I was at a conference last month when a speaker said, in passing, “The next president, whoever she is,” and everyone laughed easily. I was surprised by their calm. They seemed to feel far more secure than I did. I had been in London the week before the Brexit vote and saw the relative unconcern, then heard the stunned results after that vote defied expectations. That’s not to say I knew this was coming. I was surprised. I’m still surprised. But I’m not shocked.
Both Democrats and Republicans have justified their positions and their passion by pointing out that their constituencies feel ignored – and the reason I’m not shocked is that I think they’re right.
Liberals point to many groups who are and have been ignored, like women, POC and the LGBT community, saying that they’re up against institutionalized discrimination and have been for centuries. And they have a point.
Conservatives point to mostly working-class, rural, white people who feel like they’re being ignored, saying that their jobs are disappearing and that social values are changing. And they have a point.
It’s hard to feel ignored. Like you’re irrelevant, like what you value isn’t valuable, like your participation isn’t desired, like you’re being left behind. It hurts. What, in the end, do any of us want but to matter?
And we all want so badly to matter when we feel as though we’re growing smaller and smaller. The planet – not just the American heartland – is struggling with globalization. Labor’s done where it’s cheapest, knowledge is evolving faster and faster, value is moving from goods to information, societal norms are evolving as digital life opens us to heterogeneity. We’re changing fast. And, by and large, we’re not handling it well. It’s logical to dislike threats. And many see globalization as fundamentally threatening.
If I knew more, I’d be able to compare current times to politics during the Industrial Revolution. All I know is that – much like the 2008 election, ironically – yesterday was about people who felt like they had no control. So many people, on both sides, felt so ignored that yesterday they were willing to overlook incredible things for the promise of help. Interviews on both sides made this abundantly clear.
Whether you think the “old days” were better or worse is irrelevant. Either way, they’re not coming back. The question is what will happen, now that it’s time to see whether that promise of help will be fulfilled or broken. The question isn’t about the old days, but about how we’ll handle the days ahead. Whether we can find ways to feel valued, even in this bigger new world, without doing it at the expense of each other. We have to. We have to matter.
Edited to add: To be clear. I have a side. I have very strong opinions. I think some issues are far more important than others. I don’t think I’ve ever made any of them a secret, and I’m always happy to go into plenty of detail. But it seemed important to see if I could say this in a way that could resonate unanimously. Because we’re going to have to get better at that if we’re going to make any progress.