I spent the evening after the election repeatedly singing, and playing on the piano, the same song: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” My four-year-old kid danced and sang along. Music helps me cope with grief. Indeed, my emotions weren’t all that different than they would be after the unexpected death of a good friend. I needed that simple melody and its depiction of a nation for all.
How could this happen? Everyone is abuzz with ideas. Most that I’ve seen fall into two categories, anger and empathy. Anger: that the electorate is full of racists and misogynists. Empathy: that working-class whites have legitimate concerns which Democrats failed to address. Both of these are accurate to some extent. Trump is clearly a bigot, and overtly hateful voters were naturally drawn to him. Income inequality is a real problem that no party is sufficiently fixing. But neither of these hot takes gets to the heart of the problem.
I graduated from high school in rural Wisconsin, one of the surprise regions that defied all expectations this week. In my experience, blue-collar Midwesterners are extremely kind-hearted. But my intellectual sensibilities are incessantly frustrated by people failing to use their heads. By making choices that are directly harmful to themselves, like not wearing a seatbelt. Or by offering well-intentioned yet misguided community-building efforts: assuming everyone present wants to eat the same casserole, watch the same football game, or sing the same Christian hymns. If you were a nerd in school like I was, you know the feeling of exasperation. How could you people not do the homework? How could you carelessly sabotage this nice thing we were building? How could you reward the biggest bully on the playground, don’t you know that only encourages him?
The word I keep coming back to is thoughtless. Thoughtless has two meanings: you fail to use your reason, and you fail to use your compassion. In other words, you don’t think about the consequences for yourself, or for others. I don’t believe most of the people who voted for Trump are malicious. But they didn’t really consider how it would affect them in the long run. And they definitely didn’t consider how it would affect people whose lives are different than theirs. This thoughtlessness is a problem far bigger than Trump, a pervasive anti-intellectualism that has long formed the basis of Republican policies. It’s the most dangerous thing in the world. It fuels the most powerful negative forces in governments both domestically and globally. It’s what’s stopping us from fighting climate change, ending poverty, eliminating the threat of nuclear war, and coming together as a world community. I don’t see a fix for it other than education.
Conservative thoughtlessness is exacerbated by fear, but fear isn’t the whole story. Liberals, too, are afraid, just of different things. The question is who has evidence to justify their fears and which policies will actually alleviate them. If you are afraid, especially if you are anyone other than a native-born straight WASP cis man, I can’t tell you everything will be okay. I can tell you that I will do everything in my power to help make this a country where everyone can feel safe and welcome. And I believe that most Americans are with me on this and will work to reclaim our nation. Because it’s for all of us. From California to the New York Island.