We’ve all seen the street celebrations in the United States. Personally, I’m still waiting for the euphoria that comes with a win. Don’t get me wrong, I’m relieved that the election has been called for president-elect Joe Biden. But I still have this underlying sense of dread. Much of the turmoil that has gripped our nation in recent years, and especially this year, is roiling just beneath the surface in this country.
If this election has taught us anything, it is that the United States is a mess. We are horribly divided. The presidency has been called, but the legal challenges will continue. There is still a pandemic that is daily infecting record numbers of people. Racial frustrations cannot be ignored. And, almost half of U.S. voters think that it is okay for the president to lie about issues big and small.
Four years ago, when Trump won, I felt like I no longer understood the political context in my own country. I wasn’t alone. Dozens of books have been written attempting to explain what’s happening. I did a deep dive into the literature. It has covered the urban/rural divide, disaffected white men, identity politics, the loss of manufacturing jobs, etc.
I’ve gathered a lot of insights from this reading, but I’m not sure that I understand my country any better.
One thing I learned was that in trying to communicate across ideological differences, it doesn’t help to tell, or document for people, how wrong they are. Not surprisingly, “Science is on my side and you are an idiot,” doesn’t get us very far. For people to hear another’s perspective they need to connect at a values level. Once shared values are recognized, people can hear each other.
So, here’s my problem. Half of my fellow Americans support President Trump, who lies constantly and says horrible things about other people. Things that I wouldn’t tolerate coming from a five-year-old.
But let’s give the Trump supporters the benefit of the doubt; maybe they don’t think that lying is okay. Maybe they think that other things matter more – like the economy or ending abortion.
Either way, there is a value gap here that I struggle to surmount.
It is hard for me to imagine that Trump supporters are at home teaching their kids that lying is okay, that they should talk smack about others, and if they lose in sports that they should take their ball and go home, or better yet, contest the loss.
I think that we need to re-establish a sense of shared values. I don’t really know how to do that, but how about this? In 1990, Robert Fulghum wrote a book called, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Here are his top ten (some of which seem useful in a pandemic as well):
1. Share everything
2. Play fair
3. Don’t hit people
4. Put things back where you found them
5. Clean up your own mess
6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours
7. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody
8. Wash your hands before you eat
10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you…”
As we embark on a new administration and winner takes all politics swing to the Democrats, let’s start each day with this list in mind.
* Joy Olson is the former Executive Director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a research and advocacy organization working to advance human rights. Twitter: @JoyLeeOlson