What is something that you thought you knew, but turned out to be completely wrong about? This is one of the many glorious segments featured on my new, favorite podcast, Make Me Smart, featuring the hosts from APM’s Marketplace radio broadcast, Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. On the February 7th edition of their new show, the hosts posed this question to Gloria Calderon Kellet, the co-creator of the rebooted series on Netflix, “One Day at a Time.”
For her answer to the question, Kellet described an experience related to her failed presidential election party wherein she and her friends gathered to witness what they believed would be the election the first woman President. As we all know, Hillary Clinton did not win, and Kellet says that her and her friends’ election-night bewilderment was a symptom of the problem of living and breathing in what she described as an “echo chamber” that merely reflected her own Progressive political beliefs back at her. She “knew” Clinton would win, and yet was shockingly wrong in this “knowledge.” We might also describe this metaphorically as being in a bubble wherein she only heard, saw, and read exactly what she wanted to, which, in this case, led her to “know” something that was completely wrong. Because the vast majority of her friends and social media contacts are forward-leaning when it comes to politics, Kellet said that she came to think and feel what everyone else in her circle was thinking and feeling. As a byproduct, she also began to presume that this held true for the majority of the electorate. It didn’t. In retrospect, Kellet realized that she had become profoundly unaware of what was happening in other parts of the country, especially in so-called Trump Territory. Her takeaway was that she, as well as the rest of her fellow citizens (Democratic and Republican), need to make efforts at rising out of their own echo-chambers to take a close look at what is happening elsewhere, as well as at what different-minded people are thinking.
Of course Ms. Kellet is right. We ought not surround ourselves with proverbial Yes-Men who only show and tell exactly what we want to see and hear. We absolutely need to be in authentic and polite conversations with those who have different perspectives and worldviews. We must practice active listening with others rather than merely waiting for our turn to speak, and perhaps most importantly, we must be able to say, “I understand,” before we can ever begin to say, “I disagree.” I try to embody this as best as I can (at least in my better moments). Sadly, this is not the standard in our nut-ball political culture. Not even close. I don’t need to go into details with anyone who has spent anytime at all on the web or dared to read any of the entries in any given “comments” section. If you’re reading this blog entry chances are good that you already know something serious is amiss with our ability to listen and effectively engage in civil discourse.
Be that as it may, I only partially agree with Ms. Kellet’s assessment. Of course we need to do better at hearing the opposition when it comes to things like religion and politics (especially when politics IS our religion), but it was neither my own political echo-chamber nor my ignorance of the Trump contingency that led to my bewilderment on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Of course I had underestimated the shear volume of Trump’s supporters, but the horror I experienced that night was not because I had blocked out the insanity of Fox News, surrounded myself with Progressives, or had dared to put confidence in the website predictions from Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com. Of course each of these moves reinforced my convictions that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of those convictions themselves. Nor was it my belief that Liberal political values are generally better aligned with my followership and understanding of Jesus and that progressive politics generally has the weight of justice and care for “the least of these” behind it. Again, these things helped reinforce my belief that Clinton would win, but they were not the source of that conviction.
No. The true source of my belief regarding the outcome of the election had almost nothing to do with my political leanings but rather my faith in humanity itself. I was so convinced that people, if they were paying any attention at all, would recognize who and what Donald Trump actually was, and that they would intuitively know that he was unfit to lead a high school girl’s basketball team, much less usurp the role of Commander in Chief. I dared to make the mistake of believing that it’s not how much money one has or what a person can build or buy or say that counts, but rather the content of one’s character and their commitment to the truth. Time after time after time, @RealDonaldTrump revealed himself to have unspeakably horrible character and a zealous willingness to engage in pathological lying whenever it suited his purposes. He would literally say anything, out of both sides of his mouth (pending the respective audiences), and then not even bother trying to conceal his duplicity. He proved to be a racist, a sexist, and a cheat who preyed upon anyone and everyone who gave him opportunity. He would insult and demonize anyone, including his political rivals, immigrants, women, the disabled, and especially any judges, investigative reporters, and journalists who dared to call Trump’s lies and generally horrible behavior into question. In light of all this (and more), I thought to myself, “There is no way anyone who values truth, character, and integrity could ever vote for Trump.” I believed that whatever else we might’ve been tempted to say about Hillary’s questionable use of a private email server, there was simply no comparison between that gaff, which she ultimately took ownership of, and Trump’s never-ending onslaught of excrement, deceit, and general moral turpitude. In short, I thought I knew that most Americans, regardless of their respective affiliations, were people who valued integrity and honesty, and certainly that they valued these more than a political candidate who would flagrantly spurn them. Oh how mistaken I was.
The lasting and unsettling sting I continue to feel in the post Trump-election is not just because I was wrong about who I believed would win the Office of the President, but because I was wrong about America. I have lost a lot of faith in my fellow Americans, at least around 50 Million of them, and all the more so when a majority of these folks would likely call themselves “Christians,” people who at the very least are supposed to be defined by their commitments to truth and love of their neighbors. So my hope has taken a major hit as well. Christian or not, when honesty, integrity, and accountability no longer matter, we are in very, very deep trouble, regardless of who happens to be in the White House.
Thanks for reading me,