Seek first to understand, then to be understood. — Stephen Covey
Like a lot of people, I’m a little shell-shocked after the election. As a follower of 538, I was perhaps more prepared for a polling miss than others, but the final election results still came as a surprise. Today, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how I feel about the outcome and what it says about the United States as a whole.
Much ink is being spilled over the end of the republic and the consequences we now face, but all of that is conjecture at this point. It’s the same kind of conjecture that created such a toxic and angry election process, and it doesn’t help anyone right now.
So instead of dwelling on anger or shock, I’ve been trying to understand why it happened and how the predictions could be so off. You have to remember that the same political and media establishment that missed the call this year lambasted the Romney campaign for unskewing the polls and misreading the electorate in ‘08.
After a day’s reflection, I’m reminded of two stories. The first occurred years ago at a university in Georgia. A scandal was uncovered that involved student leaders embezzling a large amount of money from the school’s programming budget. Several students were expelled and brought up on criminal charges, leading one of the accused to commit suicide. This was obviously a huge story, and during the election for a new Student Government President, a unique candidate emerged. He ran on a single campaign promise — to abolish student government. And he won. They had one meeting to hold one vote, which passed. The Student Government at the university was disbanded.
Several years later, the Student Government was rechartered. A new constitution was passed, and new representatives were elected. But every few years, a student leader would resubmit the same resolution that had disbanded the Student Government before. To my knowledge, the resolution never passed again, but every student leader knew that the resolution would return, and should the group ever become corrupt or fail to represent the students, they were only a single vote away from dissolution.
The second story that comes to mind is something my father used to say when I was younger. Through several election cycles, he would wish for a “none of the above” option on the ballot. This would give voters a way to voice their displeasure with the available options, and presumably, if a plurality ever chose “none of the above”, new candidates would be chosen and we’d start fresh.
Smarter people than I will dissect the election a million different ways in coming months. They’ll be stories about the turnout of various groups and what it means for future elections. Political scientists will talk about the role of free media, field organizations and money on outcomes. Pollsters will look at survey methods and likely voter models and reduce the decision to a thousand plotted points on hundreds of charts and graphs.
But at the end of the day, we’re left with a conversation that must be had amongst ourselves as citizens and neighbors. Looking at Trump’s relative unpopularity among even those that voted for him, I have a hard time accepting that this election was an explicit condemnation of foreign trade deals or an acceptance of white nationalism.
I think it’s more likely that millions of America are looking around at a system that they no longer believe works for them and pulled the lever for anything different. It’s people like my father who grew up around manufacturing in Birmingham, Alabama and now sees young men who can’t find a job that pays enough to support a family. It’s people in Florida or Louisiana that built a life in construction or fishing and have witnessed local governments rolling over to business interests that wreck the coasts and rivers with seemingly no consequences. It’s older Americans who always thought they’d be able to retire with dignity but now have to fend off phone calls from predatory lenders trying to sell them on a reverse mortgage.
For these people, the system sure seems rigged. If we assume that it’s working for someone, these people can only tell that it’s not working for them. Banks can almost crash the economy and no goes to jail, but if they don’t file their taxes correctly, they’ll get a bill in the mail with penalties attached. BP can dump oil in the Gulf, wreaking havoc that will have generational consequences, and no one is prosecuted, but if they have an oil leak on their boat motor, they can be cited and fined. For them, government is often an inconvenience rather than an aid.
I am in no way saying that I agree with their choice in this election. And I honestly don’t believe that they will be helped by what comes next. But if we are to move forward together as a nation to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, we need to talk about what just happened. If we are going to grow the pie so that more people of all races and backgrounds can share in the American Dream, we need to listen to what was said last night.
I think we just saw a vote for dissolution of a system that roughly half of Americans don’t think works anymore. I think we just saw the United States pull the lever for “none of the above” politicians.
I don’t know where we go from here, other than waking up and going on with our lives like we always have. To quote Lin Manuel-Miranda, the United States is a great unfinished symphony. Though our present chords may seem jarring, we can hope that we’re simply building to something greater. But that can only happen if we all keep playing together.