27 November 2016
It’s been just over two weeks since the US Presidential election, and like many around me, I’m still gathering my thoughts. At some point, I think I’d like to think more carefully about some of the things running around my head - but for now, here are some main thoughts, in no particular order.
Free speech vs hate speech: something that I’ve heard Americans struggle with over the past few days. Is it better that now, people are saying hateful things that previously they said behind closed doors? Or is it better that they say them out loud so that they can be dealt with head on, rather than swept under the carpet. Now, it feels like a set of carefully developed social norms have been broken and I feel like this is definitely a bad thing. In this regard, some of the issue are similar to post-Brexit, where people became emboldened to say racist or hateful things - and language that dehumanises a group of people cannot be excused by ‘free speech’.
Understanding the intricacies of political systems is so important: this is an area of my own education that is sorely lacking. Now, being in the US and knowing that next summer I’ll be going back to Germany in time for the national elections there, it feels like understanding how the German political system actually works is so important to be able to understand the details of what’s going on. Similarly, here, trying to understand what damage Trump can actually do is hard without knowing what kinds of systems he’ll be working within.
Time to stop relying on political systems: the above point still withstanding, it’s been amazing to me how much people here refer to their constitution in arguments and debates. Their faith in this document as the be-all and end-all of what is and isn’t possible is kind of incredible to see. Call me cynical, but it feels like now would be a good time to look past what is legally possible if all political systems stay exactly as they are, and plan for the worst case.
Optimism has its limits: one of the most noticeable things for me has been the very different reactions of people. Some people say: “yes, but it might not be as bad as we’ve been imaginging”. Others: “We need to prepare, because this is going to be terrible.” I’m with the latter group, who coincidentally also tend to be people of colour. Trying to explain it away as “stop worrying” is not helpful. For so many vulnerable communities, the next four years are going to be tough, and the best way of dealing with that is to plan for it.
How can I, myself, be most useful? I chose this career because I wanted to be doing good things for the world. I flip-flopped from wanting to work on international public policy, thinking that was the most effective way of making positive change in the world, to thinking about the micro level instead, working with people who are on the front lines of activism and social change. Right now, I’m not sure what’s most useful - in a way, it feels like donating monetary resources is (one of the) easiest and most effective ways of being useful to people who are in far more precarious situations than I am. In the future, how can I be most useful?
Time to learn from other countries: one of my biggest frustrations being here is the way in which anything outside of the United States seems to be totally ignored. American exceptionalism is live and kicking for sure - but now maybe we can stop and take stock of what’s going on outside of the US borders. There are so many other countries who have lived under authoritarian leaders and in undemocratic political systems, and their methods of resistance and coping strategies could teach people here a lot.
Magic and dystopia: I’ve been reading a lot of dystopian science fiction since the elections, and finding solace in it. It might seem counter-intuitive to what I wrote above about wanting to be practically and pragmatically useful, but it feels like we’re going to need our imaginations more than ever.
What now?: Post-Brexit, one of the biggest things I took away was a need to integrate and communicate across class and geographic boundaries - essentially, a need to diversify our communities and our communications. Here, though, I know lots of people whose family members voted for Trump. They tried to discuss these issues, and practically nobody has had any luck in changing people’s minds. If your own family can’t, then…how do we make them see sense? Do we have to wait for him to let them down enough (or will they keep making excuses for him? If none of the revelations so far that have come out about his behaviour have changed their mind - then…what will it take?)