A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Coronation

Although all presidential elections in the US are “historic,” our most recent election will probably go down in history as the most historic of all. As most of you already know, the election featured the first woman candidate to be nominated by a major political party, and the first major oligarch who pretended to be the candidate of the people. It also featured more—a lot more—of the usual yelling and screaming—and sometimes punching and shoving—than most US presidential contests.

One of the influencing factors was, of course, Hillary Clinton, the first woman in history to be nominated by a major political party, and Donald Trump, a businessman and “reality” TV star and producer. As for timing in history, the US had suffered a serious economic downturn in 2008 and was busily engaged in a number of wars in the Mid-East, so it was easy to overlook the accomplishments of President Obama, many resented him because he was the first African-American president in US history.

You have probably heard the expression, May you live in interesting times. “Interesting times” are typically punctuated by wars and political intrigue, and we currently have both in abundance. Books and movies have, of course, been forecasting a dystopian future for a long time. To mention just a few (and ones you doubtless know at least something about), George Orwell’s 1984 is perhaps the best known. Because they are so much more visually, movies have dominated the dystopian genre recently. The Aliens series is perhaps the best known. In that series, “the Company” wants to capture and study one of the aliens so that they can “weaponize” it. We have related dystopian themes in Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner. The common theme of dystopian literature (including films) is that rich people exploit poor people for “fun” and profit.

One of the things rarely covered in dystopian literature (including both books and movies) is how the culture in question went from a functioning democracy to what for most of those in the film is a dystopian nightmare. My guess at this point is that the people voted for it—not on purpose, of course, but because they were persuaded it would be the best option. About 60 years ago, an older cousin was teaching me to play chess. At some point, she asked me whether I thought something like what had happened in Germany in the 1930s could happen in the States. I said, “No, I don’t think so.” She thought I was wrong.

At this point, I no longer remember the reasons she provided, but I have never forgotten the conversation. And, of course, current conversations about the similarities between Trump and Hitler have been in the recent news with some regularity. Hitler’s rise to power began in 1913, but it wasn’t until 1930 that Hitler really took over. And it wasn’t until 1938 that the really serious stuff began. If we are on that path&#151:and I’m not saying that we are—Trump and his followers still have a lot of time to move more fully in that direction. And those who prefer a different outcome, still have a lot of time to change our political course.

Germany, of course, was badly damaged by WWI, and the suffering following the end of that war allowed Hitler to come to power. It also created a great deal of resentment of those who weren’t “true Germans.” While we in the States haven’t suffered anything quite as bad as that in the Germany of the 1920s, we have definitely had pockets of “left-behinds” (not to be confused with those left behind at the time of the Second Coming of Christ). Although it is too much of a generalization, Clinton won urban voters, while Trump won rural voters. In some ways, it’s the coastal states and the flyover states. For one reason or another, many of those living in the “flyover” states thought they would do better having Trump in the White House.

Trump, of course, promised to help the rural communities by bringing back coal. He also promised to increase oil and gas jobs, and to bring back jobs in steel and manufacturing. Anyone who might serve as president (including Clinton, had she been elected) would make an effort to boost the economy in areas influenced by changing technologies. Manufacturing technologies change. At one time, every town had a number of buggy whip makers. Buggy whips are still around, of course, but these days they are made by machines rather than by individual craftsmen. Even if we are able to figure out how to use more coal and oil without killing everything living on the surface of the earth, the old jobs aren’t coming back. People will be replaced by machines. Trump isn’t going to change that. Hillary could not have changed that, either. People waiting and hoping for the resurgence of assembly line jobs like those of the 1950s will be disappointed. We need to develop jobs and industries that will support those people.

Xenophobia is a natural result of fear, and especially fear of change. Although every culture has a history of xenophobia, we seem to have had more than our share in the States. In the pioneer days, a common saying was “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Of course, that saying probably originates from knowing that white people have stolen the land from the Native Americans. I suspect that sense is also responsible for the fear of immigrants: we (whites) stole the land from the Indians, and other ethnicities will steal what’s ours from us. The movie Gangs of New York chronicles the conflicts between Irish and Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century. Much of the racial strife in the States is a direct result of slavery and associated guilt and anger. The natural human response to bad things is, “It can’t be my fault, so it must be yours.”

We are, I think at a pivotal time in our history. A lot is going on. Much of the world is embroiled in war, resulting in mass migrations of those attempting to escape the conflict. Regardless of what the deniers say, the global warming is beginning to have a major influence on life on earth, and we do not have a Planet B readily available. Most of the challenges we face would have needed to be faced regardless of who was elected. Had Hillary been elected, the advantage would (probably) have been a slower, less tumultuous transition into the future. With Trump in office, the advantage will (probably) be a faster, more painful transition. A metaphor might be treating cancer with chemotherapy over many months or treating it with major surgery.

While we’re facing the coming “surgery,” remember that fear always underlies hate. If you hate Trump (or hated Hillary), look for the underlying fear. Getting rid of Trump (or Hillary) won’t make your fear go away. All he (or she) did was provide focus for your fear. The same is true for race-based hatred. The fear would be there regardless of whether the race you had attached it to. All you need to do is look at human history to see that people found reasons to hate each other and kill each other when “the other” was the same race. This is true on every continent. The English spent a lot of time killing each other. The French, Germans, Italians, and other Europeans also spent a lot of time killing each other long before they started invading “foreign” countries. So did the Chinese and the Japanese. And so did those who live in what’s now called the Mideast—if you’ve read what Christians call the Old Testament, you know that there’s a new and different war in every chapter.

So it is not just Trump (or Hillary) but it is an underlying fear that you haven’t been able to address directly. I fully understand that it is easier to blame someone or something else than it is to look inside for the real cause of the fear, but we need to do that. Yes, we not you. If you find it first, please let me know….

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