Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
– Rabindranath Tagore, “Where the Mind is Without Fear”
Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us.
– Rorschach, Watchmen
Write the words. Post them onto the Internet. Look into the eyes of the people you love, look concerned, look worried, think, try to sleep, try to think of your homework, try to live. Try to find where your mind is without fear. Try to live without fear. Try.
But you can’t. Not anymore. Not today. Because Donald Trump is President of the United States. And even if you support him, it is clear that that means fear has taken root in you too, whether you admit it or not. Because why else would you vote for him, if you weren’t afraid of something. Muslims, foreigners taking your jobs, never getting your job back, ISIS, gays, transsexuals, empowered women…face it, you were afraid of something. We were all afraid.
I have to be honest with myself. In a world where so many people are not honest with themselves or others, in a world now headed by a man who takes pleasure, it seems, in dishonesty, a man who won a campaign based on dishonesty against a woman surrounded by accusations of dishonesty, I think it’s worth being true to your own self, while you still can, if you still can. I probably have undiagnosed clinical depression. I probably should go to a psychiatrist. I’m amazed my life hasn’t really collapsed yet. Anyone who knows me, really knows me, probably realizes that. Anybody who’s seen me walk off into the distance, muttering things under my breath, knows that, even if I’ll never admit it to anyone vocally, not even my parents, not even my friends, not anybody, not ever.
And to be honest, I really have never had a real reason to be depressed, at least from my perspective. I’m from an affluent family. I go to an institution that only a select few can attend. I have opportunities that some people will never have because of their gender, their skin color, their sexual orientation. I didn’t have a good reason, I told myself, and yet I was sad anyway. Reminding myself that I should be happy, in some ways, made it worse.
And the worst moments were when I was afraid. When I stood on a freezing cold day on Sherman Avenue because I couldn’t face myself. When I stood over broken glass because I didn’t know what would happen. All for nothing, all for nothing, all for nothing.
And here we are. With the events of the 2016 presidential election, I might have a “real reason”. And if the people and ideas I care about start to disappear, literally and metaphysically, and this nation embarks on the path it has chosen for itself, those reasons will metastasize and crash through my mind. And I’m terrified. But that’s how America just is, now.
But you shouldn’t be reading this for my sob stories. You should be reading this because I have some analysis, because maybe some random 19-year-old Korean-American kid from Warwick, NY who has consumed more history, literature, theology, political theory and philosophy than our president-elect has something to say. And you might even agree with it, given that you are probably a liberal, young and outraged citizen of the United States.
This is a failure of the political system. You may think it’s a social catastrophe, or an economic catastrophe, or a catastrophe on so many different intellectual levels, but I consider this to be a failure of politics itself. It’s also a failure of the liberal echo chamber, the primary system, and a vast network of other things in American society.
However, it is most damningly a failure of a very specific brand of politics, specifically the “Western” liberal tradition that has existed, in some way, since the Founding Fathers signed the United States Constitution into law in 1787. It is a failure of the Western liberal tradition (both the core of the Democratic and Republican parties, in my opinion) to spread the fruits of globalization to a large population of its citizenry and retain its strength. The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago. This question was supposed to be over. The McWorld had triumphed. Twenty-five years ago, if you told my immigrant grandfather that the United States would elect a racist demagogue to the presidency, he would have laughed in your face and gone back to running his small business.
But how do we explain what has happened? I look to foreign policy first, because what has occurred outside our borders is the first thing that reflects back to us.
I should explain the use of “McWorld” here. In 1995, political theorist and all-around intellectual Benjamin Barber wrote an article called “Jihad vs. The McWorld”. In it, he argued that, with the collapse of communism, the next global conflict would become a conflict between “tribalism” typified by a return to conservative values and “globalism”, a world committed to international trade, economic growth, and ostensibly committed to increasing the progressiveness of society. It was Aldous Huxley vs. A Canticle for Leibowitz. It was Fahrenheit 451 vs. “The American Theocracy“. It was the mujahideen against the Western world.
Ironically, the last 25 years of American foreign and economic policy has hinged on limiting the forces of “tribalism”. That includes counter-terrorist policy, by the way. Who opposed the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein, twice? Who fought against the tribalism that overflowed during the Yugoslav Wars? The United Nations, essentially, is a force that polices the world for tribalist activities.
“The aim of many of these small-scale wars is to redraw boundaries, to implode states and resecure parochial identities: to escape McWorld’s dully insistent imperatives. The mood is that of Jihad: war not as an instrument of policy but as an emblem of identity, an expression of community, an end in itself. Even where there is no shooting war, there is fractiousness, secession, and the quest for ever smaller communities.”
-Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld, 1995
But look at the irony of that statement. The movement to support Trump can basically be summed up in the words “resecure parochial identities: to escape McWorld’s dully insistent imperatives“. Add in the highly religious overtones of the current Republican party and, whoops, you’ve created a mutated form of “jihad”. Which is, of course, ironic as hell. What country works to destroy ISIS, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood and other similar tribalist organizations? The United States, aka, the same group of people just elected Donald Trump, partly in order to fight those jihadis. Are they that different from the conservative, religious, lower to middle class backers of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? Erdogan in Turkey? Marine le Pen? I don’t know anymore.
But you’ve heard all this, I hope, in the election “postgame” and in other intellectual sources. Barber’s main point was that this conflict, on both ends, could threaten democracy, whether through rampant corporatization or tribalist fury. We have chosen the latter.
So how exactly did western liberalism fail in this instance? Through hubris, arrogance and shortsightedness, yes, but also because enough people despised the political system enough to vote against it. By the way, I’m intentionally using “liberalism” in a duality here, as both our modern left-wing definition and the classic definition, both of which have been utterly defeated. So essentially, I’m referring to everyone left of Jeb Bush.
In the end, it came down to religion, economics, gender and race, the topics that have been causing tribalist angst for half a century. It came down to a simple lack of understanding, and perhaps sympathy, I suppose for a vast part of the voting electorate. I can’t properly cover gender, because I don’t have the qualifications. I’ll take a shot at the other three.
There are plenty of people reading this who are, what I would consider, secular. There’s another large section of people reading this who are nominally Christian, and there’s a section of people reading this who are really Christian. The people in the last category should have no real surprise that rural America refused to vote for Hillary Clinton.
For the entirety of my reasoning, thinking life, all I’ve repeatedly heard about when I go to my (Protestant) church events is how Christianity is under attack by everything. The media, the government, and the popular culture are all conflated with evil. Yes, not a rationalist perspective, but the devil himself. Christians in America, and especially the ones in more rural area, quite honestly, legitimately view themselves as a persecuted group. How can this be possible, you ask?
It’s hard to compromise with faith, and the Democrats just gave up on trying to do so in this election. And while not all of the people in a congregation will agree with a strict interpretation of the Bible, enough people will. The areas that swung the vote for Trump are rural, Christian and white. We know that much. The tenets are universal and simple: Christianity is being attacked and persecuted abroad and within our borders, Christianity is losing hold over the population because the devil has poisoned our political system, the devil is taking our youth with rap music, etc. I’ve heard it all before. And, although you’d be right in considering me a pretty left-wing dude, I’m absolutely certain I can fake my way through a conversation with a conservative right-wing Christian pundit, and give textual Bible references to boot. That’s just how the religion works.
The simple fact is, the conservative values espoused in the Bible are diametrically opposed to the liberal agenda. I’m done sugarcoating it. This is the reality. I’ve sat in a church pew and heard pastors say that they simply “do not approve” of homosexuality, and would have to be disappointed in their children if they “turned out to be gay”. I’ve heard multiple sermons from multiple people stating, with few reservations, that wives should always be subordinate to their husbands, with textual evidence pointing Colossians 3:18, among other passages. I’ve heard people just outright say that Mohammed was a false prophet and that all Muslims were damned, and then give theological backing for it. And this is from a “more liberal” end of Christianity, the Korean-American communities of New Jersey, most of whom probably voted for HRC anyway.
But, you say, religion wasn’t an issue in this campaign. Donald Trump was so outlandish, so “not good” that anyone with a Christian conscience couldn’t even imagine voting for him. False (Enjoy this link of the CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, an organization my family has donated to for each Christmas for eight years running, saying that Christians should “hold their noses” and vote for him). It may have bothered people, it may have unsettled them, but since they had no option, they ended up voting for him. And thus, 80 percent of white evangelicals block voted for him, swinging the vote in multiple key states. They don’t care about what the mainstream media thinks. They don’t care about what rich, urban liberal elites think.
As someone who was raised as an evangelical Christian, this does not surprise me in the slightest. I would suspect that most of these people actually voted with their conscience, believing that Trump was better than the alternative, a political insider who had never, and would never, support them. And it’s not like the Clinton campaign hid it, either. It the end, the evangelicals were just enough, leaving me in a position where I cannot and will not defend them. I guess I’m a minority in my own religion.
The economic question is murkier. Economics is notoriously difficult to draw proper conclusions, but I will try my best. For me, the issue begins with the concentration of wealth into the hands of very few people. These people are on both ends of the political spectrum, and judging by the imminent collapse of world markets, they are not thrilled with the outcome. Globalization and technological advancement, in a situation akin to the expansion of the Roman Republic, has brought in an influx of new wealth, new people and new goods to the United States. However, like the Roman Republic, this has essentially created a pseudo-plutocracy, typified most especially in this election by Hillary Clinton. And of course, the Romans voted for every political demagogue they could get their hands on, and we have done the same.
According to news reports I consumed while panicked on my couch last night, it appears that the economy was a major reason behind the Trump base, perhaps the central reason. For people who look at the unemployment rate and the stock market, this makes no sense. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that the disappearance of manufacturing jobs has led to a groundswell of Trump support. But manufacturing jobs aren’t disappearing. They have actually risen in the past decade. What’s disappearing is the ability for non-college educated people to gain a suitable method of employment. Current manufacturing jobs, with their technological precision, do not need “blue-collar” workers, and all attempts to bring back manufacturing jobs to America have not benefitted that class. Thus, I highly doubt the gaudy unemployment figures are fully capturing what is going on in Middle America. I would assume there is a lot of underemployment, people who have been forced out of the workforce due to age, and therefore a lot of anger.
I gotta be totally honest, I don’t give two fucks about the national unemployment rate either. And in the end, the national unemployment rate isn’t getting me a job out of college. The unemployment rate is a barometer of economic performance, not a reason to make your life better. Is voting for a racist demagogue the answer? Absolutely not, but it appears the McWorld was fundamentally incapable of giving these people any hope. And so they voted the McWorld out of office.
Is Donald Trump able to bring those jobs back? Probably not, and the blue-collar workers may even understand that, deep down. But he at least poses an alternative to the current political system, and the current political system definitely isn’t bringing those jobs back. In this case, the economics lined up perfectly with religious and racial sentiment, which proved just enough to defeat the presidential establishment in the primaries and the general election. Of course, the current economic system has also let down millions of blacks, Hispanics and Asians, but it appears that not enough of them were galvanized by the Democratic campaign.
I also have heard the Internet caterwauls from the Bernie supporters screaming: “I told you so! The primaries were rigged against the better candidate!” And yes, there is fairly substantial evidence that the DNC never intended for Sanders to have a chance. And the fact that Sanders provided such a challenge for Clinton in the first place, winning popularity in the Midwestern states she failed in, is concerning. The embittered now wish they had nominated their own outsider candidate, whose economic populism could have resonated with more white voters.
While that is a compelling “what-if”, I struggle to see how an elderly Jewish socialist would have managed to gain more popular support than Hillary Clinton. Maybe he could have. I know I would have voted for him. I heard many people I respect say he was a “once in a lifetime” candidate. But it would’ve been a high-risk play, and the political establishment is allergic to risk. The DNC wanted to play it safe, and I cannot really blame them for that. When you appear to have a group of religious lunatics on the other side of the fence, there’s very little that can be done about it. Of course, simply calling them religious lunatics ensured that they would never, ever vote for you, but that’s besides the point, I guess. There’s also an implicit gender bias at play here, which again, I don’t feel qualified to talk about, but probably exists.
But there were more than poor whites that voted for him. There simply aren’t enough white voters to give a presidential candidate 48 percent of the popular vote. The Republicans who wanted to “play it safe” ended up voting for him too. And it’s hard to fathom, but it happened.
Lastly, I will give my brief and incomplete analysis on the racial question, which has essentially been the “leading tone” of this presidential election. The leading tone, in music theory, is the note just beneath the tonic note that sets up a minor key. It appears that a large amount of Americans simply didn’t want to coexist alongside non-white people. Hmmm…I don’t really know what to say about that reality, as a non-white person myself.
But that’s still a vast oversimplification. Donald Trump didn’t win the presidency solely because he was racist (although, we must admit, horrifyingly, that was a major factor). He won, in part, because the Washington political base failed its constituents. He won because people assumed they weren’t being heard. He won, I think primarily, because the western liberal political system failed, not because people were racist. And you go through the arguments, and the justifications, and then you remember that a lot of what was “unheard”, was just blatantly racist, and we’re back at the leading tone, just as minor scales were designed. But that’s only the leading tone. So…
…but given everything we’ve seen in the race relations of this country for 150 years, is anyone surprised?
If there’s any consolation (or joy) to tou, it will be that the new right-wing coalition will find it extremely hard to govern. As French revolutionary and architect of the Terror Louis Antoine de Saint-Just once wrote, “no man can reign innocently”. It will be criticized, mocked, threatened and obstructed, just as what occurred to the regime before it. And sure, they have majorities, etc., etc. but Barack Obama had majorities from 2008-2010 and the Republicans still obstructed everything. If Trump suspends the Constitution, or something, all bets are off, but even then, governing is immensely difficult.