Sunday, August 7, 2016

Searching for empathy

I do miss Hunter S. Thompson. Of all the elections I have been around for, this one seems by far the best fit for the description 'fear and loathing'. Though I have a fairly liberal social circle, I do have friends and relatives who are Republicans, and I have argued politics with them over the years. I am a partisan liberal Democrat, but I have at least been able to understand some of their opposing arguments. But Trump, damn. Trump is a different beast.

I have a visceral revulsion to Trump, and what he represents for our government, for our culture. The strongman, willful ignorance, and hatred of the other makes my skin crawl. The man appears to me as a literal monster. The worst parts of Nixon, Mussolini, and the dreck of Fox News rolled into one.

Yet, on the right, there are similar feelings for Hillary, and I have a hard time having empathy for this position. I have certainly tried. All the books and articles about the diverging cultures in America, the diverging economies, and it still gives me no intuitive understanding. I find it hard to empathize with the pro-Trump articles I read as anything other than frothing right-wing hatred and conspiracy theories that are suggestive of needing to be checked into a mental institution. In my social circles I do not have one associate openly advocating for Trump.

But the polls! Depending on your sources, the polls have been frightfully even at times. I have been a tremendous fan of FiveThirtyEight the last eight years, and only a few weeks ago it was painting a picture of close to even odds. Fortunately, the polls have swung back to Hillary, but it is still 90 some days to go. I honestly have a hard time grasping why Clinton is not, at minimum, up twelve points in the polls against Trump. Even the current odds, which are tremendously better than two weeks ago, are about the same as the odds of surviving a round of Russian roulette.

How would I explain what I have learned in trying to understand the millions of people that would vote for Trump? There is a tremendous amount of anger in America, from people across the spectrum. But why is Trump the result of this?

There is the economic side. Many people are left behind by the economy, with increasing wage inequality and the decline of middle class careers, especially for those with less of an education. I certainly agree that our economic system is more divided than ever, but, damn, why would you turn to the Republican party for salvation? Fair, if you can discern a pattern out of the incoherence spouting from Trump's mouth, he may be pushing the Republican party to the left economically. He is arguing for revising trade agreements, protecting social security, and increasing infrastructure spending. Still, that argument seems tenuous. First, it's hard to trust the Republican Party wanting to do anything for the poor or disadvantaged. Second, it's hard to trust Trump to do anything in particular.

Past economics, what of it is culture? There are many who do not like how our culture is changing, or feel imposed upon by the coastal urban centers. There are simply those who are partisan Republicans the same way I am a partisan Democrat. And then a lot, if not all, of Trump's support is racist, nationalist, misogynistic, culturally-conservative bastards who hate the other. That might explain things, but it doesn't give me much in the the way of empathy. I am for a political force that helps everyone, but that is a movement that deserves to be stamped out of existence.

So what positive could I say about Trump if I squint hard enough? He is anti-establishment, and a change from politics as normal. Not being beholden to the Republican establishment, he may shift policies in a new direction. He does pay attention to those left behind by the unexciting recovery from the Great Recession. And...

That's about it.

Let's hope we we survive through November.