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Mind the Gap.

August 17, 2016

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It’s been just about a month since Donald Trump officially became the Republican candidate for President of the United States, and I am finally forcing myself to face reality. To date I have relied upon derision, disbelief and incredulity to persuade myself that this just could not happen. I have commiserated with that “nice conservative”, David Brooks, and chortled with my friends about the hair, the bankruptcies, the narcissism and worse. I didn’t believe this could happen.

Not only has the unthinkable happened in the manifestation of Trump for President, but somewhere close to half the voting public may actually endorse him. Even if “only” 40% vote for Trump, that is still a shocking and unacceptable number. I want to revel in the astounding-yet-overdue shattering of the glass ceiling by Hillary, but I cannot seem to engage with a full heart. I can observe Trump’s misogyny, racism, fear mongering, and hyperbole for what they are, but I cannot shake the deep alienation I am feeling.

I often write about the inequities of our economic system and the inculcated bigotry and bias that fosters polarization. I understand, intellectually, that social tensions, violence and upheaval are the inevitable consequences of growth run amok—that the rich getting rich and the poor getting poor can only go on so long, especially in the face of ecological limits, population overshoot, and information overload. I know that fear, pain, and anxiety should be anticipated and understood in this context, and I can see their roots in our economic system. I tend to interpret current events through this lens, and I appreciate the perspective I’m usually able to maintain.

However, I am having a very hard time rationalizing the behavior and attitudes of Trump and his supporters. I want to empathize. I want to feel their pain. I want to believe that we are all interconnected and be able to take an “enlightened” view of their behavior. But I’m not finding myself capable of standing in their shoes. There is too much vitriol and hatred in the language and demeanor of both the candidate and his supporters for me to cross that divide.

It is not unusual for mediators and negotiators to try to resolve intractable situations by seeking “common ground”. In fact, just recently, a woman I respect and admire commented that some of the most ardent supporters of vibrant local economies are conservative Republicans and that, by extension, we could find places to coalesce. But the gap is too wide, and I feel it personally as well as vicariously. Despite Trump’s nod to “LGB..T … and Q”, the Republican platform condemns the Supreme Court decision that affirmed my right to marry my partner of 26 years. I can only imagine how those who are suffering even worse discrimination and hatred must feel.

How, then, does one move forward? Any tidbits of common ground I might dig up are completely insufficient for bridging the distance that I find. How could I ever entertain the perspective of someone who makes lurid misogynistic jokes about women? Why would I even want to have a conversation with a white supremacist? As I write this blog, I click on an email from an old friend who often sends funny jokes and the occasional political commentary. We are not on the same page anymore. Today’s blast was an 1899 speech by Winston Churchill in which he warns against the rise of the Muslim faith and its violent, proselytizing nature (oops—for a minute, I thought we was talking about Christianity).

When the gap is too wide and treacherous, I think the best we can do is to “mind the gap”—know it exists, acknowledge differences, but don’t waste time trying to bridge it. We need to move past poisonous attitudes, work together where alliances are natural and affirming, take positive action, get along with each other, collaborate, have fun, and take chances. And all of this in the face of scorn, baiting, and dismissal by those on the other side of the gap.

Our economic system relies upon perpetual growth that is fed by exploiting human labor and extracting from nature. This is not new—it’s just more obvious now. As humans become redundant through population growth and technology, and as nature fights back through climate disruption and resource stress, it is not surprising that some portion of the population will react viscerally with blame, hatred, bigotry, and violence. In the past, economic prosperity through growth has bailed us out (as in post-World War II, though we paid an almost unimaginable cost first), but the prospects for continued economic growth are not what they were then.

We still have a choice. We can make an effort to research, learn and understand the dynamics of the economy, ecological limits, and human behavior. We can foster diversity and mutuality. We can depend upon each other. But we cannot cater to or even tolerate the fear-mongering and hateful rhetoric coming from the opposite camp. We must mind the gap.

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