Relief and Reflection

The election has been called for Biden, and for that I’m grateful and relieved. However, the closeness of the election has given me pause. A big pause.

I have never liked Trump, and it’s not because I’m anti-conservative. I lean fiscally conservative myself. What I dislike about him is his divisiveness, the rude and disparaging remarks he makes about anybody he doesn’t like, his refusal to condemn supremacists. As I have said before, he represents the figurative crux of all of America’s cultural divides: black vs. white, man vs. woman vs. transgender, rich vs. poor, young vs. old. While I was shocked and appalled to see him elected in 2016, once I realized this, it began to make sense: Trump was what America deserved, even if for half of us, he wasn’t what we wanted.

In 2020, I had expected things to be different. After seeing tensions increasing to the breaking point, riots starting across the country, his abysmal handling of COVID, and his propensity for outright lying with shocking frequency, it seemed obvious to me that he’d be hurled out of office, that those who had voted for him in 2016 realized their mistake or were shocked and appalled by his behavior over his term and would vote for the clear lesser of two evils. Not that I dislike Biden, but as even he has said that he’s a bit of a rebound president; he’s probably not going to be the one to achieve much healing of the Great Divides, but maybe he’ll give us all the space we need to regroup and maybe look into something more serious in 2024.

But the vote was a whole lot closer than that. The Democrats were much aggrieved when the “blue wave” never hit, when things remained too close to call not only for the first day but for several days thereafter. One estimate I heard said that Biden won by around 5 million votes. If that’s true, and if there were 160 million ballots cast, then Biden won by only 3%. Does that mean that 47% of the country is racist or that the divisions in the country are less terrible than what Biden was proposing? Okay, okay, say 45% since some people voted 3rd party. Still, almost half?

I was brought up in a suburban / somewhat rural area, about 50% white, 49.5% Hispanic, and the remaining 0.5% shared among everybody else. Yet even in that environment, I was taught that racism was bad, that prejudice was something to be overcome, something that we as a country had overcome (mostly). Yet here we are in 2020 with Biden winning by only 3% of the vote. I had always imagined that the racists in the country were very small, isolated groups, that yeah, there might be 10,000 of them nationally but that they didn’t really represent that big of a threat to democracy. Yet there were 70 million+ votes for Trump. That’s a whole lot more votes than I’d have expected, and frankly, I still have trouble believing that there are that many racists in the country. It has to be something else. That begs the question: what is it that Democrats are proposing that would turn 70 million people away from them?

I’ve talked to or read articles from people who planned to vote for Trump, and the things that I saw came down to abortion, gun control, healthcare, welfare, the green new deal, and taxes. I think really, it comes down to just abortion, gun control, and taxes since I don’t think anybody would have a problem with free healthcare, welfare, and environmental protections if there were truly a way to achieve them without raising taxes. So, let’s take these one-by-one.

Abortion was one that one of my neighbors and an article I read both mentioned. And, I get it: Democrats are generally pro-choice, and to someone who believes that abortion is literally murder, I could see that being one of those things you “just can’t compromise about”. Yet even those people made exceptions for cases of rape or where the mother’s life was in jeopardy due to the pregnancy. I realize that these are the most extreme cases, but it does demonstrate that there is some common ground between the two sides: I think most people can agree that in these cases, abortion may be acceptable albeit still undesirable.

Gun control is another one. Trump’s misinformation, saying that Biden was “gonna take your guns”, of course stirred the pot. But, Biden went on record saying that wasn’t the case. I understand conservatives’ concerns: to them, the right to bear arms is the right to remain independent, to be able to defend themselves. Out here in the sticks, calling the police isn’t going to do you any good if someone—animal or human—threatens you or your livestock. It’s going to take the police a minimum of 30 minutes to get to me. So, I can either shoot the thing threatening my animals or my person, or I can have a dead or injured animal on my hands. That idea of “I have to protect myself” is integral to people’s sense of security, and for many conservatives, distrust in the government makes it just one more critter from which they might have to defend themselves. So, the government taking their guns away or limiting their access to them validates that fear, and I think that’s why they oppose it so strongly. As I’ll get into later, that wound is very raw right now—has been for the last 20 years or so—and it’s going to take a period of leaving things alone and letting it heal a bit before anybody’s going to be willing to put that fear aside.

Lastly, taxes. Again, Trump did an impressive job of glossing over the fact that Biden’s increased taxes only apply to corporations and people making over $400K a year. I know I’ve talked about it before (though I don’t remember whether it was on here), but aside from the fact that the $400K caveat was omitted, I think the fallacy of “that could be me one day” is what causes the most angst when it comes to taxes. The economics YouTube channel I’ve been watching (Economics Explained, for anybody interested) has covered how counter-cyclical fiscal policy is supposed to work, and frankly, we should have had increased taxes during Trump’s term rather than lowered taxes. Nobody wants to hear that, but counter-cyclical fiscal policy is like the government’s equivalent of a rainy-day fund: when you’re raking in the money (strong economy), you set some aside (taxes) for when things get bad (recession). Then, when things do get bad, you set less aside and start drawing from your reserves to level things out a bit. The highs aren’t quite so high, but on the other hand, the lows aren’t quite as low, either. Unfortunately, before COVID hit, we weren’t saving; instead, we were spending as fast as we could so that when the downturn came, it hit us really hard. Had we had some savings from the better times, the stimulus packages wouldn’t have had such a negative connotation in Congress. But, here we are. Unfortunately, Biden is now wanting to impose taxes while things are not-great. This is also the wrong thing to do, but like Trump, Biden will be doing what he can while he’s in office. But, I digress. Especially with the economy being ripped to shreds by COVID, I can understand why conservatives would be afraid of increased taxes—particularly if the misinformation they received made them think they themselves would be affected.

So, I think misinformation played a big role: making everybody think Biden was going to tax the hell out of people and take away their guns would probably be a pretty effective way to convince conservatives that didn’t check the facts to steer clear. Apparently there was also a Spanish-language smear campaign going on saying that Biden was a pedophile. I kinda feel like, “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and the same goes for if something sounds too bad to be true.” Unfortunately, critical thinking isn’t this country’s greatest strength these days.

But you know, I wonder if the bigger issue isn’t the vitriol between Democrats and Republicans itself that pushes people away. “Socialism is evil”, one conservative said. “Trumpists are Nazi fascists”, one liberal said. “They’re destroying this country”, they both said. But, as I’ve said before, I really don’t believe that’s true. I believe that the vast majority of people want what’s best for the country, as viewed through their perspective and upbringing. To a liberal, “destroying the country” might mean rescinding gay and trans protections. Yet to a conservative, rescinding gay and trans protections is just a way of protecting the country because they believe that the rise in gay and trans activism is a threat to their conservative values. To them, “destroying the country” might be implementing socialist programs that will inevitably lead us to be like Venezuela—once prosperous but now impoverished and overrun with corruption. To liberals, those social programs are what level the playing field for the 99% and give those at the bottom a safety net in case something bad happens. Personally, I see the pros and cons of both sides. As one of my neighbors put it, “I don’t have a problem with gays getting married, but I don’t want to have to watch them kissing on my TV with every ad.” On one hand, I get it: the guy’s uncomfortable at seeing something that he considers inappropriate. Many liberals certainly cry foul when they hear someone use the n-word or other slur—something they find inappropriate even if it isn’t said in the presence of someone the slur is intended to degrade. Liberals will argue that they’re not the same, that the n-word is inherently harmful. Conservatives will also argue they’re not the same, that the proliferation of gay relationships on TV is inherently harmful. Having been in the middle for a long time, I understand where both sides are coming from. The right just wants to be left alone, to not have to adapt to changing times. The left just wants to be left alone, to not be oppressed by the mores that got codified as laws. I get it; I really do, and I cannot condemn either side as “evil” or “selfish”.

Imagine if you will that you’ve gotten a blister between your thumb and index finger, and for as long as you can remember, somebody has come up at least once a day and poured some salt on it or rubbed it with sandpaper. It hurts, and it is really sensitive. How long would it take before you just automatically assume that anybody coming up to you is going to hurt you some more? How much of a chance are you likely to give someone to have a look at your blister if there’s a really good chance that that person is going to be the next one to make it worse? That’s how our country is right now, how it’s been for quite some time. The slightest mention of black lives matter has conservatives clutching their hands. The slightest mention of a conservative justice, and liberals are shielding their hands with their bodies. But just like an infected blister, we can’t heal if we can’t expose the wound to someone that can treat it. There’s going to be a little bit of pain on both sides, just like scrubbing a road rash or spraying antiseptic on a cut, but in the end, if we’ll all open up a little bit, be brave and take a step towards the other side, we can get better. But right now, we’re all acting like caged wolverines (or at least what I assume a caged wolverine acts like, having never seen one): we instantly lash out at anybody from the other side who comes near us.

I read a sarcastic article today from a liberal saying that he was sorry conservatives hated him for Biden winning, that even though they had told him to “cry more, libtard”, he would try to understand their side, and so on. While I understand the sentiment, that’s not helping; that’s gloating. The article talks about “I’m going to have to understand you because you won’t understand me”, and if we remove the sarcasm and bitterness, I think there’s something to that. As you guys know, I work with my herd a fair bit, and Cloudy just does not want to be social. So, I’ve begun working with her, making the first move to bring us in close contact (hugging her neck and petting her withers). She was never going to make the first move, but for both our sakes, it’s better if she’s amicable when I come out to tend them. It is similar, I believe, for conservatives. They want to be left alone, to not be told what to do; one of the hallmarks of conservatives is not wanting to explore new things or ways of thinking. It is, I believe, unreasonable to expect a conservative to make the first move towards reconciliation. Of course, this is a gross generalization and there will be plenty of patriotic conservatives who will step out of their comfort zones and even take the lead for the sake of keeping the country together, but again, even the word “conservative” is synonymous with wanting to take things slowly and cautiously. So, yes, liberals will likely have to reach far across the aisle to find common ground, and if they’re going to be successful, this has to be done with a true spirit of wanting to walk forward together, not just reaching over to grab someone by the wrist and yank him across the aisle. As civil rights go, liberals are the gas pedal, and conservatives are the brakes. All brakes and no gas, and the car doesn’t go anywhere. All gas and no brakes, and you get Venezuela. There is a give and take, and by learning to tread that middle ground, to reduce the amplitude of the political pendulum’s swing, we’ll make a lot more progress that is mutually agreeable to everybody than alternately flooring the gas and slamming the brakes. As a moderate, I’m getting whiplash, and an awful lot of people I’ve talked to have said the same thing…while also saying that “it’s the other side’s fault because they won’t compromise”.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m seriously considering running for election in 2024. I think I’ll start the Gray Party. Why gray? Because not everything is black-and-white. Because that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because when you mix equal amounts of all the different colors of light, you get gray. Maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but it seemed clever to me.

But gosh, that sounds like an awful lot of work.

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