For those of you who know me well, you know that I am a political junkie. While I spend a great deal of time on the road, I read and keep up with politics as best I can. For a variety of reason, historically, I have stayed away from politics on this blog. But given that we just had a national election, and there are ongoing protests in several cities across the country, I would like to offer some suggestions as to how recent political events might be seen through the lens of our culture writ large.
First and foremost, I think it is important to understand what about our culture produced this election result. While many on the left are attributing the election results to racism, sexism, misogyny, white nationalism, etc., and I would not suggest these and other social ills did not contribute, I believe there is a larger, more unifying explanation. The government has stopped working for a large swath of people in our country and voters selected someone from outside the system. When people are disenfranchised and marginalized, they experience what they perceive as loss without any alternative gains, people push back.
This became painfully evident during the primaries. Donald Trump dispatched 16 other Republican candidates, the vast majority representing the traditional “conservative” or Republican politicians (Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina were noted exceptions). Even for the Democrats, Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money largely because Bernie was seen as an outsider who would change the system. A full 80% of millennials who voted in the primaries, of either party, voted for Bernie Sanders.
I think it is important to realize, regardless of the outcome of the election, half the country would have been disappointed. Had the election gone the other way and Clinton became the president-elect, it is likely we would be seeing similar protests across the country. Rather than chants of “Not my president,” we’d be hearing chants of “The system is rigged,” or something of that nature. What to do in a country and culture that is so divided and polarized?
We return to primary human drives to connect (build relationships with) and belong (to be a part of something larger than ourselves).
Data would seem to suggest that Trump won the election due to the votes of older, white, less educated voters. While some on the left would call these voters “uninformed,” “ignorant,” or even “stupid,” I would suggest that these are precisely the voters that are feeling disenfranchised and marginalized. These are the voters that have likely experience the greatest losses over the past 10-20 years. They have seen others in the US gain assets and status while they have lost both. They have seen and heard of a declining white majority as the country has become more diverse. They have the fewest resources to adapt and cope with these changes and many in the rest of society looks down upon them. What may be most painful to them is that many believe that they have lost dignity and respect.
Building a culture writ large with connectedness means we must treat others regardless of what they do, with consideration and interest. When I travel, too often I see men in $1000+ suites treating flight attendants and gate agents as if they were below them. Too often I have seen servers in restaurants spoken to in tones of contempt and disregard. Too often, I’ve seen gas station attendants personally ridiculed or mocked because they may speak with an accent and the equipment they need to use to print a receipt isn’t working properly.
Changing these behaviors will not come through changes in laws or policies. These changes will come from changing our culture writ large, one person at a time. It means we must each serve as an example of how to behave when interacting with others in the world. One of my favorite Gandhi quotes is: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If we want to create a world that is more connected, where we can build a system that works for all of us, let’s each start with every interaction, with every human being that we have. It can’t wait until tomorrow. Let’s start today.
Keep cultivating your culture!