How Do We Move Forward Together?

Please continue reading below, where I’ve posted additional thoughts, and links to articles and other resources.

Here is my original post:

By this time next week we will know who we have elected to be the next President of the United States.

For now, it feels like we’ve fired off our best-engineered rockets to deflect an asteroid headed toward Earth. There is nothing more we can now do but hold our collective breath and wait, hoping our efforts were enough. We won’t know until the icy dirtball either slams into us, or slips by too close for comfort, flying back into the darkness from whence it came. Either way, we will be left shattered by what the experience has revealed about many of our fellow citizens.

At this point in the political process everyone has made up their mind, and the outcome will be what it will be.

However things end up, we have important work ahead, and healing to be done. These things will take decades, and we need to get started.

It’s easy to dislike and dismiss many of the people who have supported Trump. They come across as mean, uninformed, paranoid, fearful, selfish, hateful, angry, and bitter. If their candidate loses it will confirm their belief that everyone is conspiring against them, that they cannot win. Even worse if their candidate prevails. They will soon be sorely disappointed to learn that their big-talking superhero cannot save them after all. He cannot build the promised wall to protect them, cannot expel from the country the 11 million people they blame for many of their troubles, and cannot bring back their well-paying manufacturing jobs. Their lives will not be improved. Their hopelessness and anger will only be amplified. As many have pointed out, Trump is not the problem. Trump’s popularity is only a symptom of the problem.

What to do? How do we begin to move forward? Education? Social programs? New industries? Those are how-do-we-get-there strategies. First we have to consider where we are going. We have to work on developing a shared vision for the future of the country.

In Aikido we try to connect with our attacker – finding our common humanity – even someone who is trying to do us physical harm. We try to see things from their perspective and, as best we can, resolve conflict to everyone’s mutual benefit.

An attacker is someone who has lost control. Someone who is in pain and lashing out.

The people who have been supporting Trump are hurting. They feel out of control. They have done their best, worked hard, and followed the rules that worked for previous generations. Many simply don’t have the resources or ability to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They’ve been taught to devalue education, science, civility, and compassion as liberal, or worse, feminine. The economy and culture have changed fasted than they could adapt. They have been left behind, and are resentful and afraid.

They are refugees in their own country, banding together in an attempt to return to a more familiar time and way of living. But like those whose cities have been destroyed by war, there is nowhere to return to. The only option is to go forward. How do we help them assimilate and become successful, peaceful, and happy in the future that’s actually before us all?

p.s. Here are some additional thoughts.

[3 Nov. 2016] I first shared a link to this along with this short intro text: “Looking to the future (after next week), and considering how to best help refugees assimilate and become productive members of society.” My post only got one comment, from a friend who apparently didn’t read it, and thought I was talking about immigrants. He said: “The definitive word being assimilate.” Fair enough. That’s still a legit idea in this context – they have to be willing to assimilate.

The next morning I shared the link again, this time saying something a little different:

“I don’t like to resort to clickbait headlines, but I might need to rewrite this one, because I don’t think anyone actually read the article yesterday. How about:

“The Surprising Refugee Crisis You Might Not Have Thought About — Millions are here already! Poorly educated, unskilled, with no future, and no place to go home to. How can we help them assimilate into our modern, tolerant culture?”

But seriously, it a good analogy. Is it too late for the current generation? Do we give up and focus on the kids? Are they willing to change, or stubbornly demanding that the culture change to suit their beliefs and way of life?”

That elicited more discussion, and some good ideas, including expanding educational opportunities, and ensuring everyone has access to broadband Internet, without which education and employment are practically unattainable.

[4 Nov. 2016] A friend shared an article with me that, while not actually written directly in response to what I said in my post above, could have been. Assuming it is correct, many of my (and the media’s) assumptions about Trump voters were dead wrong. Read it:

Taking Trump voters’ concerns seriously means listening to what they’re actually saying

The author, Dylan Matthews, reveals that our collective story about Trump supporters being the poor, ignorant sods left behind as the world and economy changed around them, is fiction.

“Trump’s supporters are not the wretched of the earth”
“The press has gotten extremely comfortable with describing a Trump electorate that simply doesn’t exist. [Writer, Michelle] Cottle describes [Trump’s] supporters as “white voters living on the edges of the economy.” This is, in nearly every particular, wrong.”

That demographic exists, to be sure, and they do need help (see links below to Clinton’s factsheets on poverty and rural America), but they are not Trump’s supporters.

“There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.”

He goes on to provide detailed information correcting the poor-left-behind-factory-worker narrative. (Read it, please.) However, after going down the road of not pandering to Trump’s demographic for a while, the author still comes back around to this:

“One thing this analysis decidedly does not imply is “Hey, Trump supporters are just racists, let’s give up on them.” Trump’s nomination is a threat to America that must be addressed and never allowed to happen again. Giving up is not an option. We have to figure out some way to respond.”

He goes on to say:

“What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.”

So, we’re essentially back where we started, just with a clearer picture of the underlying problem. These people are feeling threatened, left out, and afraid. (And like many people who are fearful, they come across as angry, stupid bullies.) They want to go back to what’s familiar. Their efforts to do that present a danger to all of us. How do we get them on board, to our mutual benefit? Or are they so determined to retreat into their comfort zone that it’s just not a possibility?

I don’t know. That’s the big question. Are they actually opposed to living in a society where people are treated equally and everyone succeeds together, or do they just think it’s not possible? I am back to thinking in terms of refugees. Is it not possible to assimilate these people into a culture that works better for everyone?

In Aikido we try to resolve conflict through non-violent collaboration whenever possible. Practicing off-the-mat Aikido – applying the principles we practice in the dojo to situations in life outside – means adopting a new paradigm: conflict does not have to be a zero-sum game, where you have to lose for me to win. As in many of humanity’s popular religions, we practice loving the attacker, realizing that we are not separate, trying to see the world through their eyes. We try to understand what’s at the heart of the conflict. But this does not mean passively tolerating harmful behavior. It does not mean turning and running away, cheerfully accepting blows, or closing our eyes and pretending that the attack isn’t happening. It can mean setting clear boundaries, speaking directly, and taking decisive action. In our practice on the mat this means literally turning to see things from our partner’s point of view, and joining with the direction of their attack. It’s only from that vantage point that we can begin to redirect their energy for a better outcome.

Relevant articles & resources

Some shed light on the problem. Others suggest solutions.

The white flight of Derek Black

The story of how one young man, Derek Black, who was raised to be a leader in the world of white supremacists. His mind and heart were changed by his friends at college, who took the courageous step of including him instead of turning their backs.

“A few people in the audience started to clap, and then a few more began to whistle, and before long the whole group was applauding. “Our moment,” Derek said, because at least in this room there was consensus. They believed white nationalism was about to drive a political revolution. They believed, at least for the moment, that Derek would help lead it.

“Years from now, we will look back on this,” he said. “The great intellectual move to save white people started today.”

“Ostracizing Derek won’t accomplish anything,” one student wrote.

“We have a chance to be real activists and actually affect one of the leaders of white supremacy in America. This is not an exaggeration. It would be a victory for civil rights.”

“Who’s clever enough to think of something we can do to change this guy’s mind?”

One of Derek’s acquaintances from that first semester decided he might have an idea.”

What I learned after 100,000 miles on the road talking to Trump supporters
Donald Trump’s message resonates in the most forgotten corners of the US, because viewed from these places, America no longer seems a great country

The above link is to the Facebook post about the article. The comments there illustrate the us/them divide that keeps us stuck in this mess. Some are angry, others sympathetic. Many are thought-provoking.

Trump: Tribune Of Poor White People

“… No one seems to understand why conventional blunders do nothing to Trump. But in a lot of ways, what elites see as blunders people back home see as someone who–finally–conducts themselves in a relatable way. He shoots from the hip; he’s not constantly afraid of offending someone; he’ll get angry about politics; he’ll call someone a liar or a fraud. This is how a lot of people in the white working class actually talk about politics, and even many elites recognize how refreshing and entertaining it can be! So it’s not really a blunder as much as it is a rich, privileged Wharton grad connecting to people back home through style and tone. Viewed like this, all the talk about “political correctness” isn’t about any specific substantive point, as much as it is a way of expanding the scope of acceptable behavior. People don’t want to believe they have to speak like Obama or Clinton to participate meaningfully in politics, because most of us don’t speak like Obama or Clinton.”

Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance

“[Hillbilly Elegy] couldn’t have been better timed…a harrowing portrait of much that has gone wrong in America over the past two generations…an honest look at the dysfunction that afflicts too many working-class Americans.” (National Review)

Hillary Clinton’s Plan for a Vibrant Rural America (factsheet)

Hillary Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda”: Revitalizing the Economy in Communities Left Behind (factsheet)

Modern Farmer – Where Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump Land On Food And Farming Issues

Local and Regional Food Systems
Trump: Trump’s platform does not specifically mention food, agriculture, or rural communities, and to our knowledge he has never directly addressed the subject of local and regional food systems.

But he recently released a list of agriculture advisors that paints a vivid picture of the sort of policies to expect under a President Trump. The 65 names on the list are a who’s who of industrial agriculture advocates, including senators, governors, state ag commissioners, and agribusiness executives. It’s safe to say that the Trump ag team supports feedlots over farmers markets.

Clinton: Unlike Trump, Clinton’s platform includes a detailed “plan for a vibrant rural America”, which includes “build[ing] a strong local and regional food system by doubling funding for the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program to expand food hubs, farmers markets…and to encourage direct sales to local schools, hospitals, retailers and wholesalers.”

Current USDA secretary Tom Vilsack is Clinton’s top agriculture advisor, signaling the likely continuation of his agency’s nascent local food initiatives, such as the Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer program. That doesn’t mean Clinton and Vilsack aren’t also staunch allies of so-called Big Ag—they make no claims to the contrary. During primary season, Clinton has been viciously attacked by liberal voters for her ties to Monsanto.”

Why poor white Americans are dying of despair, by Ryan Cooper
Poor white Americans are dying of despair. And racism is to blame.

Let’s Talk About Millennial Poverty
We followed the path we were told to follow. So how did we end up more poor than our parents?

“What if people with resources — people who went to college at a time when they could pay for college without mountains of debt, or people whose parents were fortunate enough to be able to save for them, on their behalf—stopped chiding those without for their perceived poor decisions and instead decided to actually address the problem, which is that this is an economic climate wherein it is damn near impossible to get out of poverty?”