Bonnections Guest Blog Post
By Joe Tamblyn
Joe wrote below letter to a friend in the United States on November 9, the day after the presidential elections. He shared his reflections on Trump’s surprise victory and the rise of ring-wing xenophobic populism with our 14-year old daughter. Ana was very upset and disappointed that day, like many of her friends and family members. She has lived in culturally diverse communities on both sides of the Atlantic for her entire life and has numerous friends who are PoC and of Jewish and Muslim faith. She was born in Alaska, but spent most of her childhood in Chicago. That´s Obamaland and Carl Sandburg´s City of Big Shoulders.
CNN commentator Van Jones called Trumps´s victory “a whitelash against a changing country, and against a black president.” Far-right populism is not an uniquely American phenomenon. It´s rising throughout the Western world, not just because of the negative effects of economic liberalism and globalization, but because of xenophobia.
Joe grew up in northern Califoria and studied at UC Berkeley, earning a bachelor´s degree in history and a master´s degree in journalism. He traveled the globe as a professional pilot and moved last year to Bonn to be closer with his two children. He now works as a translator and technical writer.
Progressive movements in America have often been followed by a white backlash, he reminds us: “We have dragged the conservatives and the old white men (almost literally) kicking and screaming through abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the sexual revolution, the enshrinement of privacy and much, much more.”
His letter ends with an encouraging outlook.
“I am assuming that we will get up again and keep on fighting for equality, inalienable rights, and opportunity for all, and do so with grace as well as respect for yet another generation that will just not go quietly into that good night.”
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
I wrote the below to a good friend earlier, and thought you might want to read it. There is a lot of history in it and it is long, but it should serve to put at least part of what is happening in perspective. I admire you and congratulate you for caring so much about this and other issues facing people everywhere today, Ana. It is one of your many wonderful qualities. However, as the letter says, the sky has not fallen upon us yet, and progress (however fitful) is indeed being made. Try not to let current events give you stomachaches and headaches, because no one in the world will benefit from your aches, will they? Curiosity, patience and respect will win the day even when the opponents of such qualities have won the moment…..
Like so many, I spent much of the day alternating between outrage and resignation, and assume that you are doing some version of that as well. I feel a little insulated from it over here, but not as much as you might expect. Most Germans are obviously deeply and profoundly devastated by this news. If only we could be talking about something else today. I’m not sure about you, but I remember feeling nearly the same way when we invaded Iraq in 1991. Stunned disbelief, intense dread and a pit in the stomach that was the result of a mixture of indignation, resentment and mourning. The body speaks for the mind in cases like this, and it doesn’t feel nice at all. For different reasons, things are not too much different today, and I can only hope that the aftershocks from this event prove less horrifying than those from over 25 years ago.
Which is to say that I feel prompted (probably at least partly as a defense mechanism) to look at this in broader terms. First of all, my mind turns to 1968, when the state of the country was indeed so much worse. In addition to the war, the assassinations, the riots and the social divisions, the country was also trying to digest or process some of the actual progress that had been made in the form of the New Deal coalition, the Voting Rights Act, the Great Society legislation, and the social constraints we shook off both on campus with free speech and on the streets with rebellion against generational and establishment values as well as in the home with contraception and the expression of new ways of life, priorities, and even music and sexuality.
As you well know, the result was an intense backlash that came in many forms: Goldwater, Wallace, Reagan, the rise of the “silent majority” and, finally, Nixon. I’ve had that term rattling around in the back of my head for months, and now realize that I was in the dark along with everybody else, because the Silent Majority has spoken again! Not quite as loudly, I would say, but the shock is still there. The heir to the backlash leading up to 1968 has, in a way, resurfaced in 2016. We are in a much better place now than we were in 1968, and the progress made during the Obama years will not be completely erased any more than the concrete advancement made back then was ultimately erased. Progress is rarely constant, and, in the United States at least, almost never pleasant. The Nixon years were pretty damned awful, actually, and we might have something like it to look forward to again, but, in other respects, the genie is out of the bottle. You can’t unring a bell, and the awakening of women, minorities, gays and immigrants in this country isn’t likely to be undone so easily.
In my (maybe not so humble) opinion, now is the time to learn from this experience. Now is the time to be respectful and curious. Obviously, we have not been listening to the Populist voices around us. But, now that they have our attention, it must be time to listen, learn, and then move forward as best we can. It has been made vividly clear that many of us misunderstand both the United States as a country and the thoughts and feelings of a great many people included in it. If that does not change, then the divide will deepen.
My understanding is that physical science has run across something extremely profound in discovering the Law of Entropy. On every single level, context, time-span and dimension, the rate of change accelerates for (evidently) every aspect of the physical world. Just like the bell does not unring, nor will the fallen egg reconstitute itself. This accelerating process of unwinding – of undoing and unfolding – is what defines our physical reality. Unfortunately, this tendency toward change and unwinding proves difficult to face–for all of us sometimes, and for some of us all of the time. In the 21st century, the amount of information, the sheer flood of impressions and psycho-physical impacts we as a matter of course endure, has the ability to overwhelm us. Entropy is at work, and it always will be. In that regard, new times call for new skills, but one of the lessons of the day is that we are not necessarily providing our citizens with the skills to survive and thrive in an Age of Information. We need new coping skills and forms of discourse in a hectic time of globalization, quick travel, hectic routines, light-speed information, global migration and a constantly shifting set of threats and alliances, among other things.
That might sound paternalistic, but time will tell. Whether or not there is a solution to the problem, the issue will not solve itself: it seems quite apparent that the “national conversation” no longer exists, that the social contract is in tatters, and that voting for the President of the United States has come to be regarded as the civic equivalent of dunking the mayor into the water tank at a county fair. People have simply checked out. How many times did we hear, “Hell, I don’t even care anymore” as a citizen response during this long election campaign? However, even as this divide and disconnect have grown, part of what we are seeing is one in a long series of realignments that have emerged during our history. The election of 1896 was just as ugly, the electoral map looked much the same afterward, and the upshot was the election of William McKinley. The parallels between McKinley and Trump are manifold, and it was a tough four years of protectionism and imperialistic aggression until he was, as you know, re-elected before being assassinated. But he died a popular president, and we can only hope that the “realignment” of today runs its course more quickly than it did back then.
The world of 1986 seems fairly quaint at this point, but it probably felt mad, tangled and more than a little threatening at the time, as did 1968. And our Roosevelt might yet come. Taft wasn’t exactly frightening, either, nor was the Supreme Court under White. The obvious problem today, however, is the Supreme Court. It was the most important outcome of the campaign, and I hope that we can avoid appointing any tried-and-true Neanderthals. As ugly as the outcome of this election feels, we will get through it. It was not an actual war and it was not a depression, and we have a lot of progress to be grateful for and probably retain in the coming years of “silent majority realignment.” We have dragged the conservatives and the old white men (almost literally) kicking and screaming through abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, the sexual revolution, the enshrinement of privacy and much, much more. It just seems like they knock us down now and then during the course of their kicking and screaming. I am assuming that we will get up again and keep on fighting for equality, inalienable rights, and opportunity for all, and do so with grace as well as respect for yet another generation that will just not go quietly into that good night.
My two bits, if you don’t mind, and sent with love. Hang in there…