will draw eyeballs, and therefore advertising dollars.
Understand, you are not the consumer for national news media. The consumer is the one paying for the product. The advertisers pay for the product, which is your eyeballs. This is an important time to note, if the product is free you should take a step back and make sure that you are not the product, or if you are willing to be.
Rage gets eyeballs. The media disregarded the consequences for this, and incentivized by running their business with as much success as possible, put him on television saying horrendous things as much as possible. Donald Trump gains free exposure. Televised news gains ratings and money. This works well for both. It’s not a conspiracy between them, it’s just what works for both of them so they both participate. Poke the rage in the big dog, soak in the benefits.
So, here we have our first pronoun to blame.
1. Third person plural. They. The national media. They fed off this and gained enormously from it. They let those rage strings be plucked. It’s why this was not anywhere near an issues based campaign. This is why emails were the top Hillary story. Equal opportunity rage candy for the left and the right. They damned the consequences and reaped the benefits. And they should be ashamed, but that is exactly what they are incentivized to be. It will not change.
The other festering parasite in this equation is, of course, Donald Trump himself.
I see a lot of people blaming racism and sexism on his victory. And that certainly played an enormous role. There are people, huge amounts of them, who just did not vote for Hillary because of the sound of her voice. His disgusting blame of America’s ills on immigrants. His calls for tougher policing when people of color are already victimized at a crisis level by America’s police force. Much was made of his endorsement by the KKK.
But Republicans have been exploiting this sick fervor for decades. Ever since the “southern strategy” fear of immigrants and the “others” have been a staple of rabble rousing GOP campaigns. It’s why Barack Obama’s birthplace was questioned when this would never happen to a white candidate. The KKK has endorsed the Republican nominee at least since Reagan. And remember, presidential politics is a battle for that ten to twenty percent of the country. The fleshy, malleable, incredibly frustrating how-the-hell-have-you-not-decided swing voters. After all these decades, the racists, the bigots, the hateful were already in his corner. They were going to vote for him no matter what.
Donald Trump just upped this from dog whistle to tornado siren. He made people who had already been whipped up into a frenzy over decades even angrier than usual. People who have been told, and believe, that their very religion and core values are under attack. That their checking account is barely keeping its face above water because of jobs taken by immigrants. People who believe that a terrorist attack could come at any moment. They literally believe there is an actual war on Christmas. And what’s more, the Democrats want to take your last line of defense, your guns, away from you, leaving you vulnerable in this decaying and ever more dangerous world. Remember, bullshit inoculation is rare and largely unavailable. Small dog gets little attention.
Donald was overt. He poked the anger in the dog to create an incredibly passionate base. Rage is a passion. A destructive, motivating passion. And it gets people to vote. The very real basket of deplorables were more likely to show up this year, but very few minds from that fleshy middle were changed by his hateful rhetoric. He focused that rage in the same place republicans always had, just louder and stronger and in a more terrifying way than ever before. But He had another fire to throw gasoline on.
The other anger he stoked was one that all citizens are feeling right now. People absolutely hate the way our government is operating. Congressional approval ratings have been at the bottom of the barrel of a long time now. And for good reason. Of course he ignored any details what exactly those reasons are and what the best approach to addressing them is, but I will get to that. The point right now is the feeling. The stronger, bigger dog. The feeling of being left out of the process. The feeling of being abandoned. The daily struggles that so many of us are feeling right now. People are suffering. He misdirected the ‘why’ of this, yes. With vague and/or non-exist policy proposals, of course. But the at the end of the day, the feeling was what mattered more.
He was perceived as the change candidate.
What kind of change? Not a thought or word given. Change what? Who cares, I’m too angry to think. How to change it? A question never heard over the noise.
Change from this monster of a human? This clear bigot? This obvious fraud? This man with such disdain for women? He’s right there on tape bragging about sexual assault! He mocked a disabled reporter! He wants to ban an entire religion from entering the united states! And on and on and on. A list of Donald Trump’s monstrous and stomach turning transgressions would be a multi-page essay in an of themself.
And we told them: “He’s a monster. He’s a bigot. He’s abuses women. He’s a racist.”
And they heard: “He’s not a politician.”
We live in a time where, for both enough and too much of the country, disdain for establishment politics is greater for disdain for racism, bigotry, and the whole litany of pain and hate he stands for. That is America right in the year 2016.
There are so many reasons this is frustrating. So many facts and reasoned arguments why he simply cannot be perceived this way.
But all these reasons are merely rational.
And at this point in our history, the facts just don’t matter.
That is also America in the year 2016. Facts just don’t matter as much as they should. The proverbial little dog has been ignored. Feelings matter. In terms of the prevailing American consciousness, rage is in the driver’s seat of the bus, the reasoned debater all the way at the back being thrown about, unable to get close to control.
And now all those hateful people are emboldened. Now our friends who don’t look like me, a white cis-gendered straight male, feel unsafe. And This was either never considered or a consequence not worthy of enough consideration by Donald Trump, who knew what he was doing. Winning the presidency was deemed more important. And whether it was ignorance or a shrug of indifference on his part, neither are any less acceptable than the other. He exploited that rage through lies and deceit. He did this with impunity.
Which brings us to our second pronoun. Third person singular.
2. Him. Our newly anointed leader of the free world, Donald Trump. I don’t know when it won’t break my heart to type out those words.
And what of the opposition he was facing?
It was Hillary Rodham Clinton. Trailblazer. Intelligent. Incredibly qualified. Determined and strong. Champion of great causes her entire life. Running a historic campaign for the first woman president in United States history.
And absolutely horrendous campaigner.
I will keep this quick and painless as I can. It to be honest this may not even really be her fault. I think of Hillary as the person you get the ball to. She doesn’t design the play, but you get it to her. She gets good ideas passed. She can do it. I voted for her. I wanted her to win for so many reasons. Even though I supported Bernie in the primary, I was really convinced on her. But despite her many qualifications, the fact remains that at a time when the establishment is despised her campaign cast her as an experienced member of the establishment. But perhaps even worse, she was run primarily as “not Donald Trump”.
I want to pause and reiterate. I am not speaking to Hillary Clinton the candidate, who I believe should be our president right now. But rather to the campaign. The marketing of Hillary Clinton. The image projected.
There were so many reasons to vote for Hillary Clinton other than how she was merely not Donald Trump. She was intimately aware of the workings of government in both the executive and legislative branch. She had good policy proposals, and plans on how to enact them. She is a brilliant policy wonk, able to give detailed analysis of the problems facing the country, the reasons for them, and what can be reasonably done. She did this when given the opportunity in the second presidential debate.
In a question from Ken Bone about energy policy, she pounced at the opportunity to give a detailed analysis of energy policy in under two minutes. This was followed by Donald Trump giving a vague and absolutely false ‘Oil companies are hurting right’ now tirade. I remember asking myself “How can people not see this? How can anybody possibly think his answer was even an answer and hers wasn’t excellent?”
Because the facts don’t matter.
And either she or her campaign handlers did nothing to help by giving people nothing to vote for, but rather against. By going from the emotionally evocative “hope” and “change”, to “I’m with her.” By hoping Trump’s own myriad of transgressions would sink his campaign. By grossly underestimating the power of anger and stupidity’s wretched child, the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
This is a campaign that blew a sixty point lead to an unknown socialist senator from Vermont, with the full backing of the DNC and the national media. This campaign had less support from women than Barack Obama did in 2012. This campaign so feckless that it did not occur to them to appeal to the passions of voters the way Donald Trump did. To wake the giant passions in our metaphorical big dog, while having the winning argument of the smaller one.
She deserved more passion.
I once joked that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both fortunate enough to both be running against the only candidate they could beat. In my mind knowing that by any rational measure Hillary Clinton was the better candidate, but afraid of what I thought was coming. I need to end this section now. I said I would make this quick, largely because I need to as this is the hardest section for me to type. The bottom line is this:
She couldn’t even beat Donald Trump.
So yes. Some blame lays on not so much her, but her campaign. A campaign that could not inspire the passion on the scale she deserved. She’s a genius, but not a genius campaigner. She entrusted that responsibility to people who were apparently more versed in that world. And those people applied old principals to this new climate, and they were absolutely dead wrong.
Another pronoun. Third person. Genderless object form. It.
3. The campaign of Hillary Clinton, and by extension the Democratic National Committee
And the fourth. And perhaps saddest.
4. We. Us. We haven’t done, and didn’t do enough.
So what now?
I, similar to my prognostications this summer of a Trump victory, do not share the optimism and hope of so many I see now declaring that now is the time to fight. Fight with what? His insane party now holds all three branches of government. We have no power to wield anywhere. Take back the house in 2018? The districts are already gerrymandered beyond hope. Perhaps in 2020, we can win the presidency and force a change for the 2020 census to have those districts redrawn. But in the next four years there is precious little we can do to stop it. I am sobbing as I write this. I don’t know how we can keep the fight going when right now I see a fight that is over, and we lost. I’m sorry. My heart aches with yours, but I cannot deny what truth I see in front of me.
We are now in history’s front row seat to witness the Sisyphean arc of Bush to Obama to Trump. They will repeal Obamacare. As of this writing he has assigned a top climate skeptic to head the EPA. The amount of damage they can do in just four years is something I cannot consider at this moment.
Children are tearfully asking their parents and teachers why the president hates them. Our fellow citizens are living with a fear of their own country now that I have absolutely no frame of reference for as a white man and it breaks my heart. I wish I could shoulder some of that pain with them, I want to help them carry it.
The next four years are going to be incredibly bad. And I see no weapon we can wield against it right now.
Because the facts don’t matter.
I sit now, still in utter disbelief and shame and anguished snot in what my country has wrought. Having written most of this at a cafe in Wrigleyville across the street from where I celebrated a Cubs World Series victory not even a full week ago. A symbolic victory of the joy of the underdog winning, connected through generations who have waited for this moment. It transcended sports. That wave of symbolic triumph was ridden towards what seemed a certainty of the first woman president but was ultimately a cold brick wall.
Presently I am at home, writing these final lines. One of my best friends for over ten years and cat, Gus Gus, purrs at my feet. Wanting a scratch. He stares oblivious and hopeful ready to sit on my lap. To play. Later he will sleep on top of me as he always does. Later still he will greet me at my door with a curious trill as he always does.
If I am to offer any hope., it is to appreciate and take in all of these small joys through the next four years. Allow their comfort to not go unappreciated. Take part in the simple goodnesses that pepper our world largely unnoticed. The smiles and good deeds of good people. These are real and more plentiful the more you look for them. Like gentle specks of dust dancing quietly in the air, taking longer than it seems possible to meet the ground despite gravity’s best efforts. They deserve your attention just as your fellow citizens will. At this point in history, you will be needed to perpetuate them.
There is no candidate so terrible, no government so oppressive that can stop these infinite number of tiny specks of mere opportunities for less than a second’s bliss. They can aggregate into something powerful enough to keep our happiness real in even the worst circumstances.