We Need Vigilance Against Bigotry, and That Means Increasing Our Understanding—Of Trump Voters

Emotions were extremely high this election, and one only need glance at social media to see that.  My regional, educational, and generational cohort swing liberal, so I’ve seen the gamut of raw, day-after shock and anger.  Much of it calls for vigilance against further bigotry and hatred of the kind we saw during the campaign.  And it’s spot-on.  We will need to be vigilant in opposing further bigotry and ignorance out of Trump, or bigotry he might continue to inspire or expose.  LGBT and racial minority rights and relations are literally a matter of life and death for many Americans, and directly affect the quality of life for the rest.  We are in this together after all (and even if we somehow weren’t, every decent person still deserves a decent life!)

Some of the reactions go further, and blame Trump voters for being ignorant, racist, sexist, selfish, or hateful—that as privileged whites, they’ve demonstrated that they don’t care about the needs or aspirations of anyone but themselves, or people superficially like themselves.

But to the people who feel this way, who are assigning blame this way, please remember—people’s choices were constrained.  Most of America wouldn’t have chosen Trump to be a nominee, and it should provide some small relief knowing that ~70% of America disapproves of him, despite the 48% (of people who voted) who voted for him.  Most people are appalled by the disgusting, offensive, and hateful things he’s said, even those people who checked his name on the ballot.

The reason many people chose him over Clinton in spite of all that is not because they are white, or because they only care about themselves, or only care about white straight men.  Starting from that premise assumes far too much about their motives, and assumes the worst about them—its the least empathetic interpretation of their decision, and is thus an extremely inaccurate interpretation in most cases.  It’s also thus a non-starter for building understanding and working together to move forward as a country.

What would you say to the 29% of Latinos who voted for him?  Or the 8% of blacks?  Or the 29% of asians?  Are they all “white” on the inside?  The very notion is offensive.

What would you say to the 14% of LGBT voters who chose him?  Are they simply unaware of who they are?  Do they not care about their own rights?

You have to be willing to understand someone’s decision-making before you judge their motive, or before you assume they made such a decision out of prejudice, ignorance or callousness—or even privilege. Many of the people who are appalled by some of Trump’s attitudes, also have fears about war, or the balance of power in society, or terrorism, or the economy, or malfeasance in government.  Those are life and death matters too.  Decisions about war and peace are clearly a life and death matter.  And the health and accountability of our institutions intimately affects everyone’s opportunities and quality of life.  Many of the same people who voted Trump are themselves economically down and out, disadvantaged, suffering because they have been beaten down by society in one way or another, held back by a government that is corrupted, or left behind by established interests and institutions that enrich themselves at others’ expense.

A thought experiment: hypothetically, if Hillary Clinton fueled a war in a smaller foreign country that Donald Trump wouldn’t have fueled, and 100,000 people died as a result, and a million ended up in refugee camps—is all that death and suffering “worth it”, to have a president who is a bigger proponent of LGBT rights for four years?  What if the actual resulting policy difference, or cultural difference, between candidates around those rights is minimal, or non-existent in those four years?  What if the war was with Russia, and the prospect of war actually threatened your life and livelihood, and your family’s?

Now, you may disagree with the premise that Clinton would be more likely to fuel war than Donald Trump, and you may hotly contest and debate that premise.  Good!  Society needs such debates.  But that debate gets off to a really bad start if you assume someone believes such a premise, or gives it the weight they do, simply because of the color of their skin.

So please do not fret, about this, at least: the results of this election do not mean bigotry has won.  It does not mean half of America is okay with bigotry.  If we understand that, we’ll all be better equipped to operate in the political arena in the coming years, to work together to make the world a better place for all, and a better place particularly for the most disadvantaged among us.

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Some Overlooked Considerations When Choosing a Presidency (not just a president)

On November 8th, we’re not just electing a president, we’re choosing a presidency.

A Donald Trump presidency would see his feet held firmly to the fire by the media on many, if not most, issues—just as we’ve seen so far.

A Clinton presidency, and we’d see: more of the wall-to-wall obfuscation of the Clintons’ self-enriching, corrupt “charity work” and the ongoing obligations they have as a result, or the morally bankrupt worldview it represents; and more obfuscation of her obsession with projecting American power militarily, and encirclement and brinksmanship with Russia.

Donald Trump is an awful person, and certainly unfit to be president.  He could do a lot of damage to the country and the world.  But at least he’d be held somewhat accountable by a media that clearly has an interest in opposing him.

Hillary Clinton is also an awful person, and certainly unfit to be president.  She could also do a lot of damage to the country and the world.  THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE IS: she would not be held accountable by the media to nearly the same extent—they would continue to shield her, keeping the public in the dark as they so often deliberately do, making it that much easier for her to march us to war with Russia, to pour new record amounts of weapons into the Middle East (surpassing the records she set as SoS), to fuel civil wars in a few more countries that refuse to roll over and be complete U.S. puppets, to continue to aid and abet terror-exporting Gulf states, to continue to support Islamic extremists in Syria for the sake of unnecessary regime change.  Millions more people could die, tens of millions more could suffer and be displaced.  And if she should lead us into war with Russia (which could come sooner than later if she enacts her no-fly zone, which she’s been itching to do), those numbers might not “just” be numbers any more—civilian Americans might be faced with risking their own lives and livelihood for unnecessary war, rather than somebody else’s, for the first time in a long while.

And that’s just on foreign policy.

There’s a whole other realm of her shady, staunchly pro-corporate worldview that poses a threat to the quality of life domestically, and a threat to the health of our politics, our government, and our economy.

For these reasons, when I look at these two astoundingly awful candidates, I can’t shake the feeling that Clinton is the more dangerous.  This comes from someone who can count on one hand the number of Republicans they’ve voted for in their life, and has said for years that Trump is a toxic, ignorant, xenophobic buffoon.  But to me, the behind-closed-doors machinations of an extremely well-connected Kissinger acolyte draw a clearer line to death and suffering in the world, than does divisive, ignorant bluster spewed into a microphone—particularly when that bluster is roundly condemned by American media and both political parties in this country.

No matter who is elected, we will have some serious challenges ahead in constraining their behavior, but such is the conundrum we find ourselves in.  I personally will be voting for Gary Johnson, and I encourage everyone else in a non-battleground state to vote for either Johnson or Stein.  The more support they get, the more likely we are to break free from the two-party stranglehold that put us in this situation in the first place.

If you’re not in a locked-in blue or red state, I won’t tell you who you should vote for.  Directly advocating either way in this regrettably high-stakes crapshoot, for such terrible candidates, wouldn’t feel right.  But I will encourage you to make as informed of a decision as possible, and to please, inform yourself about Clinton’s history on foreign policy (my other essays would be a good place to start), and about her fundamentally corrupt style of politics and governance (the latest Doug Band / John Podesta emails would be a good place to start, as well as the repeated intersection of corporations (and Gulf dictatorships!) who donated to the Foundation, paid the Clintons millions for speeches, and/or received lucrative State Dept-approved contracts).  I assume, thanks to the media, that you’re already familiar with Trump’s deplorable personal behavior, suspect business practices, and dangerous policy ideas, but if you’re not, I certainly encourage you to read up on those too.

And when you enter that booth, or mark that ballot at home, please, above all, consider the totality of the presidency and its potential effects, including how they will be treated by the media, the Congress, and already established elites, and whether or not as president they’ll be enabled or opposed in enacting the more troubling aspects of their agendas.

Everyone’s Drawing U.S. Culture Maps Wrong (except me)

Everyone’s Drawing U.S. Culture Maps Wrong (except me)

A google image search of “US cultural regions” brings up many interesting maps:

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 10.49.49 AM

But they’re all (as of this post) quite presumptuous in one respect–they all show neatly delineated regions, when in reality cultural lines are much more fuzzy and cultures overlap and combine in interesting ways.  So I decided to make my own map, because:

  • I wanted to settle the issue of defining America’s cultural regions once and for all
  • It’s fun to make both maps and assumptions about things you’re barely informed on

usCulturalRegions1

As you can see from my beautiful map, that I spent a grueling five minutes making, there are several advantages to this style:

  • Accuracy is not sacrificed for the sake of neat, clear borders
  • Prevalence/influence of a culture can be conveyed by varying color intensity
  • Overlap can show how cultures combine, and form subcultures and subregions

Now, I am not even remotely an expert on U.S. cultures.  I would love to see a map like this made by someone who is an expert on the matter, or at least a map that uses their data.  But since this is what we have, lets use it as an example of what kind of information this type of map can convey, along with some extra commentary, bearing in mind that my premises and conclusions are most assuredly all wrong.

  1. Pacific culture is strongly centered on Seattle and Portland.  It extends down to Southern California, and inland to lend just a touch to Las Vegas.
    1. Its experimental, independent, liberal tendencies are rooted in its more recent settlement and development compared to most of the country, and also its sheer distance from the rest of the American population (80% of Americans live in the Central and Eastern time zones).  It is significantly influenced by its history of Asian immigration and Native American cultures.  The people tend to like all things green, including their cars, their trees, and their trees.
    2. Alaska and Hawaii share much of its characteristics, but are unique enough that they get their own subregions (because it totally wouldn’t be fair to give single states their own regions).
  2. Mountain culture is centered on the Rocky Mountains, running from New Mexico up through Idaho and Montana.
    1. It is for the most part sparsely populated and conservative, with Denver and Salt Lake City being the only major cities, but also has some of that wild west independent streak.
    2. It combines with Pacific culture in eastern Washington and Oregon, where there is a mix of coastal liberalism and inland conservatism that pretty much cancel out and leave its inhabitants with no identity at all, and in a state of perpetual existential crisis.
  3. Southwest culture is centered around Arizona and New Mexico, with strong influence from SoCal to Texas, and up into Colorado, Utah and Nevada.
    1. It is heavily influenced by Mexican and Spanish history in the region and by its large Hispanic population, evident in architecture, cuisine, and the large Hispanic population.
    2. It combines with Pacific culture in California and Vegas, both unique melting pots in their own right, and combines with Mountain culture in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, where I have nothing interesting to say.
  4. Southern culture is centered around Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and runs from Texas to Florida, and as far north as the Ohio River and into West Virgina and Maryland.
    1. It has large black and white populations with their own subcultures, is very conservative and religious, and has a shared history as former Confederate states.  They really like BBQ and fried food, even more than the average American, which is a lot.
    2. Florida shares Southern culture, but South Florida, centered on Miami, has a unique identity, stemming from Caribbean and Cuban influence and Spanish colonial history, unique enough for its own subregion.  New Orleans and it’s unique culture and French colonial history also warrant a subregion.
    3. It combines with Southwest culture in the great big, pointy state of Texas, where we get Southern conservatism, delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, and a proudly independent cultural identity.
  5. Midwest culture is centered around the Great Lakes, and extends into the central plains states.
    1. It has a history as both a center of industry (rust belt) and agriculture (corn belt) that shape its identity.  It’s settlement in the years after the formation of the U.S., and lots of German immigration then and thereafter, have also shaped it.  Fun fact:  Domestic reaction to the World Wars reduced the prevalence of German language and culture in America, which was much more widely spoken and displayed prior.
    2. It combines with Mountain culture in the Great Plains states, where things are pretty conservative and full of corn, and combines with Southern culture south of the Ohio River in West Virginia and Kentucky, and west through Missouri and perhaps a bit of Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, where there is also a lot of conservatism and corn, thankfully in the form of delicious bourbon.
  6. Atlantic culture extends from Massachusetts down the coast to the Carolinas, and is centered around the major cities: D.C., Baltimore, Philly, New York, and Boston.
    1. It has a longer history than the cultures to the west, being the home of the original European colonies, and ever since then has been the center for the political elite.  Apparently lizard people thrive in the cool, salty air of the coast, and don’t venture inland.  The major cities each have a distinct culture, are diverse, and are filled with brash but sincere people, as in they sincerely hope you piss off.
    2. It combines with the Midwest and Southern cultures along the Appalachian Mountains, which are conservative and a lot like the South, but more mountain-y.
  7. New England culture is pretty well defined as the 6 northeastern states.
    1. They have long had a political and culture identity distinct from the rest of the country, originating with the English Puritans, some of the earliest American settlers, and through significant immigration of Irish, Italians, and French/French-Canadians.  They value their independence, and aren’t afraid to throw a tea party to prove it.
    2. It combines with Atlantic culture along its southern band, from Boston through Rhode Island, Connecticut, and into New York City, where it is more heavily populated, and where it has stronger cultural and political ties to New York and Washington D.C.  Or maybe it doesn’t, but that’s what this map I made tells me, so until someone makes a cooler map, I’ll keep believing it.

 

See?  Wasn’t that interesting?!  Doesn’t all that information and its more accurate style of visual accompaniment leave you feeling much more misinformed about the cool ways American cultures combine?

In all seriousness, overclassification is a problem not only in mapmaking and defining geographical regions, but in many scientific and cultural endeavors.  I think we have a natural or cultural tendency to find comfort in neatly organized, delineated systems.  There is certainly utility in such systems.  But indulging that comfort, and being too focused on the utility, can deprive us of seeing the more nuanced–and more interesting–reality.

Species, languages, cultures, cuisines, social classes, genres of art and music.  All these things would be difficult to talk about if we didn’t break them down into distinct categories.  Those distinctions, however, are merely helpful illusions, and they unfortunately mask the richness of the underlying information, of the fluid relationships and overlap, of the continuum of change between entities.  With the right tools, namely creative visualizations and experiences, we can more easily gain an intuitive understanding of that richness, and of the true relationships between things that we otherwise think of, or want to think of, as distinct.

 

the moral high ground

the moral high ground

the moral high ground is

a weapon in itself

it wins hearts, and minds

and allies

 
 

it keeps you from temptation

from slipping into doom

it gives you credibility

if peace is your pursuit

 

your fight, it will keep just

your aims, it will keep true

it provides you with the answer

when faced with what to do

 
 

indeed, the moral high ground is

the most potent weapon of all

because once you give it up,  you’ve lost

with naught to catch your fall