As we settle in to this new reality, this world where Donald Trump is the President-elect, I’ve been reading and thinking more about the echo chambers, or “bubbles”, that I mentioned in my previous post.
One article was from The Guardian: Bursting the Facebook bubble: we asked voters on the left and right to swap feeds. I recommend you read the whole thing, but here are some key quotes:
“Twelve people have shared a story with me about the Hillary Clinton bus dumping human waste into the sewer system,” said [conservative] Trent Loos, a farmer and radio host from central Nebraska. “I never see positive stuff about Hillary Clinton. I didn’t know that existed.”
Meanwhile, I don’t even know what that bus-sewer story was, that he saw a dozen times.
“It’s like reading a book by a fool,” said [liberal] Pines. “It’s hard to read something you know is a lie.”
Another liberal, Nikki Moungo from St Louis county, Missouri, went a step further: “It’s like being locked into a room full of those suffering from paranoid delusions,” she said.
…Andra Constantin, a conservative project manager from Westchester County, New York, was frustrated by “this whole big brainwashing push to save the world from the horrible climate change”.
This is maybe a little unfair to juxtapose that third statement with the first ones, but it makes a point. I found it tempting at first to think of the conservative-liberal dichotomy they’ve set up here in terms similar to the “both sides” school of non-partisan journalism (an approach I believe is unhelpful in many cases). That is, in the same way journalists try to present “both sides” of news stories, lending at least some credence to each, one might think that getting an equal amount of information from both of these bubbles would be ideal.
But here’s the thing, which the climate-change denier cited there underscores: there aren’t always two valid sides to present. Human-caused climate change is an absolutely certain thing. It just is. 2016 is expected to be the hottest on record, breaking the record set by 2015, and before that, 2014. She’s just wrong. (And her making accusations of brainwashing is pretty rich).
But it wasn’t only the liberals who found the experience painful.
“I’m seeing a lot more hate from the liberal side,” said Constantin. “It’s all about how much of a horrible, fascist, racist, misogynist Trump is.”
“Honestly, I hated it,” said Janalee Tobias, a longtime conservative activist and member of Mormons for Trump from South Jordan, Utah. “I’m seeing a psychiatrist trying to get over the shock and the hate from the left,” she joked. “I thought this would be easier for me to handle, because I’m considered pretty open minded.”
This blew my mind. It reminded me of some of the things that Trump said about Clinton in the debates, which I found puzzling even then: in the second, he said something about her “having so much hate in her heart”, and in the third he made the infamous “such a nasty woman” comment. And for all the criticism of Clinton that one could make – which I’ll say, I believe a lot of is overblown, at best – but I just would never have imagined that a characterization of her as mean, hateful, or nasty would resonate like that.
There was the “basket of deplorables” comment, of course, but she apologized for that, and honestly, I didn’t feel it was far off the mark. (I know, I know: bubble. My point is, it didn’t strike me at the time as mean or hateful.) But as the first woman said, the liberal attacks on Trump were for being “a horrible, fascist, racist, misogynist”. Which brings me to this Vox article, Research says there are ways to reduce racial bias. Calling people racist isn’t one of them. This is also worth reading in its entirety (especially the Virginia-Gustavo conversation, which is beautiful), but here are the key parts I want to point out:
Most Americans, white people included, want to think that they’re not capable of racism — particularly after the civil rights movement, overt racism is widely viewed as unacceptable in American society. Yet racism, obviously, still exists. And when some white people are confronted with that reality, whether it’s accusations of racism against them personally or more broadly, they immediately become very defensive — even hostile.
And, earlier in the article:
“Telling people they’re racist, sexist, and xenophobic is going to get you exactly nowhere,” said Alana Conner, executive director of Stanford University’s Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions Center. “It’s such a threatening message. One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.”
That’s crucial information to understand. But I think this is another example where the both-sides-are-valid approach doesn’t really hold up. There might be some fine lines and complex aspects in some discussions of what’s racist and what’s not. But I don’t think there’s a good argument that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is one of those discussions. He was endorsed by the KKK, and didn’t renounce it. A core part of his platform includes halting immigration of as well as deporting Muslims. Perhaps most damningly (so far): there’s been a spike in spontaneous hate crimes since the election, many explicitly linked to Trump’s win. (Note: that’s not the “liberal” mainstream media reporting that; that’s the SPLC, a nonprofit founded 45 years ago specifically to protect civil rights and fight hate crimes.)
But although I believe the campaign included an alarming (one might even say deplorable) amount of racist rhetoric that clearly resonated with some Trump voters, the lesson I take from the Vox article is that having an understanding of how those supporters perceived that rhetoric, and the criticism of it, is also important.
In my previous post I said, “Maybe I should be stronger and more open to diverse voices, but I’m not and I don’t.” What I’m realizing is, that isn’t good enough. I think we should hear more from them, even though what I’ve written here is still pretty dismissive, sounding like I still think “they” are “wrong”.
Because actually, you know what? That’s about right, after all. This upcoming presidential term is different. If Jeb Bush were the President-elect, then this would be a more typical conservative vs. liberal situation. It would be what a lot of people are saying: the pendulum swung the other way this time, it’s the Republicans’ turn for a while, the course of history is a winding one, yadda yadda yadda. I won’t go into all the details here, but I do believe that the changes caused by Trump’s campaign and his upcoming presidency – even at their mildest and most normal – will be as significant as they are harmful.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to venture out of my bubble a little more. I’m going to start with this “thoughtful conservatives” Twitter list, and see how it goes. I’m already finding it kind of hard to stand, but maybe that’s a sign of how important this is.
Postscript: the evening after I wrote this, Vice-president-elect Mike Pence attended a showing of the musical Hamilton. Reports say that some in the crowd booed him, a response that was popularly supported in my Twitter timeline. Then I saw several audience-filmed videos of the cast’s statement, addressing Mike Pence literally from the stage at the end of the show. From a wire report:
“We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir,” Dixon said.
“But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”
Hamilton, Dixon told Pence, was performed by “a diverse group of men, women of different colors, creeds and orientations.”
The response to this incident from President-elect Trump on Twitter is jaw-dropping. One tweet: The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”
And another: “Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!”
First, that the cast were rude is simply untrue. It may have been an unusual move, and it certainly put Pence on the spot. But it was a totally polite and respectful way to acknowledge his attendance, and to make a public statement of concerns and values that are shared by many. Pence had already been booed by the audience before this, so if anything, the cast’s statement was a mature, polite way to settle things down, to quell the audience’s rudeness.
Second, what kind of leadership is this? The man who would be President petulantly demanding apologies on social media? This was in no way “harassment”, these were totally respectful and sane statements, made by performing artists using their platform to amplify their voices, but “this should not happen”? It simply boggles the mind (and chills the blood).
And lastly, back to my topic: what does this do for the bubbles inhabited by Trump supporters? It’s pure red meat, whipping up antagonism, reinforcing negative stereotypes, and beating the drum of confrontation and adversarial feeling. And it’s coming – intentionally, I believe – from the very top of their bubble.