Yesterday’s News

“Shellshocked” is the only way to describe the feeling at our bus stop the morning […]

David Zahl / 11.10.16

“Shellshocked” is the only way to describe the feeling at our bus stop the morning after the election. Parents hobbled out of their homes, disoriented and bewildered, in obvious need of more caffeine. My neighbor hailed me and my son as we made the walk to the bench where the kids all congregate. “Well,” he said, “I guess we’re living in an alternate universe now.”

It was too early to filter my thoughts, so I blurted out that maybe yesterday was the alternate universe, and today is reality. Really helpful.

You see, we live in a university town where the possibility of Trump winning the election hadn’t entered anyone’s head in months, even those who might (secretly) have been supportive. While we slept on Tuesday night, that fortified bubble burst, and the story we’d been told–and had been telling others–was revealed to be a fiction. No one knew what to say.

It occurred to me later in the day that Halloween should have been our tip-off. A few weeks prior, trick-or-treaters had descended on our charming little enclave in droves. Kids and parents paraded around the neighborhood, shouting and carrying on, as house after house filled their bags with candy.

That is, all the houses but one. Of the 60 some-odd homes in our neighborhood, fifteen or so boasted election-related signs out front, yet only a single yard advocated Making America Great Again.

As we passed by that address, the adults in our crew exchanged knowing looks. Folks had been whispering about this place for weeks, scandalized. I noticed a few steered their progeny onward. One of the kids who did venture up to the door apparently asked the owners if there was something wrong with them. I’m not kidding. For all intents and purposes, that house was haunted.

It was an uncomfortably close-to-home illustration of something that we’d been (trying) to write about for months, with varying degrees of directness and success. Namely, whatever you think of the man or movement, from a ‘law-gospel perspective’, the moment that support of Donald Trump was outlawed from polite society was the moment the door to yesterday’s headlines opened.

To be clear, this isn’t a post about left or right or Trump vs Clinton. Mockingbird readers know that we’ve never endorsed a candidate, position, or party, and we’re certainly not going to start now.

Instead, this is a post about the inconvenient truth that if you tell someone they’re not allowed to do or think something, they’ll not only rage against the injunction, they’ll want to do or think that thing all the more. It’s true with parents and children, husbands and wives, teachers and students, and, alas, it’s true on a larger scale as well. This is Genesis 2 & 3 writ large, and it’s the culmination of what we’ve seen playing out for a few years, commonly under the heading of “political correctness”.

Once upon a time that may have been a codeword for conservative bellyaching, but clearly the rubicon has long since been crossed. In fact, powerhouse blue state  ‘influencers’ Tina Brown and Frank Bruni said as much in their commentary on Wednesday:

Since the ‘lawgivers’ in question–cultural elites in the media and academy primarily–have been left-leaning, the reaction has come from the opposite quarter. But they could’ve just as easily been right-leaning, and indeed they have been at other points in the past (cue 1967). This is the nature of (right-handed) power, which does not pay deference to ideology. The law increases the trespass, full stop.

A few months ago, we had a discussion on The Mockingcast about a report in The Atlantic that large numbers of Christians in this country–both educated and not–feel discriminated against. After laying out the findings of a recent survey, the author spent the rest of the article explaining 1. Why they shouldn’t feel that way and 2. How it’s actually because they’re afraid of immigrants…

While, at the time, neither myself or my co-hosts concurred with respondents, the fact that such an esteemed publication was unwilling to take so many people at their word–or mention the possibility that they may not be making it up entirely–struck me as indicative of the very perception being reported on. That is to say, it was evidence of a refusal to listen, bolstered by a pre-existing narrative.

We all know how profoundly destructive such a stance can be in a relationship. Your spouse tells you they’re upset about something and you spend the next five minutes telling them why they’re wrong to be upset, or how maybe they’re just tired, or the real issue is how they were raised, etc. A dismissal like that–even when it contains an element of truth–only makes them (and us) more upset.

This is what Jim Rutenberg was getting at in his post-election article for The NY Times, “A ‘Dewey Defeats Truman’ Lesson for the Digital Age”:

The misfire on Tuesday night was about a lot more than a failure in polling. It was a failure to capture the boiling anger of a large portion of the American electorate that feels left behind by a selective recovery, betrayed by trade deals that they see as threats to their jobs and disrespected by establishment Washington, Wall Street and the mainstream media.

Journalists didn’t question the polling data when it confirmed their gut feeling that Mr. Trump could never in a million years pull it off. They portrayed Trump supporters who still believed he had a shot as being out of touch with reality. In the end, it was the other way around.

Meaning, the answer to people feeling disrespected is not to label them bigoted or ignorant. That tends to be heard as ‘just shut up already’. This doesn’t mean you deny that prejudice or ‘facts’ don’t play a role in how we form our convictions. They do. It simply means we listen to what those we disagree with are actually saying–tell us more!–rather than shame them into silence with our epithets du jour.

None other than Morrissey spelled this out a few weeks ago in relation to the Brexit vote:

“I am shocked at the refusal of the British media to be fair and accept the people’s final decision just because the result of the referendum did not benefit the establishment. It was a shock to hear how the BBC persistently denigrated everyone who voted to Leave. They have managed to accuse, judge and convict the majority as racist, drunk and irresponsible.”

As we all know, this is a lot easier to do when you’re not physically interacting with those with whom you disagree. In fact, if you were to wake me in the middle of the night and ask me what actually has been happening in the US these past six months, I’d say it’s 80% a function of Internet communication: accelerated reactivity masquerading as legit discourse, an insider-outsider divide exacerbated by the social envy of the FOMO era (i.e. as far as I can tell, social media has made everyone everywhere acutely aware of how much they’re missing out on), and a general disembodiment that combines with filter bubble-enhanced confirmation bias that cannot help but effect mutual vilification.

Meaning, it is no coincidence the election has felt like “the Internet come to life”. That is exactly what it’s been. I yearn for the election when that issue is on the ballot.

Again, none of this is to suggest that the characters and sentiments and policies involved here are somehow vindicated. Of course not. We must take the insulting rhetoric and fear-mongering just as seriously as Rustbelt resentment. No one is exempt from repentance or compassion here. In fact, Van Jones’ final line below may be the key sentiment of the whole shebang:

Ultimately, a return to reality is never a bad thing. As uncomfortable and unpleasant as it can be to have one’s illusions swept away–hopeful or cynical or self-righteous as they may be–we need not fear such dismantling.

This is because God is found in reality, not apart from it. He won’t be discovered in what we would like to believe about ourselves and the world. He is present in the death of our projections, that box which no one would check for themselves: the cross. This is the God who is no stranger to the fearful, the downhearted, the overlooked, the confused, the angry, the hypocritical, the out-of-touch, the maligned, or the oppressed. This is not the God we elect but the one who elects us.

The same one who, I’m told, lives and reigns in the unity of the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever amen.