Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Like most white males with college degrees, I am deeply disturbed by Trump’s election. All the specific negative consequences (consequences I do not wish to list because reminding myself of them only increases my sense of despondency) contribute to that ache in my stomach, but a disorienting worm in that clot of concern is helplessness. I feel that way because my tool for dealing with things like the Trump victory—logical analysis—has been undermined by that victory. Logical arguments based on fact were not just insufficient; for many Americans, they were not even relevant. Appealing to emotions—telling people you will address their concerns, proving to them that you understand those concerns by stoking their fear and prejudice and anger while making vague references to solutions—is the kind of argument that won the day. Even Nate Silver’s painstaking logical analysis of the polling data was wrong and unhelpful.

Trump told people things were terrible when they were not terrible, but it is pointless to kick that dead horse because citing facts has been proven ineffective (an assertion based on fact) since people who make decisions based on wishful thinking are immune to logical argument. Even if the wishful thinking were less negatively motivated, it would still be a problem; that for so many, it is negative, makes the need for a solution more urgent. If facts and logic don’t matter, what are the tools we are going to use to fix this? How can I move beyond being helpless.

I am not thrilled with the conclusion I have come to. If hate and fear got us here, maybe compassion is the only way back to where we can start to use logic again. That seems like such a limp response, since my hurt and anger wish for a terrible swift sword. I am not good at compassion, but as I try out courses of action in my head, I keep getting to the last corner and turn to see Compassion sitting there smiling at me, not with a bright, cheerful, sunny smile, but a calm and slightly bemused smile that shows awareness of my internal conflict, a smile full of, well, compassion.

Looking for something else, I happened on a passage in Thomas Carlyle’s 19th Century Sartor Resartus, which suggested a way for me to start thinking about my approach to compassion:

‘In vain thou deniest it,’ says the Professor; ‘thou art my Brother. Thy very Hatred, thy very Envy, those foolish Lies thou tellest of me in thy splenetic humor: what is all this but an inverted Sympathy? Were I a Steam-engine, wouldst thou take the trouble to tell lies of me? Not thou! I should grind all unheeded, whether badly or well.’

Those who disagree with us, especially if they are particularly forceful about it, care about what we think of them. This sensitivity to the opinions of others is a clear Trump trait. Those who supported Trump are likely to respond well to some respect, and looking for some common ground to build that respect is a laudable goal.

Of course this might be easy for me to say because I live in Massachusetts, where Trump supporters are a clear minority. On the other hand, the compassion may be even more appreciated.

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