Live Well, Do Good

Lessons from the U.S. election

Brandon Sun, November 30, 2020 - David McConkey

I have been reflecting on some lessons from the U.S. election. Two words come to mind: humiliation and humility. And although these observations grow out of the U.S. context, they are also general, so there is much to ponder for us Canadians.

Many on this side of the border, including me, thought that American citizens would vote overwhelmingly to throw Trump out and bring in a more sane government under Joe Biden. But that did not happen. Trump received a larger percentage of the popular vote – and millions more votes – than he did in 2016. Biden did manage a victory in the Electoral College. But the Democrats barely held on to the House of Representatives. The Democrats failed to win a majority in the Senate. (Although they have one more shot in January in two special runoff races in Georgia). And right now, tens of millions of voters think that Biden won only because the election was rigged.

So Biden and the Democrats had an epic failure. They failed to make a convincing case that the Trump presidency of chaos should be soundly repudiated, that sensible governing should be endorsed, and that Biden should be regarded as a legitimate president. The Democrats could not communicate these basic arguments – and they are supposed to be the elite, the experts, the knowledgeable ones?

Let’s go to the background of Trump’s rise to power. This is where humiliation comes in. A key element in Trump’s success was his channeling the sense of humiliation felt by millions. Many ordinary people – branded as “deplorables” – feel looked down upon by the liberal coastal elites. Trump hurled back this humiliation. His presidency excelled at trolling, “owning the libs” and causing “Trump Derangement Syndrome.”

This sense of humiliation is also how Trump became the champion of American Christiantiy. The elites feel superior to Trump’s supporters, who tend to be religious. Elites are no longer religious. Today’s leaders in science, technology, business, the arts, and popular culture skew toward the secular. And there often is a condescending attitude toward more religious folks.

Trump, as a rich and famous member of the elite himself, could brashly promote Christianity on the national stage. As religious leader Jerry Falwell Jr. said of Trump, “Evangelicals have found their dream president.”

The heart of this issue, I think, is that sympathizing with other people’s views often seems difficult, if not impossible. For progressives and conservatives, there is a wide chasm. For the religious, a secular outlook can appear empty. For secular people, traditional religious ideas can appear crazy. And those on the outside are dumbfounded trying to understand those who are into conspiracy theories like QAnon.

Now I arrive at humility, which may be an excellent way to approach this mess of social division and misunderstanding. I am thinking that we could use more of the humility that allows us to step back, to let our own ego melt away for a bit and to look dispassionately at the situation.

I envision the humility to admit that we do not have all the answers and that the other side may have some good points as well. The humility to see how good intentions and actual grievances can go terribly awry. The humility to admit that we are often the ones who are stuck in our own echo chamber. The humility to accept uncomfortable truths, complexities and nuances. The humility to see that inflicting humiliation is a short-term satisfaction, not a long-term solution. The humility that allows for more respect, for more listening and for more understanding.

For conservatives, such humility could lead to acknowledging that Trump might have some good ideas, but he is a narcissistic con man, which was always going to overwhelm everything else. Also, that time-honoured religious beliefs need to be harmonized with modern science and modern morality.

For liberals, such humility could lead to acknowledging that some woke ideas (like “critical race theory”) are borderline nuts. Also, that the presentation of progressive ideas often can alienate more than attract people.

In the aftermath of the U.S. election, an interesting lesson about politics and religion is unfolding. Biden is a practising Roman Catholic. For both secular liberals and religious conservatives, Biden’s example offers an invitation to embrace humility, to learn and to appreciate something they might not have considered before. That’s because Biden’s life encompasses both a conservative Christianty and a progressive outlook including being pro-feminist, pro-LGBT and pro-science.

There are lessons out there. A big lesson is realizing the harm of humiliation and the benefit of humility. In a divided social atmosphere, this is good news. That’s because the option to choose humility is available to everyone.

* * * 

See also:

Trump's Comments Pave Way for Cultural Change

Could We Have a Donald Trump in Canada?

Appreciate Everyday Goodness All Around Us

Telling the Truth Today

Getting to Good Ideas

How Do You Be a Good Person?

How Can We Learn to Think and Argue Better?

More Than Ever, Words and Ideas Matter

On Tyranny: Learning Lessons from History

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