To My Fellow Americans,
Today has been a very intense day, and half of America is left angry and stunned. I was one of those people, but then I chose not to be.
What made me make this decision was when I was watching Stephen Colbert and I was struck by something I found very sad. He reported that half of the country’s Democrats are afraid of Republicans, and half of the country’s Republicans are afraid of Democrats. People are afraid of others who disagree, literally scared of them. (I don’t have a source for the study, but my Twitter and FB feeds would provide empirical evidence to back that up).
It didn’t used to be that way, I don’t think. I think the angry rightists and leftists were often made up of people like my grandfather who was worried about ‘the commies’ until the day he died in 2012, missing out on the news that we are are now actually worried about ‘the A-rabs.’ The angry leftists were often comprised of young students who didn’t understand the way the world worked (me included). These were people who were out of touch and under-educated/experienced, but overly obstinate and opinionated.
At least I think that is the case, but now, now the US is filled with angry people who don’t seem to be able to evaluate, analyse, and think critically about consequences (on both sides). For the Democrats the consequences of this have resulted in the impossibility for others to have dissenting viewpoints. Why could we not elect a socialist like Bernie Sanders? Answer: because everyone is afraid, and we don’t vote for what we really believe, we vote based on tactics (AKA who can beat whom in an election). For the right, this has resulted in people taking a risk due to fear. The risk has resulted in the election of someone with absolutely no experience and no knowledge of economics, political science, or history (three things greatly needed to run a major world power).
So here we are, going along with things and letting our emotions be played. Not learning the pros and cons of free trade so we can weigh in with a legitimate argument, not understanding the tangible and intangible costs and benefits of social services.
Ultimately, this is what a representative democracy should be and that is what our Forefathers had in mind, and on paper it sounds like a super idea: Elect the most qualified individuals that represent my wants and needs and I will go on contributing to society and we will all be cool. Well, that path has been DERAILED, and this is due to fear mongering.
We are too afraid to let third or fourth parties have a voice, because we are so afraid of losing. We won’t compromise with other parties, because they are scary and out to get us. (The right is going to ban abortion for everyone, and the left is going to make it possible for us to achieve the American dream!) At the same time, we are electing people that don’t represent us, and then, even worse, we stop taking part in democracy.
Democracy is not just voting every four years (or maybe 2 if we are lucky). Taking part in democracy includes petitioning and protesting along the way. It involves voting in local elections for things like education reform. It is about educating yourself on what is the best for you, but not just you, how you sit in society and the world around you. It is about calling or emailing your local representatives and telling them what you want. Instead, we just let the politicians take care of things, so we don’t have to think. We let the parties go in any direction and don’t get involved except for once in four years.
So what do we do now?
First, I think we need to stop being afraid. Instead of telling the other side they are racist and xenophobic, we might want to make our case rationally, opening a dialogue. Sure, people might be racist and xenophobic (ok, some definitely are), but we need to ask people why they are and what they are afraid of. Do white families in the middle of America fear migrants because they are a real threat? Perhaps their past experiences, including the recent Great Recession, and lack of experience with mixed groups have made them afraid of change? I am not saying we need to be making excuses for behaviour, and some cannot be reasoned with, but I believe people are not inherently evil, but more than likely are just afraid.
Second, hands down, we need to focus on increasing funding for education, because it seems to keep people from being so bullied by fear. I am not just talking about getting the degrees, I am talking about investing in QUALITY EDUCATION, which allows people to critically think. We need to start taking part in democracy to help us achieve this. I do not care which side you are on, people who can critically think will not be bullied by fear and will learn to compromise, and more will be achieved.
Third, we need to start taking part in democracy, like really taking part, not just pretending by showing up every 1st Tuesday after the 1st Monday in November every four years.
One positive thing to note, for better or worse, this campaign has opened a dialogue about racism and sexism that seemed to have been mostly closed since the 1970s. We need to seize the opportunity to engage with this dialogue and make lasting change that betters our society as a whole.
Most importantly today, before you begin Tweeting that Trump is not your president (as many did in 2012 when Obama was elected), ask yourself this, ‘Am I being driven by logic or my emotions?’ While you are at it, ask yourself why this happened and has it been of any consequence of your previous (lack of) political participation.
And finally ask yourself if this is the world you want to live in. If not, do something. Take part in this great, big, crazy, scary democracy and be heard, the opportunities are there, seize them.
So let’s do this, people. No time to lose!
Dr. Michaelle Tauson