On Tuesday November 8th, I was in Amsterdam with Job van Achterberg. I did a presentation for Fronteers monthly meetup. The organizers of Fronteers had set Job and I up in a fantastic venue to do a couple of accessibility talks. It was a TV studio that also had a bar. Fronteers brought in food and I met – and reconnected with – a ton of awesome people in the Amsterdam developer scene. The prior day, we did talks in Berlin at the Contentful offices. After the Fronteers event, we ran into Yoav Weiss and Jason Grigsby, both of whom were in town for a different event. Being election night in the US, naturally the topic turned to politics.
Whenever a political conversation starts, people generally dance around their real feelings. They tend to feel each other out to ensure that the conversation doesn’t turn into an argument. In this case, it didn’t take very long for it to become clear that nobody involved in the conversation wanted Donald Trump to become elected. Grigsby seemed clearly pro-Hillary whereas I viewed her as my 2nd choice after Bernie Sanders. Either way, Trump was an unacceptable candidate to everyone in the conversation.
After a few drinks, I went to my room. Because Amsterdam is 6 hours ahead of the US East Coast, by the time I went to bed it was still too early to see any results from the US election. Regardless, I was convinced we’d have our first female President of the United States. There was no “hope” about it at this point. In my mind there was no way the United States would elect Trump, so all I was waiting for was confirmation. The election would be over and we could close off the chaos of 2016 with the positive vibes from averting a disaster.
Around 3am I was awakened by the buzz of my iPhone vibrating on the nightstand. I had a volley of text messages from my wife, telling me that Trump was winning. “Whatever”, I wrote back, “West coast hasn’t closed yet”, and I went back to sleep. I woke up at 6am. “I am so sorry dude. Take your time if you need to. I can’t imagine how this must feel” was the text message I got from Job. My stomach sank. I looked at the news on my phone. Trump won. What-the-fuck?
Everything was a fog that morning. We were supposed to go to Dusseldorf that morning after breakfast. I was doing a new talk, but now my brain was filled with fear and uncertainty. I took my morning shower, got dressed, and met Job for breakfast. It all felt like my morning routine lasted both one minute and a year at the same time. How did we get here? How did my fellow Americans get this so wrong? When will the re-count start?
Donald Trump was a joke candidate. I half suspected he was planted by the Clinton campaign to ensure Hillary got elected. Trump had spent the last 7 years leading the Birther movement. He literally mocked a disabled reporter on TV. He was caught on tape saying that when you’re rich you can grab women “by the pussy” and “they like it”. His speeches had the cohesiveness and logical consistency of the drunk bar regular who everyone tolerates – even mocks – when he gets trashed and talks about the latest alien conspiracy. I was relieved when Trump got the GOP nomination over someone like Marco Rubio – an attractive, young, white male who tows the GOP party line. I was convinced that Trump was so absolutely repulsive that there is no way he’d have a chance of winning. Trump is more like a caricature of the GOP. He’s the prototype for everything worth mocking about the uninformed, ignorant, fact-averse, dogmatic, and hateful GOP voter. He’s the type of guy the GOP has been exploiting due to their ignorance. Despite the way he wants to present himself, he’s not the kind of person who is a Puppet Master but one of the puppets. How could anyone actually vote for Trump?
It is 9 months later and I still don’t know. Pundits offer plenty of analysis, but none of it really adds up. The GOP has been in a continuous detachment from logic for decades now, but as a progressive the gap between George W. Bush and Donald Trump is a chasm. In the 2000 election, I felt the difference between Gore and Bush was a philosophical one. For the most part, Gore was left-of-center and Bush was right-of-center – both of whom moved to the center to gain votes but neither could have qualified as extreme at any point. The Reagan era really signaled the beginning of the trend, however, of Republicans embracing extreme social elements we see so clearly today. Bush Sr. was worse than Reagan, Bush Jr. was worse than Sr., Romney worse than both, but none of them could be considered “scary”. None of them seemed detached from reality. All of them seemed driven to push the country to the right as much as they could while also aware that they needed to ensure well-being of their party, protect their chances (and the chances of their party members) for re-election. They cared and were mindful of the pressures they faced from the left. They clearly had their own agendas, but wanted to carefully steer their agendas. The real goal of the GOP has been to lower barriers to profitability for the rich. The benefactors of the GOP agenda are people whose incomes are measured within quarterly financial reports. Regulations and taxes are barriers to short-term corporate profits. The “party elite” of the GOP still operate this way and the far-right elements of the GOP were viewed as nothing more than useful idiots. They’re loyal, but idiots nonetheless, and the GOP leadership appease these idiots simply to retain their loyaly.
In this context, Donald Trump can be viewed in one of two ways: As either Idiot-in-Chief or Exploiter-in-Chief. He’s either the Pied Piper of the extreme wing of the GOP – a master conman, embracing and exploiting these useful idiots – or he’s such an idiot himself that they’re just naturally drawn to him. In the former case, we can regard Trump as an evil genius. In the latter case, we’re faced with the fear and uncertainty of dealing with a profoundly stupid man at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth. Unfortunately, we have Hanlon’s Razor to contend with: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity..
We must remember, this is a man who spent the entire Obama presidency trying to convince everyone that Obama was not born in the United States. Trump even continued this campaign of birtherism after Obama released his actual birth certificate. Even if Trump is evil, he’s still stupid enough to think that he could continue this type of shenanigan and be taken seriously by others. Evil and stupid are a horrible combination. And this takes me to the actual point of this blog post.
Voters have a moral obligation to make their voting decision based on facts
My friends on Facebook, where I’m truly unrestrained in my political expressions, know that I did not want to vote for Hillary Clinton. To this day I maintain that Bernie Sanders was the best option of all candidates of both parties. I voted for Hillary in the general election because she was objectively the best candidate of the two that remained.
Our political discourse in the United States is dominated heated discussion around lightning-rod topics like abortion and climate change. Left-wing conspiracy theorists claim that this is all carefully curated to keep “us” fighting with each other so that we remain distracted enough that “they” can continue with their own agendas. Regardless of whether or not that is true, it sure seems like the media has taken the bait, with Fox News and MSNBC leading the charge on behalf of the Right and the Left and freely giving airtime to pundits who continue to drive that wedge.
The true failure however, rests in the hands of the individual. American society has abandoned its ability to think critically. Never in our history have we had such the facts necessary to make informed decisions. Despite this access to information, we still seem just as uninformed as we were generations ago. The typical American has direct access to the entirety of human knowledge via the Web. Each of us can take the time to pause for a moment and verify the claims that politicians, pundits, and peers make (and repeat) during political discussions. Despite this, we still have partisans spreading lies and the public believing and repeating these lies instead of shunning these purveyors of deception.
Here’s one such example:
By the way, Robert E Lee is every bit as American as George Washington.
Lee wasn’t fighting the United States. He was fighting the North.
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) August 18, 2017
This sort of statement is unquestionably false, and the evidence of its falseness can be found in any history book in any secondary school in any district in the United States. The Confederate States of America seceded from the United States. Each seceding state produced their own Declaration of Causes or Articles of Secession citing their reasons for leaving the United States. Those conspiracy theorists who do not believe books can even read those original documents from the southern states themselves. At any rate, by definition secession means that these States were no longer part of the United States of America. General Robert E. Lee was commander of their armies during a war that they waged against the United States of America. Put bluntly: while Robert E. Lee was an American before the secession and he was very obviously stopped being one when he became an enemy combatant against the US. He didn’t fight against “The North”, he fought against the United States of America.
After the war, many Confederate leaders were charged with treason against the United States. A large reason that many of the leaders of the Confederacy weren’t tried and hanged was due to the very gracious amnesty granted by Johnson in an attempt to reunify the country and bring peace. This does not mean they were not punished. Robert E. Lee lost his right to vote and lost property. In fact, Arlington National Cemetery exists on land seized from Robert E. Lee. The statement made by Walsh, above, isn’t merely incorrect but a blatant lie.
Our current political atmosphere is polluted by liars and deniers using falsehoods to trick other people into falling in line based on raw emotion and blind allegiances that are constantly bolstered by more and more lies. Facts exist outside of one’s political affiliation. A thing is either true or false regardless of how you feel about it. Emotions and ideals cannot influence whether a statement is accurate. It is nothing short of evil to knowingly bear false witness to reality or to deny truth in order to attain one’s goals. The same can be said for those who believe and repeat those falsehoods instead of verifying counterclaims.
Lying to the American public should be exposed aggressively, regardless of the political affiliation of the liar. Liars should be exposed, ridiculed, and shunned. Compulsive liars should not be given airtime on news channels unless the aim is to expose the liar, and the public should just liars harshly even if the lies fit into our political ideals.
…It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. — Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863
In my opinion we will never be a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” if we allow politicians and pundits to lie to the people.